Easy Baked Ziti Recipe – Comforting, Cheesy, and Crowd-Pleasing

Easy Baked Ziti Recipe: If you’re searching for a hearty and flavorful dish to feed a gathering or simply craving a comforting dinner, this easy baked ziti recipe is your answer. With its saucy goodness, three types of cheese, and vibrant spinach, it’s a recipe that’s sure to become a favorite in your repertoire.

Easy Baked Ziti Recipe

The star of this dish is the delightful combination of marinara sauce, ziti pasta, and an array of cheeses that blend together in a symphony of flavors. Plus, the addition of fresh spinach adds a healthy twist that makes you feel good about indulging in this cheesy delight.

To begin crafting this mouthwatering masterpiece, gather the following ingredients:

  • 4 cups (32 ounces) marinara sauce
  • 2 cups (16 ounces) ricotta cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt, plus extra for pasta water
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ziti pasta
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • 1 pound fresh spinach
  • 1½ cups smoked mozzarella cheese
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • Chopped fresh parsley and/or torn basil leaves, for garnish

Now, let’s dive into the simple step-by-step instructions for creating this delectable baked ziti:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425°F. Begin by spreading half a cup of marinara sauce across the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. This will ensure a saucy base for your ziti.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, minced garlic, lemon zest, oregano, red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon of sea salt, and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. This flavorful ricotta mixture will provide a creamy layer that complements the ziti perfectly.
  3. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the ziti pasta according to the package instructions until it reaches al dente perfection. Be mindful not to overcook the pasta, as it will continue to soften while baking.
  4. Once the pasta is cooked, return the pot to the stove over low heat. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the bottom and sauté the fresh spinach for 1 to 2 minutes until it wilts down. Remember, you can work in batches to ensure even cooking. After sautéing, gently squeeze out excess water from the spinach, chop it coarsely, and set it aside.
  5. Add the cooked pasta back to the pot, along with the remaining marinara sauce, most of the chopped spinach, ¼ teaspoon of sea salt, and more fresh black pepper. Give everything a good toss until the ingredients are well combined.
  6. Now, it’s time to assemble the ziti layers in the baking dish. Start by adding half of the pasta mixture to the dish. Dollop spoonfuls of the ricotta mixture on top, followed by the remaining sautéed spinach. Layer the remaining pasta on top.
  7. For the final touch, generously top your ziti with smoked mozzarella cheese and grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese. A drizzle of olive oil over the cheese will create a beautifully golden and bubbly crust as it bakes.
  8. Bake the ziti in the preheated oven until the cheese is gloriously browned and bubbling, which typically takes around 16 to 22 minutes.
  9. Once it’s out of the oven, garnish your masterpiece with freshly chopped basil or parsley for a burst of color and a touch of freshness.

In just a matter of steps, you’ll have created a mouthwatering baked ziti that’s perfect for any occasion. Whether you’re serving a crowd or simply indulging in a cozy family dinner, this dish is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser that will have everyone reaching for seconds. Enjoy the creamy ricotta, the earthy spinach, and the satisfying combination of cheeses that make this easy baked ziti recipe a true winner.

And here’s a little secret: If you find yourself with leftovers, fear not! This baked ziti reheats wonderfully and keeps well in the fridge for up to four days. So go ahead, savor the deliciousness and relish in the comforting flavors of this classic dish.

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