Crowd Pleasing Weeknight Baked Ziti

A month ago I was at my father-in-law’s 94th birthday celebration. As an only child I especially appreciate these yearly gatherings when all the siblings—three brothers, four sisters, and seven spouses in toe—gather to honor the father.
I’ve got no sisters of my own, so my sister-in-laws have adopted me, and I love when we all get together. We spend most of our time in the kitchen, some of us cooking or baking, others sitting around the table chatting and playing rounds of gin rummy.

My sister-in-law, Kathy, and I were among the cooks and bakers that weekend but at one point, she and I were at the table sharing what we served up on the nights we didn’t feel like cooking.

As a cook who prefers to cook without a book as much as possible, I liked one of her ideas a lot. That I can still rattle it off after one conversation a month ago reinforces the ease of her recipe: a pound of cooked ziti, a jar each of marinara and Alfredo sauce, a pound of mozzarella, and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Bake until bubbly and serve.

I wanted to figure out a way to make this recipe just as easy to internalize but just a little more from scratch. The following recipe is my take.

One of the other big discussions at our sibling reunion is what to serve when all seventy-something of us get together this July. I’m thinking this could be our dish. It’s kid-friendly, but the adults will like it too. It’s vegetarian, and very easy to make for a crowd. Anderson clan alert! If Crowd-Pleasing Weeknight Baked Ziti doesn’t appeal, speak now!

Crowd Pleasing Weeknight Baked Ziti
 
by:
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 1 pound ziti
  • Salt
  • ½ cup prepared pesto
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups each vegetable broth, evaporated milk, and canned crushed tomatoes
  • 12 ounces mozzarella cheese, 8 ounces cubed and 4 ounces grated
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a generous 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to boil in a large soup kettle. Add ziti and, using back-of-the-box times as a guide, cook partially covered and stirring frequently at first to prevent sticking, until just tender. Drain pasta and return it to the pot.
  2. Meanwhile, heat pesto over medium-high heat in a small Dutch oven until it starts to sizzle. Whisk in flour to make a smooth paste. Whisk in broth and milk and cook until mixture starts to simmer and thicken up. Whisk in tomatoes and continue to cook to heat through. Pour sauce over pasta, along with cubed mozzarella; toss to coat. Pour into a greased 13- by 9-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Bake until bubbly and golden about 20 minutes. (If you want a more golden brown top, broil for a couple of minutes.)

 

14 Comments

  1. Ilana says

    Brilliant! This looks delicious and easy. I like the sound of both your more from scratch version and your sister-in-law’s original even quicker version. I sent a link to this post to my eldest daughter who is looking for delicious, quick and easy dinner recipes. Thanks.

  2. sandy oldfield says

    pam, you just gave us the recpe for david’s family reunion this summer — thanks!!! we’ll add some crusty bread and a fruit salad for dessert and bob’s your uncle! thanks!!!

  3. Meredith says

    Do you think that I could successfully divide the recipe into 2 8″ pans and freeze one pan for future use? Or would I be better off dividing the recipe in half for my small family? How would baking time(s) be affected?
    Thanks!

  4. says

    Could I sub in half-and-half for the evaporated milk?

    My best friend’s mom makes a ziti with uncooked pasta. It’s baked in the oven, too, and it’s good and fast. I’m not fond of cooking a dish on the stovetop and then again in the oven – too much hassle and too many dishes. I’m a working mother of young children and I make almost all our food from scratch, so I’m not a lazy cook!

    • says

      Hey Ginny,
      The problem with leaving out or subbing something else for the pesto is that it’s providing so many ingredients in one product–the oil, the garlic, the basil. I guess you could substitute olive oil, a few cloves of garlic and dried or fresh basil for the it.

  5. Cassie Sue says

    Love, love, love this recipe. Both ways actually. Kids love it, hubby loves it. It’s fast, makes a TON, and is extra delicious with a little Italian sausage and kalamata olives thrown in. Next time I’m going to add some mushrooms as well. Dressed up, dressed down, it’s a great recipe as printed. Thanks Pam!

  6. Bridget says

    What kind of canned tomatoes do you recommend? I have a tried and true recipe of yours “vegetable lasagne” that calls for fire roasted tomatoes that my whole family loves!!! Which do you use and recommend? Going to try making this recipe for a cub scout pot luck dinner. Also there are so many pestos out there. Which kind should I try? Thank you

    • says

      Hey Bridget,
      I do love those fire-roasted crushed tomatoes by Muir Glen. If you can get them, use those. If not, I like Red Pack crushed as well.
      About the only pesto I buy these days is the one in the refrigerated case and Costco. Not sure if you have access to that store, if so buy it there.
      Good luck! I hope those boys love it.

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