Baked Ziti

  • Tuesday, January 26, 2016 3:28pm
  • LifeFood

Baked ziti, a hearty combination of pasta, tomato sauce and gooey cheese, can be time-consuming and fussy, between making the sauce, boiling the pasta and then assembling and baking the dish. We were looking to streamline this dish, achieving the same delicious results in less time and without watching over, and dirtying, a multitude of pots.

Our first priority was the sauce. We used a hot cast-iron skillet to get a nice blistery char on grape tomatoes, bringing a deep, caramelized flavor to the sauce. We further bolstered the sauce by sautéing garlic, red pepper flakes and tomato paste with the charred tomatoes. We then mashed everything to a coarse consistency and diluted it with water so that we could cook the ziti right in the sauce. Cooking the ziti in the skillet with the sauce saved us from using an extra pot, and the starch released from the pasta during cooking helped thicken the sauce nicely.

We finished the sauce by stirring in some basil and Parmesan. We then sprinkled the whole dish with mozzarella and broiled it in the oven. Being able to go from the stovetop to the broiler was another perk of the cast-iron pan, and the dish needed only 5 minutes in the oven for a perfectly melty, browned cheese layer on top. You can substitute penne for the ziti. Do not use fat-free mozzarella here.

Servings: 4

1½ pounds grape tomatoes

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon tomato paste

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

12 ounces (3¾ cups) ziti

3 cups water, plus extra as needed

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (½ cup)

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)

Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Heat 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Toss tomatoes with oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Add tomatoes to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly charred and blistered, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, tomato paste and pepper flakes, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Off heat, coarsely mash tomatoes using potato masher.

Stir in pasta and water and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to vigorous simmer, cover and cook, stirring often, until pasta is tender, 15 to 18 minutes.

Stir in Parmesan and adjust sauce consistency with extra hot water as needed. Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Transfer skillet to oven and broil until cheese is melted and spotty brown, about 5 minutes. Serve.


Add 2 anchovies, rinsed and minced, to skillet with garlic and increase pepper flakes to ½ teaspoon. Substitute ½ cup dry red wine for ½ cup of water. Substitute ¼ cup minced fresh parsley for basil and stir ½ cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives and 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and minced, into cooked pasta with Parmesan.

More in Life

Gold Peak play the opening set of the Seventh Annual Rock’N the Ranch at the Rusty Ravin on Friday, July 7, 2023, at Rusty Ravin Plant Ranch in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Gold Peak play the opening set of the Seventh Annual Rock’N the Ranch at the Rusty Ravin on Friday, July 7, 2023, at Rusty Ravin Plant Ranch in Kenai. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Music fest returns to RustyRavin

The annual nonprofit music festival is a fundraiser for Nuk’it’un, a transitional home for men

Lisa Parker, vice mayor of Soldotna, celebrates after throwing the ceremonial first pitch before a game between the Peninsula Oilers and the Mat-Su Miners on Tuesday, July 4, 2023, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
King of the River food drive extended, Kenai takes lead

The winning city’s mayor will throw the opening pitch at a Peninsula Oilers game

Chickpea lentil and spinach curry is served with rice and yogurt. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Finding comfort in memories

I believe that houses hold memories, and I hope the memory of our time there comforts it during its final, painful days.

Getting creative with camping

Making healthy, diverse meals while outdoors takes some planning

James Franklin Bush was arrested and jailed for vagrancy and contributing to the delinquency of minors in California in 1960, about a year before the murder in Soldotna of Jack Griffiths. (Public document from
A violent season — Part 4

James Franklin “Jim” Bush stood accused of the Soldotna murder of Jack Griffiths in October 1961

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Hard to say goodbye

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve been perfectly happy with my 14-year-old, base model pickup truck.

Minister’s Message: Faith will lead to God’s abundance

Abundance is in many aspects of our lives, some good and some not.

[csC1—]Jack and Alice Griffiths, owners of the Circus Bar, pose together in about 1960. (Public photo from
A violent season — Part 3

The second spirit, said Cunningham, belonged to Jack Griffiths….

Most Read