Pasta has to be one of my all time favorite things to eat! I know, being an Italian girl, that it is in my blood, but I think any person who loves food, loves pasta. With the whole “low carb” craze that hit America, people look at pasta like it is the devil. Well, when I was growing up, we ate pasta at least a couple times a week….and I think I turned out ok!! We have pasta for dinner at least once a week in my house now.
This recipe for Baked Ziti is the ultimate comfort food. It is everything you love about pasta, all baked together with extra cheese. This is my mom’s (JoEllen) recipe that I have changed a bit as I have made it thought the years. She uses more cheese, and corn starch to thicken it, but I have found that some of the changes that I made work as well. When a recipe is something that your mom makes, that you grew up eating, I think it instantly makes you happy. Whenever I pull this out of the oven, I think of my mom, and how I wanted to be like her my entire life growing up. Now, I am making the same recipes for my family. It all comes full circle!! That, in a nutshell, is why I love food (and pasta) so much!
This recipe can be made ahead of time, and can actually be frozen as well.
Tips for the perfect JoEllen’s Baked Ziti
*Use whole milk cottage cheese! I know it sounds so weird, but it works! Trust me! I have tried making this recipe with ricotta, and it just doesn’t have the same result.
*Make sure your ingredients are room temperature. This way your eggs won’t scramble when you add it to the warm tomato sauce.
*Be warned…this recipe isn’t the prettiest thing before you bake it. Hahaha sorry! My mom and I always laugh that it looks really weird with the cottage cheese in the mixture, but I swear to you, once you bake it, it will be great!
*If you don’t have ziti, you can use any short tubular pasta
*If you make this a day or two ahead of time, I recommend allow it come close to room temperature before baking it. That way it bakes much more evenly.
*This can be made in one 9×13 inch baking dish, or in two 8×8 baking dishes.
- 1 pound whole milk cottage cheese; room temperature
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper
- 1 pound of ziti pasta, or other pasta in similar shape
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1- 28oz can tomato sauce
- 1- 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (I like to use the fire roasted tomatoes if possible)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ cup fresh basil; plus extra for topping
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 8 ounces whole milk mozzarella, cut into ¼-1/2 inch cubes
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- This can be baked in 1 9X13 inch pan or two 8x8 inch pans; prepare the pans by spraying them with cooking spray
- Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and ½ cup of parmesan together in a bowl
- In a medium size skillet, add in the 2 tablespoons of oil; once heated add in the garlic to cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, being careful it doesn't brown
- Stir in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano; cook for about 10 minutes
- Remove the skillet from the heat, and add in ½ cup basil and the sugar; gently stir to mix
- Cook the pasta until al dente; you don't want the pasta to be cooked all the way through since it will cook more in the oven
- Drain the pasta
- While the pasta drains, in the same pot, add in the heavy cream over medium/low heat, until it is warm
- Turn the heat off and add in the pasta, cottage cheese mixture, about half of the tomato sauce, and half of the mozzarella
- Stir until everything is evenly combined
- Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pans
- Pour the remaining sauce over the top
- Top it off with the rest of the mozzarella and the other ½ cup of parmesan cheese
- If you are making this ahead of time, this is when you would refrigerate it
- Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes
- Remove the foil, and bake for another 30 minutes, or until bubbly and starting the brown
- Allow it to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving
- Sprinkle with fresh basil or parsley to serve