Italian food is some of the best on the planet. Strips of linguine soaked in tomato sauce, pizza with fresh artichokes, everything topped with delicious parmesan and mozzarella. Italian is also great cuisine if you are a vegetarian.
Vegetarian baked ziti is essentially baked pasta with cheese. When it comes to family dishes, then you can’t go wrong with this one, it is the perfect stomach filler.
This is usually made with ground beef, but we are going to look at a recipe that contains no meat at all.
Are you looking for the perfect centerpiece for your vegetarian Italian platter? Well, you can’t go wrong with this dish.
We’re going to give you all the information that you need to make this meal, along with a few handy tricks and tips to make sure it turns out restaurant standard.
Baked Ziti – What Is It?
This dish has often been compared to lasagna, although lasagna is more layers of pasta, whereas baked ziti is made up of regular pasta, although there can be a layered style to it.
One of the main ingredients of baked ziti is ziti noodles. These are extruded pasta shapes that take the form of tubes that are around 25 cm long.
You normally must break off these noodles into sections before you start preparing them.
Ziti is great for stuffing, with one of the more common fillings being cheese. This dish is associated with American and Italian. It is baked in the oven at high temperatures and usually is cooked with sausage or ground beef.
The difference between this recipe and ordinary baked ziti is the ricotta cheese that tops it.
This cheese is made from cow and goat whey, which is often a byproduct of processing the milk from these animals and comes with a distinctly tangier flavor than cheddar, parmesan, and mozzarella.
This cheese is often used in a lot of Italian dishes. But in this dish, it will be the substitute for the meat.
How Does Ziti Pasta Compare To Other Pasta?
The closest resemblance of this pasta to another is Penne. Penne is a long tube of pasta, although the difference is that it is cut at a diagonal angle and has ridges along the side.
You can serve this pasta al dente or scotta.
You can use either penne or ziti in this dish, although you might find ziti a lot easier to work with. Penne is wider in the center, which is what makes it ideal for filling with more cheese.
Rigatoni is very similar to ziti although, although the former is much shorter and thinner than the latter.
If you are finding it hard to buy ziti pasta from your local food store, then you can opt for rigatoni, which is more widely available.
One of the common misconceptions of this dish is that baked ziti is different from ziti on its own. The ziti refers to the pasta that is used to make it.
If you are using penne or rigatoni, then this is referred to ask baked penne or rigatoni.
Is Ziti Healthy?
Ziti is relatively healthy and contains plenty of healthy ingredients. The primary macro in this dish, as with all pasta, is carbs.
If you are eating a lot of ziti, then you can be sure that you will be converting a lot of these carbs into fat, so make sure that you are getting regular exercise.
Here is the nutritional profile for 1 serving of ziti pasta:
- 579 Calories
- 19g of fat
- 29g of protein
- 71g of carbs
- 82mg cholesterol
- 1349mg sodium
- 848mg of potassium
- 6.8g of dietary fiber
Ziti pasta also contains vitamins A and C, which are great for your immune system and skin health.
Vitamin C also protects your body from the production of free radicals, which have been shown to cause significant damage to the body.
What Ingredients Go Into Baked Ziti?
- Ziti noodles – this is the primary ingredient for this dish. As mentioned above, if you are struggling to get this dish from your local whole foods store, you can always switch it out for the more widely available penne or rigatoni.
- Olive oil – this can be used to grease the baking dish, but it is also added to the recipe for flavor.
- Garlic – this is another staple of a lot of Italian dishes. This will add that distinctive flavor to your baked ziti sauce.
- Tomato sauce – you can use traditional Neapolitan sauce if you need to or you can find another tomato sauce of your choice. We would recommend that you use organic fresh tomato for the extra boost of flavor.
- Ricotta cheese – this comes with fresh ricotta cheese, which really gives the whole dish its flavor. Again, as with the tomato sauce, you should make sure that this is as fresh as possible for that perfect flavor and texture.
- Parmesan cheese – this is what is great about this dish, is that it does not contain one cheese, but three. You should avoid processed parmesan cheese, as you will not get the same consistency and your final dish might end up tasting a bit bland.
- Shredded mozzarella – You do not have to put this in your baked ziti, especially if you want to keep the calories as low as possible. However, if you want that explosion of taste in your mouth, then we would suggest adding this.
- Salt and pepper – this will help you season your final dish. You can add this at any point in the baking process.
These are just a few simple ingredients that anyone who has made pasta or pasta bake dishes will recognize.
You should be able to get most of these at your local world food store. If you are struggling to find the ziti, then you can always swap it out for penne or rigatoni.
If you are watching your weight, then you can also restrict the cheese to just ricotta, as including all 3 kinds of cheese will certainly increase the calorie count.
Recipe For Vegetarian Baked Ziti
Now we’re going to give you our in-depth step-by-step to baked ziti, along with ingredients and how to get the best results for you:
- Take your garlic and marinate it in a pot with some olive oil. Bring it to medium heat and mix it in until it is warm.
- Add in the tomato sauce. Let this mixture simmer for around 10 minutes, stirring the pot every few minutes until the mixture is bubbling.
- Take a separate large mixing bowl and mix in the parmesan, ricotta cheese, basil, salt, and pepper. Do this until the mixture can’t be combined any further.
- Take your ziti pasta and bring it to a boil. You’ll want to make sure that it is cooked al dente, as you will be baking it, at which point it will go softer.
- Drain the water once it is softened. Add the tomato sauce mixture and stir well.
- Spread half of your ziti and tomato mixture around a baking dish. Make sure it is all evenly spread around the base of the dish.
- Take your ricotta cheese and spread it in dollops around the pasta dish. Make sure each dollop is evenly spread out so that the cheese does not heap up on one side.
- Take the other half of your pasta mix and spread it on top of the dollops of ricotta pasta.
- Take your mozzarella cheese and sprinkle it over the top of the top layer of pasta.
- Preheat your oven to around 425 degrees.
- Bake your pasta dish for around 10-15 minutes.
- Once the cheese is completely melted and bubbling, then you can remove it. Top it with some of the fresh basil and then serve while it is still hot.
This is a relatively simple dish that will feed around 2-3 people. If you want to make more, then amend the recipe depending on how many people will be there.
However, you do not have to opt for this baked ziti recipe.
One of the great things about this is that you can add your own toppings such as vegetables or cheese that will add to the nutrition, texture, and flavor of your ziti pasta bake.
Vegetable Toppings For Your Baked Ziti
Now, there’s one way to wow the vegetarians at your next Italian food party, and that’s by serving a vegetable ziti filled to the brim with lots of delicious vegetables. Here are some ideas that we’ve had for vegetable toppings:
This meaty vegetable will be a good replacement for meat in your baked ziti. These are very easy to cook and prepare.
If you are going to put these on your baked ziti before you put it in the oven, you’ll want to make sure they are sliced thick to avoid burning.
You can cut them into chunks and mix in with the pasta and ricotta or you can slice them thinly and spread them across the top of your baked ziti.
You can toss this vegetable in oil and lightly sauté it before adding it to your ziti.
This will provide your baked ziti with much the same texture as the eggplant. This is a great option for really beefing up your vegetable ziti without having to add any meat.
You can either choose to sauté this zucchini in a frying pan, or you can instead bake them in the oven with some olive oil before you bake your ziti.
Bake it for around 10-15 minutes or until the zucchini is tender.
Yet another meaty vegetable with a great texture. We would recommend frying this in a pan with a little salt and pepper before adding it to the main mixture of your baked ziti.
This is a common addition to a lot of Italian pasta dishes.
Make sure that you scoop out all the seeds in your pepper before adding them to your baked ziti. This makes a great addition to your tomato sauce too.
Alternatively, you can always serve baked peppers as a side to the baked ziti meal.
Another great vegetable to bake inside your ziti or slice up and spread across the top.
Mushrooms tend to secrete a lot of water when they are cooked, so you’ll have to fry them beforehand to prevent your ziti from getting too soggy.
Mushroom and garlic complement each other nicely, so why not try mixing these first instead of adding the garlic straight into your ziti?
This might seem a little bit leftfield, but cauliflower is a common substitute for meat, especially in a lot of vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Cauliflower has a tougher consistency than a lot of vegetables, so we would recommend boiling it first so that it is nice and soft.
You can also combine cauliflower and broccoli, as these are not only very tasty together, but they are very high in a lot of nutrients. Cauliflower and cheese also work very well together (see also “What Is Bang Bang Cauliflower?“).
As well as having tomato sauce, try adding whole tomatoes. Whether cherry or beef tomatoes, any type of tomato will work well with baked ziti.
You can slice up some organic tomatoes and lay them on top of your ziti during the last 5 minutes of baking.
Tomatoes are very soft, so you’ll need to keep an eye on them when they are in the oven.
If you don’t want to run the risk of them burning, then fry them lightly in some oil before adding them to your finished baked ziti.
While this might not be that much of a substantial vegetable, it will work very well with your cheese and pasta, adding those seams of deep green to your dish.
This will have plenty of nutrients and makes the whole dish look a lot more organic and appetizing.
How To Make Sure That Your Ziti Is Cooked To Perfection
Here are a few tips that you should bear in mind when you are cooking your ziti to make sure that the texture is right, the surface isn’t burned, and the taste is delicious:
- Initially cook the pasta al dente – make sure that the pasta is still firm when you are boiling it initially. This is because you’ll be putting it in the oven and cooking it for longer. If you cook your pasta too much, then it will burn at the edges.
- Salt – make sure that you add salt to the water when it is cooking in the pan. This will ensure that the pasta will not turn out too bland.
- Use organic cheese – using organic cheese is one way to guarantee you a great flavor. If you are going to use processed cheese, then it will have a bland taste. Processed cheese might also have a worse texture.
- Use fresh sauce – the same goes for tomato sauce. You’ll want to make sure that you are using fresh ingredients, as this will impact the final flavor of your baked ziti.
- Check the temperature during baking – you’ll want to make sure that your dish is cooked right the way through to the middle. You can do this with a temperature probe, or you can simply put a fork in and then test how warm it is on your wrist.
If you employ some of these techniques when you are cooking your ziti, then you can be sure of having exactly the right texture and flavor.
Make sure you always go organic to avoid any bad texture or pasta breaking up.
How Can You Keep Baked Ziti For Longer?
Ziti is a large meal, so you might have trouble eating it in one sitting. The good news is that you can store your ziti to be reheated later.
You can put your ziti in the fridge for around 5 days after you have first cooked it. This way it will preserve the maximum amount of flavor and some of its original texture.
If you are inclined, there is nothing wrong with eating cold ziti. However, you should expect the cheese to be a little congealed. We recommend that you warm up the ziti after taking it out of the fridge.
If you are going to reheat it, it’s probably best done in the oven, as this is a very thick meal.
Preheat your oven to around 350 degrees and then place your ziti in the oven for anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes.
Can You Freeze Baked Ziti?
You can freeze this dish; however, we would not recommend it. The extreme temperatures in a freezer will cause the pasta to shreds and for the whole dish to lose a lot of its flavor.
This pasta will keep up to 1 month in the freezer, although when you take it out it might be very difficult to reheat.
You can also reheat this dish in the microwave, although you might have to do it on a higher heat. We would recommend putting it on high heat for around 20 – 30 minutes.
You should remove the ziti frequently to check the temperature and consistency.
When you are reheating it, make sure that it is hot right the way through to the middle. You can do this by using a temperature probe.
What Happens If You Don’t Have Ricotta Cheese?
There are plenty of cheeses that you can use if you don’t have ricotta to hand. Cottage cheese or mascarpone will be an adequate substitute in terms of texture and flavor.
You could also go without ricotta cheese, instead of just opting for the parmesan and mozzarella toppings.
If you are making this dish vegan-friendly, then you can use a very creamy non-dairy option for your baked ziti.
Just make sure that the cheese is thick enough for it to melt and bind the pasta and vegetables together.
Does Baked Ziti Dry Out?
Because pasta bakes are cooked at such high temperatures, then you do run the risk of them drying out.
However, because you are only cooking it for a short amount of time (10 mins), then you won’t have to cover it up with tin foil to prevent the moisture from seeping out.
How Large Should Your Baking Dish Be?
Your dish should be roughly 9 x 13 inches. It should be deep enough to house 2 layers of pasta as well as a layer of cheese.
If you like Italian, then we would certainly recommend that you try this delicious pasta bake dish. It won’t take that long to make and it’s a great meal to feed a party of 3-5 people.
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