Pasta

A Surprising (And Very Welcome) Tip for Better Baked Ziti

November 13, 2017

I like baked pasta—the charred, crispy noodles and gooey cheese lid—as much as the next person. Which is to say a lot. I, like many others, grew up looking forward to baked ziti day in the cafeteria lunch rotation, accompanied by green cans of "Parmesan cheese" which I zealously sprinkled on top. As I've gotten older and become more of a food snob (sorry, family and friends and anyone who tries to eat with me!), I developed a qualm about baked ziti: ricotta.

In this, I am not alone. There are plenty of other baked ricotta haters out there, and we all share the same complaint: when baked into a pasta, ricotta's silky texture becomes grainy and unpleasant. It takes one of the most beautiful things in the universe and corrupts it, simultaneously ruining both ricotta and baked pasta. This is a heinous crime.

And so, for many years, when it came to baked pastas of all stripes, I became firmly Team Bechamel, avoiding ricotta altogether. Recently, however, I stumbled upon a tip from Alison Roman, author of the delightful, brightly-hued cookbook Dining In, that changed everything. In her baked ziti recipe on NYT Cooking, she instructs you to "mix cream into ricotta before incorporating it into baked pasta dishes, so the ricotta doesn't become grainy during baking."

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Adding the heavy cream, she writes, prevents the ricotta from becoming dry during baking, "letting it be its most luscious self."

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Top Comment:
“I, too, had this problem with ricotta in ziti & lasagna, but on the advice of an old Italian woman I met in the grocery store, I started mixing a half a block of cream cheese plus 2-3 tablespoons of cream into a container of ricotta, and the result was a subtle elevation in taste and a definite elevation in creaminess! ”
— damon
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A way to maintain ricotta's silky integrity, even during baking? I'm intrigued. Of course, the better your ricotta, the better it will taste during baking. I recommend making your own (it's easy, promise!), but if you don't feel up to it, just buy the best you can find.

The best part is that this tip doesn't only apply to traditional baked ziti; try incorporating heavy cream-dosed ricotta into any of your baked pasta dishes for creamy goodness. Need some inspiration for how to use this newly discovered tip? Try it in some of these recipes (and not recipes):

Have you tried this tip? Or will you? Tell us in the comments!

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5 Comments

Lin November 20, 2017
I started using mascarpone in place of ricotta several years ago and really prefer now. Thank you for your idea.
 
caninechef November 13, 2017
Recommending this idea is a bit out of place for the recipe for Al Forno's Penne with Tomato, Cream, and Five Cheeses. The recipe as written calls for 2 cups cream and 2 tablespoons of ricotta making me think that the list of suggestions is purely the result of a search engine. One thing the Al Forno recipe does not need is more cream.
 
BMarie November 13, 2017
Our family has always used cottage cheese instead of ricotta. Texture and consistency are more superb and by mixing in an egg, holds mixture together nicely in lasagna and other layered dishes.
 
damon November 13, 2017
I, too, had this problem with ricotta in ziti & lasagna, but on the advice of an old Italian woman I met in the grocery store, I started mixing a half a block of cream cheese plus 2-3 tablespoons of cream into a container of ricotta, and the result was a subtle elevation in taste and a definite elevation in creaminess!
 
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Catherine L. November 15, 2017
Interesting! Sounds like it would give it a nice tart flavor as well. I'll definitely try this next time I feel a baked pasta urge coming on.