A creamy, herby baked ziti that forgoes the slow-simmered red sauce for a quicker, cheesier white one. Here’s the gist: Whip a couple pounds (!) of ricotta in a food processor with a few cloves of garlic until smooth. Add some heavy cream to create a velvety sauce, similar to one you might make for a mac ’n’ cheese, but without all the whisking of a fussy roux. Then mix with shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan, you know, as if things weren’t cheesy enough.
Freshly chopped herbs lend brightness to the otherwise rich dish. I like a combination of scallions, basil, dill, oregano, and chives. Use whatever fresh stuff you can find at your store or farmers market, or forage from your own herb garden. And if you don’t have an herb garden of your own, this pasta may be your reason to start one. It’s just that good.
When it comes to the actual pasta, I used ziti because it’s technically not a baked ziti without it. But you could use any short-cut pasta shape you like. Penne and cavatappi are two of my favorites.
Like most baked pastas, this casserole can be assembled ahead of time and baked when convenient. If you make it the night before, pop it in the fridge, then allow it to come to room temperature before baking.
For leftovers, if you’ve got them, reheat in the oven. I scoop a few servings into an 8x8-inch dish, add a splash of cream so that the pasta doesn’t dry out, cover with foil, and bake at 350°F until warm, about 15 minutes. If you’re looking for a quicker fix, eating leftovers cold, straight from the dish is never a bad move either. —Grant Melton
- Prep time 20 minutes
- Cook time 25 minutes
- makes one 13x9-inch casserole
unsalted butter, at room temperature
kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
ziti (or whatever short pasta you like best)
garlic cloves, smashed
freshly ground black pepper
shredded low-moisture mozzarella, plus more for topping
finely grated Parmesan
basil leaves, chopped or torn
chopped fresh dill
chopped fresh chives
chopped fresh oregano
crushed red pepper flakes
- Heat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 13x9-inch casserole dish.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente, according to package directions. Just before draining, dip a liquid measuring cup in the starchy pasta water and reserve 1/2 cup. Drain the pasta in a colander and set aside to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, add the ricotta, garlic, 2 teaspoons of salt, and pepper to a food processor. Purée for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides, add the heavy cream, and purée for 30 seconds more. Once the cream is incorporated, turn off the processor.
- Add the whipped ricotta mixture to a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the 1/2 cup of cooled pasta water (slightly warm is fine, but it shouldn’t be hot). Once smooth, fold in both cheeses, the scallions, and herbs using a rubber spatula. Add the pasta and toss to coat. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Top with a handful of mozzarella and the red pepper flakes.
- Bake for about 25 minutes, until bubbly and brown.