August 27th, 2010

Ultimate Baked Ziti

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If I’ve learned one thing cooking for my husband and kids over the years, it’s that I can’t go wrong with a hearty pasta dish loaded with cheese and a classic marinara sauce. This Ultimate Baked Ziti is the perfect example.

Ultimate Baked Ziti

This is a slightly adapted version of the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for baked ziti. So yes, it’s a bit more work than mixing up some pasta with jarred sauce (which, as a busy mother I am not beyond doing), but if I’ve got some extra time, this is definitely the way to make baked ziti.

I’m not a cottage cheese fan, so I was skeptical of using it in place of ricotta. But truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of ricotta either.  It’s the texture I don’t like, especially when it’s cooked. 

Still, I was surprised that I liked the cottage cheese more. It stayed creamy during baking, just like the folks at America’s test kitchen said it would. 

And as long as I don’t tell my kids there’s cottage cheese in their pasta, the devour this pasta dish every time I serve it! Of course, if you really do prefer to use ricotta, that works well too.

Ultimate Baked Ziti


One of the many things that sets this baked ziti apart is that the recipe calls for cubed mozzarella cheese rather than shredded. You can see how that results in pockets of gooey, cheesy goodness.

And the pasta is coated in a creamy tomato sauce, then topped with a classic marinara, for a totally amazing combination of flavors.

This does make a lot, so unless you are feeding an army, I would suggest cutting the recipe in half, or freezing some for later. This one is destined to become a family favorite!

Be sure to save this Ultimate Baked Ziti recipe to your favorite Pinterest board for later.


Ultimate Baked Ziti

Ultimate Baked Ziti

Preparation 15 min Cook Time 1 hour Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Serves 8     adjust servings

Pasta is baked in a creamy marinara sauce with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese in this ultimate version of a classic Italian dish.


  • 16 ounces cottage cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, divided
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 16 ounces ziti or other tube pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4 inch cubes


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cottage cheese, egg, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning, and heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  3. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until barely tender, about 5 minutes. Drain return to pot. Set aside.
  4. While pasta cooks, heat the olive oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium heat until garlic is fragrant,  about 2 minutes. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, and additional teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sugar and fresh basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 
  5. Add cottage cheese mixture and 1 cup of the tomato sauce to the pasta and mix well. Stir in half of the mozzarella cheese. Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish and spread remaining tomato sauce evenly over the top. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella and Parmesan over the pasta, then cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the foil and continue to cook until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, 25-30 more minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. 

Recipe Notes

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Who Dished It Up First: Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen



  1. Wow, I often forget to use cottage cheese as a substitute for heavier things. This looks wonderful!

  2. this looks great. I always use cottage cheese in my lasagna – it is nice and light in the pasta.

  3. Looks delicious! This meal would go over very well in our home!

  4. Yum! If I put it in two small pans I could serve one and freeze the other. Love the cottage cheese!

  5. This looks delicious and perfect for dinner now that the weather’s changing. I’ll have to try using cottage cheese in place of ricotta next time I make ziti or lasagna. It’s gotta be healthier for you too.

  6. This looks wonderful, and I love the fresh and healthy ingredients. (Okay I know there is cream in it, I figure if ninety percent of the ingredients are good for you it counts as healthy!! 🙂 Thank you for sharing such a delicious dish.

  7. This looks really rich and yummy. Love this stuff.

  8. There is definitely no lack of cheese or rich creaminess in this recipe – it looks very yummy indeed! It’s fun to step up a recipe that is usually just thrown quickly together. 🙂

  9. Truth be told, I’m not really a ricotta fan either. I’ll have to try cottage cheese. Your Zita looks delicious.

  10. This sounds great! What I like about it, is that you don’t SEE the white cheese. When I make lasagna, I use cottage cheese or cream cheese and my son can SEE it and he doesn’t like it. If he were blind, he would love it. This is a much better alternative to him going blind. 🙂

  11. Yum! I love all things pasta… baked ziti is certainly a favorite! Thanks for sharing this version 🙂

  12. Oh my gosh, this look delicious! And so beautiful! Your photographs are gorgeous.
    I’ve recently launched my own blog, I’d love for you to check it out and let me know what you think 🙂
    Thanks, and Happy Cooking!!!

  13. This is super good and super forgiving. Added Sausage, i bought the wrong the size of the tomatoes and sauce (inverted the amounts), added half the cream, doubled the basil and oregano, forgot to add the eggs (oops), and it was still FANTASTIC. Thanks for posting!!!

  14. I tried this tonight and it was a huge hit! I did make a substitution as we don’t like chunky tomatoes in our sauce. Instead of the diced tomatoes, I added 1.5 pounds of browned ground beef to make it a little more hearty. It was so creamy and yummy. Everyone is already asking when we’re going to have it again!

  15. I made this last night and it was so good! My boyfriend, a vegetarian, said it was the “best thing I’ve ever made” for him. I was like, have I been busting my bum making you good food for the last 4 years for nothing? lol.

    Small comment… you forget to mention when to put the sugar in the mixture in the directions. I remembered RIGHT before I poured the mixture into the glass pan so I was able to quickly sprinkle some in, but you should include what step to add it for others!

    Thanks – I’ll be making this again!


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