Cheesy Baked Ziti {Make-Ahead/Freezer Meal}

Not only is this cheesy baked ziti super easy to make AND crazy delicious, but it can be made ahead of time and frozen. Time to stock the freezer with cheesy pasta casseroles!

Easy, cheesy baked ziti that is the perfect make-ahead meal (and can be frozen!).

Oh, today is a good day!

It’s a Monday! And before you cringe (I don’t love Mondays all the time either), we’re talking all things cheesy pasta.

So yeah, it’s a good day, Monday or not.

I’ve been excited for months to bring you this cheesy baked ziti – an exclusive look at one of the recipes in America’s Test Kitchen new book: The Complete Make-Ahead Cookbook.

And stay tuned, because tomorrow, I’ll be taking over ATK’s Instagram stories to show you an inside look at making this amazing casserole (including a few funny outtakes)…and there’ll be a chance to win a free copy!

Easy, cheesy baked ziti that is the perfect make-ahead meal (and can be frozen!).

This new cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen (my go-to resource for all kitchen-related questions, conundrums, and recipes that are tested to the extreme) is filled with meals that can ALL be prepared ahead of time to some degree.

I instantly was drawn to the recipes that could be made and frozen.

Because I love a good freezer meal.

And this baked ziti is a GREAT freezer meal.

Really, it’s just a fabulous meal in general.

Easy, cheesy baked ziti that is the perfect make-ahead meal (and can be frozen!).

If cheesy baked pasta casseroles tend to float your boat, you’re going to love this one.

I have another baked ziti recipe (posted in the 2nd year of blogging way back in 2009!!) that is incidentally from Cook’s Illustrated/ATK, as well.

It’s delicious! It really is.

But if you’ve made it, you’ll notice that today’s ziti recipe is a little simpler, uses ricotta, and has a different method of assembling, etc.

Plus, after eight years, I figure it’s about time for a new and improved baked ziti recipe. Right?

Easy, cheesy baked ziti that is the perfect make-ahead meal (and can be frozen!).

I love so much about today’s recipe.

Even though it makes use of a homemade red sauce – it’s simple as simple can be!

AND, you use the same pot start to finish, which is pretty much awesome in terms of dishwashing.

I don’t know about you, but the minute I can save time in the dishwashing department, I instantly have a new outlook on life.

Not only is this baked ziti a fabulous make-ahead meal, but it is also perfect for a take-in meal.

Classic, simple, delicious, and without any super weird ingredients to scare that poor family who is the innocent recipient of the dinner you are bringing them.

You really can’t go wrong with a saucy, cheesy, pasta dish. I think you’ll love this one.

For tons of other make-ahead recipes, don’t forget to check out the new cookbook by ATK!

Easy, cheesy baked ziti that is the perfect make-ahead meal (and can be frozen!).

Cheesy Baked Ziti

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Ingredients:

Ricotta Mixture + Cheese:

  • 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) ricotta cheese (whole milk, part skim, or homemade)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 12 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)

Ziti + Sauce:

  • 1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces) uncooked ziti noodles
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more to taste, if desired)
  • 2 (28-ounces each) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Directions:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. For the ricotta mixture, in a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, 2 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper.
  3. In another bowl (or bag), toss together the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.
  4. For the ziti noodles, bring about 6 quarts or so of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and a tablespoon of salt and cook, stirring to break up any clumps, until the noodles just begin to soften, 5-6 minutes. Before draining, reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water in a bowl; drain the pasta and set aside.
  5. For the sauce, quickly dry out the now-empty pot (no need to wash), add the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and cook over medium heat until fragrant but not browned, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring every now and again. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Off the heat, stir in the reserved pasta water and the cooked and drained pasta into the sauce, breaking up clumps of pasta and coating evenly.
  7. Transfer half of the pasta to a 9X13-inch baking dish. Dollop large spoonfuls of the ricotta mixture over the mixture (won’t cover it completely, just dot the top). Spread the remaining pasta over the ricotta.
  8. Sprinkle the mozzarella/Parmesan mixture over the top.
  9. Place the baking dish on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet (to catch any bubbling over) and bake until golden and bubbly, 25-35 minutes. Let the ziti cool for 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh basil and serve.

Notes:

If you want more cheese factor throughout, sprinkle half of the mozz/Parm mixture over the top of the ricotta before layering on the 2nd half of the pasta.

TO FREEZE: Prepare the recipe through step #8. Cover the dish tightly in plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil. Refrigerate for 24 hours or freeze for up to a month. To bake, thaw the ziti overnight in the refrigerator. Unwrap the casserole (both the plastic wrap and the foil) and recover with lightly greased aluminum foil; bake on a foil-lined baking sheet at 400 degrees until heated through, 20-25 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the cheese is golden on top, 15-20 more minutes. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

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Recipe Source: adapted very slightly from the new America’s Test Kitchen Make-Ahead Cookbook

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