On busy school nights, mixing up, baking and serving dinner in one dish makes both preparation and cleanup a breeze. Using uncooked ziti noodles straight from the box instead of preboiling them saves a step and makes for a creamier sauce. It also eliminates the possibility that you might accidentally overcook the noodles.
1. Keeping It Wet
Any shape of dried pasta, from ziti to elbow macaroni, can be baked dry before boiling, the exception being those kinds of pastas made without wheat or gluten. The secret to cooking dry pasta in the oven begins with adding additional liquid to the sauce. Together with your 3 cups -- or one jar -- of pasta sauce or diced tomatoes, add 1-1/2 cups of water per each cup of uncooked pasta, increasing the water by one-half cup per additional one-half cup of dried pasta. Use water, or for a luxurious sauce, choose whole milk.
2. Making It Creamy
Before sliding your baked ziti in the oven, tightly cover your baking dish with a fitted lid or aluminum foil, being sure to crimp the edges of the foil around your dish. This will seal in the steam, allowing your sauce to bubble. After 50 to 60 minutes in a 400-degree-Fahrenheit oven, the slow-cooked noodles will release their starch into the sauce, providing a natural thickener. For a saucier baked ziti, increase the amount of sauce or tomatoes to taste.
3. Waiting To Serve
Before serving your no-boil baked ziti, take a peek under the cover. If the sauce appears too runny, sprinkle with cheese such as fresh Parmesan or mozzarella and bake uncovered for an additional 10 minutes until the cheese has browned and the sauce has set. The dish will be even firmer when served the next day. For added texture, top with herbed bread crumbs and broil an additional 5 minutes, uncovered, until lightly toasted. Once your ziti emerges from the oven, give it a chance to rest for 10 minutes at room temperature before serving. This gives the resistant starch in the pasta a chance to bind your dish together.
4. Using Up This And That
Baked pasta dishes not only feed a crowd, they help use up whatever ingredients you happen to have in the refrigerator. Adding cooked chicken meat, vegetables and a variety of cheeses to your baked ziti will only add bulk and flavor. Using raw vegetables, however, requires an adjustment to the amount of liquid added to the sauce, because fresh vegetables release liquid during cooking. Softer vegetables such as broccoli and zucchini release more liquid than harder vegetables such as carrots. Reduce the amount of liquid by about one-quarter cup per one-half cup of fresh vegetables.