Easiest, Fastest, Best Week

The 1-Pan, 3-Step Route to Baked Ziti

December 25, 2017

I spent last weekend in Southern California, which had me asking many questions, namely: Why don’t I live there? And how might I live there? And am I too old to wear a trucker hat? And how is one supposed to be productive, with distractions at every turn? Surfing at sunrise? Crossfit at noon? Poached egg–and-avocado-toast brunch somewhere in between? I returned home thinking about which memorable dish from the trip I might try to recreate first: Baja fish tacos? Toast with cucumbers, labneh, and za’atar? Mint mojito iced coffee?

All these guys meet in one pan, in upstate New York. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Alas, a brisk upstate New York August morning shook me from my dream, and at once all I wanted was pasta. I had flagged this baked ziti recipe from Cook’s Country’s Cook It In Cast Iron last summer after making the huevos rancheros from the same book. The two recipes start out identically: by making a sauce with olive oil-slicked cherry tomatoes in a preheated skillet. After 10 minutes, when the tomatoes begin to blister, the recipes diverge: for the huevos, hot peppers and cilantro enter the equation; for the ziti, it’s garlic, red pepper flakes, and tomato paste.

Blister those fresh tomatoes. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Both sauces are incredibly simple to prepare and flavorful, thanks to the caramelized, charred tomatoes, but this baked ziti recipe has the added bonus of being a one-pot wonder: after you crush the tomatoes with a potato masher (or whisk or spoon), you add the dried pasta and water directly into the pan and simmer everything together until the pasta is cooked and the liquid has evaporated.

You can save this to broil later. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Like other one-pot pastas, this one benefits from the starch released from the pasta as it cooks, which helps to nicely thicken the sauce. But unlike many other one-pot pastas, this one takes the method a step further, calling for a final pass under the broiler with a layer of fresh mozzarella scattered over top. In just about five minutes, your one-pan, no-fuss baked ziti is done: crisp noodles, melty cheese, bubbly sauce.

Streamlined baked ziti—dreams do come true!
Ready to eat! Photo by Alexandra Stafford

A Few Notes

Variations: Cook’s Country offers a simple puttanesca variation: add minced anchovies along with the garlic and pepper flakes, replace some of the water with wine, and stir in capers and minced olives at the end (see recipe notes for more details). Other ideas include: adding finely chopped kale, Swiss chard or spinach to the cooked pasta, which will incorporate easily and up the veggie quotient. Another idea is to add roasted eggplant or sautéed zucchini or other vegetables to the cooked pasta. For a richer variation, replace some of the water with heavy cream.

Ready to be embellished. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Other pasta shapes: Penne is a natural substitution for ziti, though other shapes could work, too. Because different pastas cook at different rates, for the best results, try using a similarly shaped pasta to ziti with a comparable cooking time (10 to 11 minutes). If you use something smaller with a faster cooking time, you may have to reduce the liquid and overall simmer time.

Let's attack. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Make ahead: To get a head-start on dinner, make the dish nearly to the end, stopping just after you add the basil and Parmesan. Let the dish cool, add the mozzarella and store in the fridge until ready to broil. If time permits, bring the pasta to room temperature before broiling. (On that note, this dish would make a great gift: simply wrap in foil and include final broiling instructions.)

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This piece originally ran in August 2017. We're running it again here because, well, who couldn't use all-in-one-pan baked ziti?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • AKA
  •  Stout
  • Carla
  • Jane Katz
    Jane Katz
  • Alexandra Stafford
    Alexandra Stafford
I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


AKA August 14, 2018
What’s the handled skillet you are using here? I appears to be similar to a wok.
Alexandra S. August 14, 2018
It's an All-Clad everyday pan — I don't think they make it anymore but if you google it, you'll find something similar. I love the size (about 13-inches in diameter), and I love the pan in general.
Stout January 12, 2018
Delicious! I didn't add enough pasta and it ended up being somewhere between ziti and soup, but it was wonderful nonetheless. Perfect for a snowy night.
Carla August 11, 2017
Pasta looks amazing...definitely will make this.
I LOVE your book. Sent the basic recipe to my mother for her care giver to make. Caregiver can't read/ follow directions...killed the yeast. Mom fired her..'cuz she loves bread and is stupid intolerant!!!
Now...you New Yorkers....I have to say I really adore NY, the people, the Green Flea, all the street food. I live in Denver, CO...but will always jump at the chance of a long NY weekend! I took my daughter to NY every year from the time she was 13 until she got married....some of the best times of my life and my wonderful husband NEVER asked how late we were out our how much money we spent! I do like CA too...but NY is special!
Alexandra S. August 14, 2017
Thank you, Carla!! And I know, there are SO many things to be grateful for in New York, both the city and upstate — I do love it here. I lived in SoCal for 4 years actually and loved every second, though it never felt like home. Hilarious about your mother/caregiver/bread :) :) :) So glad you like the book.
Jane K. August 10, 2017
ugh the dream of moving to SoCal as a New Yorker! I get the feeling :)

can't wait to try this recipe. Love a good one-pot pasta.
Alexandra S. August 10, 2017
I spent the whole 4 days asking myself: what am I doing? Those SoCal folks really have it figured it out :) Hope you like the pasta!
Ali W. August 10, 2017
Me three! Just another New Yorker who doesn't know why she hasn't moved to Cali....
Alexandra S. August 10, 2017
Haha, I love it. We should start a self-help group.