Super Easy Baked Ziti

jeriMay 17, 2013

As some of you know, I volunteer to feed the High School Marching Band during their band season. I don't pay for anything, just plan and prepare the meals. It is off season right now, but that just means I need to try new recipes in preparation for the fall!

I have been working on a Baked Ziti and think I have finally perfected it. My daughter said âÂÂMom - this tastes like the ones you buy at CostCoâ Bingo! LOL - I don't think she meant it as a compliment, but that was exactly the flavor I was going for. :-) This will cost a lot less, and seriously doesn't take much more time than throwing a ready-made one into the oven. BTW - my daughter likes the CostCo Ziti - it's just âÂÂold newsâ so in her mind - nothing to get excited about.

This can be tripled to go into the large foil serving pans, but I really want to try it in the Roaster Oven - I think it will work great which means this can be prepared off-site at competitions.

Baked Ziti with Meatballs
Serves 10-12
48 ounces of pasta sauce - I used Paul Newman's Sockarooni
16 ounces Low Fat Cottage Cheese
3 cups beef stock
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (2 cups)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb penne pasta - uncooked
1 lb ready-made mini meatballs - I used Trader Joe's party meatballs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl mix together the pasta sauce, cottage cheese, beef stock, half of the mozzarella (1 c) and half of the Parmesan cheese (1/4 c).

Toss the pasta and meatballs with the sauce and spread into a 13 x 9 inch pan. Cover tightly and bake for 1 hour.

Remove the cover and stir the contents. Sprinkle the remaining Mozzarella & Parmesan cheese on top and return to the oven. Bake an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

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Wow - that sounds great and something I will definitely be making for the swim team this summer. Thanks for sharing!


    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 4:21PM
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Hi, what's the advantage of cottage cheese over ricotta? Is it cost or fat content? Thanks.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 11:03AM
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In Cook's Illustrated baked ziti recipe they used cottage cheese instead of ricotta - if I remember correctly it was because the cottage cheese retained moisture better. I once made 4 trays of Cook's ziti for a party and did two with homemade ricotta and two with cottage cheese. Honestly, I couldn't really tell the difference and I was really hoping that the extra effort for the ricotta would be rewarded with a better dish.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 2:04PM
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Jeri, I've been thinking of this recipe all night. It sounds like the perfect casserole for a crowd. I especially like the fact that you don't need to cook the pasta in advance. I've already saved it, and plan to use it next time we have a family gathering. My husband is on a salt-restricted diet, and the ingredients are easily substituted with low sodium versions.

I could use either homemade or Trader Joe's no-salt added marinara, no salt added beef broth, Safeway's no-salt cottage cheese, and fresh mozzarella (much lower in sodium than regular mozz). Instead of pre-cooked meatballs, I could use either ground beef or homemade Italian sausage. And have the shredded parm as an optional topping at the table.

Thanks for sharing this.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 2:15PM
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Interesting, I never heard that before, thanks.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 3:15PM
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Re Cottage Cheese: On my previous attempts at trying to perfect this dish, I did use a 15 ounce container of Ricotta, but I thought it was too rich - so I was going to cut this in half for my next attempt. Then I read that some people substitute cottage cheese for ricotta and decided to try it. The extra moisture from the cottage cheese - a potential problem for some recipes - would be welcome in this dish because of the dried pasta. The cost did factor in as well since I need to feed 100 kids on a budget. So, I gave it a try and was very pleased with the results! I just hope I donâÂÂt get kids asking me what those white things are! IâÂÂll just tell them âÂÂcheeseâÂÂ. :-)

Shambo - I think it is a good one for a crowd. Just add Caesar salad, garlic bread, and fresh fruit - and you are good to go. I have Caesar Salad for a crowd dialed in - now I need to figure out garlic bread for a crowd. :-)

Thanks for all the feedback everyone! I consider myself a novice cook, so I am really proud of this. :-)

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 9:37PM
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Ok, thanks. My son will be making Eagle Scout in the fall, so this is one idea to serve a crowd. Not sure how a vegetarian version would taste with veggie broth & no meat as an extra tray?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 2:57PM
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I'm sure a vegetarian version would be delicious! If you are using tasty Spaghetti Sauce - how could it not be? I will be doing this as well as I have a handful of vegetarian kids. I think Trader Joes makes vegetarian meatballs, but I really don't think it is necessary.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 12:51PM
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I make a vegetarian version of this, but I boil the Ziti for five minutes before adding them. I basically use the same recipe that I use for lasagna except that everything gets mixed together instead of layered. I mix the cheese with the ziti before I add the sauce, and I add eggs to the cheese mixture, but no broth. The sauce is sort of folded in, and it includes fresh basil and fresh oregano, as does the cheese mixture. It does save a bit of time over making lasagna, but I tend to make lasagna most of the time anyway and make the lasagna noodles from flour, semolina flour, and eggs - very quick and easy to do. I do not boil fresh lasagna noodles before baking them, and so that saves time.

Sometimes I just like to make ziti instead for variety, and so I always have ziti pasta on hand.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 2:13PM
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great, thanks

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 5:24PM
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I made the dish as you posted, and it was very good. Next time I'm going to try ground beef instead of meatballs. Thank you for a very good recipe.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2013 at 6:19PM
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I use cottage cheese also. (DH loves it and eats it like it is ice cream as a snack)
My trick so i don't need to buy ricotta is to first put the cottage cheese alone in the mixing bowl and smash it with a potato masher tool. Just takes a minute and breaks up the curd. Then add the tomato, etc. Most NY pot-luck baked ziti from an Italian deli is so darn dry. (and probably prepared a day in advance). Needs moisture while it cooks. Sometimes i'll put a bottom layer of thin sliced sweet potato, zucchini, caramelized onions with mushrooms...
I always make a veggie one that i've put in a layer of spinach. Extra veggies. Always the bottom layer so the pasta top 2/3rds stays creamy. Crisping the top is what makes it so delish and special. Any time you can get a full and filling meal in one pot is a winner.
You have a good recipe. So much better than a basic Mac-n-greasy-cheese.
I satisfy the meat eaters by tucking proscuito all over the top. Pressing it in with some staying on top to crisp with the final cheese crisping and bubbling. I don't cook for kids that often so your pre-made meat-balls is a really good solution.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2013 at 10:24AM
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I make baked ziti regularly and always have one in the freezer.
I mix the ground beef with the spaghetti sauce and stir in the cooked ziti, fusili, whatever I happen to be using.

It's easy to layer with provolone, mozzarella and sour cream, which is what I use. It's a great way to use up sour cream!

    Bookmark   June 24, 2013 at 11:12AM
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"Most NY pot-luck baked ziti from an Italian deli is so darn dry."

Ok so it's not just me! That and stuffed shells. For all the great Italian-American food we have, these two dishes are usually a disappointment to me.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2013 at 11:59AM
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Jeri - I just wanted to say a big Thank You for posting this recipe. I had to cater a meal for 80 kids, plus parents and staff today at a local summer Hockey camp. My plan was to make Ziti the way I normally do but then I remembered reading your post a few months ago and decided to try your much, much easier method. It came out terrific and got lots of compliments. I have another group of different people tomorrow and will definitely include this on the menu. Once again Thank You!!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 4:05PM
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