Baked Ziti

This baked ziti uses ricotta, mozzarella, and creme fraîche to make a bubbly, rich pasta with a hearty, spinach-flecked red sauce loaded with flavor. The creme fraîche keeps things silky, adds dimension, and is a game changer. A family favorite that freezes well and happily feeds a crowd.

Continue reading Baked Ziti on 101 Cookbooks

I discovered a truly fantastic version of baked ziti in 2017 when I started cooking from Colu Henry’s Back Pocket Pasta. Big, hearty, family-style pastas are a great love of mine, but my baked ziti attempts were always just so-so. I struggled with overall cohesiveness, and the ricotta mixture always tended to bake up a little drier than I hoped. Colu’s technique was a game-changer. She recommends a 50/50 blend of ricotta and creme fraîche in her recipe – it keeps everything silky and rich, and I’ve never looked back. And yep, sour cream will also work in a pinch.baked ziti in a metal tin hot from the oven with lots of melted cheese on top

What Makes Great Baked Ziti?

If you want to make the best baked ziti, focus on two things: how long you cook the pasta, and the sauce. The sauce is king here. You want to use good, flavorful tomatoes, and you want to let everything simmer down into a thick, chunky, vibrant red sauce. A bit of patience is key. See the sauce in the photo below? Keep simmering. On the pasta front, avoid over-cooking in the initial stage, the boil. The ziti will continue cooking as the pasta bakes – you want to arrive at the finish line with perfect pasta. If you overcook during the initial boil, the pasta will become too soft and unstructured.

Baked Ziti: The Ingredients

  • Dried ziti pasta: Use a good-quality dried pasta here. Ziti is the namesake shape to use, but penne is a legit alternative and easier to find tbh. For a bit of added nutrition, explore whole wheat pastas, or pasta made with lentils or chickpeas. As I’ve mentioned in previous pasta recipes, a forever favorite of mine is the Monograno Felicetti Farro Penne Rigate. You can even make baked ziti gluten-free by swapping in one of the GF pastas.
  • Baby spinach: One note here, if your baby spinach has long thick stems, go ahead and snap the biggest offenders off. Aside from that I don’t bother chopping or fussing.
  • Canned tomatoes: Look for good-quality diced canned tomatoes. Note that you’ll need both a 28-ounce *and* a 14-ounce can. I tend to grab fire-roasted for this recipe, but you don’t have to!
    red sauce for baked ziti in a skillet with a wooden spoon
  • Sausage: I rarely buy or cook with fake meat, but this is one recipe where I use Impossible sausage for the meat component. It just helps check all the boxes for a big, family-style baked ziti that everyone can get on board with. Another alternative is to use this mushroom ragù as your sauce, in place of the red sauce with sausage posted below. 
  • Cheeses: Three cheese are in play here. Use fresh mozzarella if possible. It’ll typically be in liquid, and any size is fine – you’ll be tearing it into smaller pieces. For the grated cheese Colu recommends Pecorino Romano, but if you tend to keep Parmesan on hand, go ahead and use that – freshly grated. And the ricotta plays another key roll here, so use one you’d enjoy eating straight – on a cracker or slice of toast.
    ingredients for baked ziti in a baking tin ready to go into oven
  • Creme fraîche: The wildcard in this baked ziti is the addition of creme fraîche. To make your own, you can add 1 tablespoon of cultured buttermilk or yogurt to a cup of heavy cream. Stir well, cover with a clean dishtowel, and allow to sit out on your counter for 12 hours or so, until it thickens. Refrigerate until ready to use. Alternately, you can use sour cream here. It’s tangier, but in a good way!

baked ziti being served on a marble table with drinks and plates

Variations

Here are some favorite variations on this baked ziti that I’ve cooked over the years.

  • Make it Spicy: To make this baked ziti feisty and spicy, add a bit of spicy Calabrian pepper paste (the one I buy most is called Bomba di Calabria) to the sauce after adding the spinach. Go easy, some of these pastes are wildly spicy. But also go stronger than you might otherwise because the sauce will be cut with all that dairy. Taste and adjust.
  • Make it Gluten Free: You can make this recipe gluten-free by using GF pasta in place of traditional pasta. At the time I’m writing this the Impossible sausage is GF, but double check – in case you’re using another brand or their product changes.
  • Baked Ziti with Mushrooms: I do a version of this baked ziti using this mushroom ragù, and it is equally fantastic. Basically, fill a 12-inch skillet to 1/2-inch or so below the rim, and stir in the 5 ounces or spinach. Then proceed with the recipe as written. Basically, don’t skimp on the amount of sauce you’re using.  https://www.101cookbooks.com/mushroom-ragu/
  • Toss in Some Wildcards: A lot of times when making baked ziti, I’ll toss ingredients in on a whim. Whatever I have at hand. A few of the more successful additions include the following: torn olives, lots of lemon or orange zest, extra spinach or herbs, deeply caramelized onions, goat cheese in place of half the mozzarella.

baked ziti in a metal tin

Baked Ziti: Make Ahead Tips

This recipe makes a large pan of baked ziti. We typically eat half and freeze half resulting in easy meals in the coming weeks. The best way I’ve found to freeze baked ziti is to start by refrigerating your baked ziti until it is very cold. This makes it easy to slice into precise, individual portions. Arrange the portions on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Transfer to freezer bags for up to 6 weeks. Reheat, covered in foil, on a baking sheet (or in baking pan), in a 375F oven until bubbly and hot throughout.

back pocket pasta cookbook
colu henry and husband

Back Pocket Pasta & Colu

Colu’s archives are a gold-mine of low lift, fabulous meals. In the years since Back Pocket Pasta was published, she also wrote Colu Cooks: Easy Fancy Food. You need someone like Colu Henry in your life. When Back Pocket Pasta was published, I wrote, “She’s one of those stylish friends who will tell you where to score the prettiest dresses, help you book the best travel destinations, and happily point you toward your next good read.” She’s the queen of bringing effortless style to the weeknight dinner table and her books are brimming with casual recipes achievable with little more than a reasonably stocked pantry and a bit of seasonal flair. You can follow her here and here.

More Pasta Recipes

 

Continue reading Baked Ziti on 101 Cookbooks

Nicoise Salad

I used salmon in place of tuna in this variation of the classic French Niçoise salad! This composed salad contains olives, artichokes, potatoes, green beans, and a whole-grain mustard vinaigrette. Nicoise Salad This easy Salmon Nicoise Salad is a delig…

I used salmon in place of tuna in this variation of the classic French Niçoise salad! This composed salad contains olives, artichokes, potatoes, green beans, and a whole-grain mustard vinaigrette. Nicoise Salad This easy Salmon Nicoise Salad is a delightful twist on the traditional Niçoise salad, which usually includes tuna. This salmon version offers a […]

Coconut Chicken Rice Bowl

This quick and easy high-protein Coconut Chicken Rice Bowl is perfect for lunch or dinner for my gluten-free, dairy-free friends! Coconut Chicken Rice Bowl I whipped up this healthy Coconut Chicken Rice Bowl for dinner the other night, and my family lo…

This quick and easy high-protein Coconut Chicken Rice Bowl is perfect for lunch or dinner for my gluten-free, dairy-free friends! Coconut Chicken Rice Bowl I whipped up this healthy Coconut Chicken Rice Bowl for dinner the other night, and my family loved them, so I had to share. They’re like coconut curry chicken but without […]

Fish en Papillote

Mediterranean baked Fish en Papillote topped with a beans, Castelvetrano olives, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, and fresh herbs. Fish en Papillote I love a healthy one-pot meal, so this Fish en Papillote (Fish in Parchement) isn’t just easy, …

Mediterranean baked Fish en Papillote topped with a beans, Castelvetrano olives, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, and fresh herbs. Fish en Papillote I love a healthy one-pot meal, so this Fish en Papillote (Fish in Parchement) isn’t just easy, is so delicious! A complete meal in one with Mediterranean flavors and the simplicity of cooking en […]

Air Fryer Turkey Meatloaf

You can’t beat the ease and convenience of air fryer turkey meatloaf—it’s perfectly moist and cooks in half the time, making it a game changer for weeknight dinners! Air Fryer Turkey Meatloaf I’m obsessed with my air fryer and use it to make everything…

You can’t beat the ease and convenience of air fryer turkey meatloaf—it’s perfectly moist and cooks in half the time, making it a game changer for weeknight dinners! Air Fryer Turkey Meatloaf I’m obsessed with my air fryer and use it to make everything like Air Fryer Chicken Breast, Air Fryer Baked Potatoes, and even […]

Green Curry Noodles

This simple Thai-inspired Green Curry Noodle recipe uses a creamy coconut sauce with tofu, Thai green curry paste, and vegetables. It’s vegan, gluten-free and anti-inflammatory. Thai Green Curry Noodles These vegan Green Curry Noodle Bowls are so…

This simple Thai-inspired Green Curry Noodle recipe uses a creamy coconut sauce with tofu, Thai green curry paste, and vegetables. It’s vegan, gluten-free and anti-inflammatory. Thai Green Curry Noodles These vegan Green Curry Noodle Bowls are so good and comforting. This dish is perfect for any anti-inflammatory diet since it’s high in protein, gluten-free, and […]

Health Nut Vegan Chili

A special, triple-bean, vegan chili inspired by Jess Damuck’s new cookbook. It’s bold, flavor-packed and uses a technique to achieve the best texture of any chili I’ve eaten. It’s time to schedule a big chili night.

Continue reading Health Nut Vegan Chili on 101 Cookbooks

There are a number of cookbooks this spring I’m wildly excited about and this exceptional vegan chili is from one of them. It is from Jess Damuck’s Health Nut: A Feel-Good Cookbook and I’ve been making it regularly ever since I saw an early version of the book last year. I’ll talk a bit more about the cookbook down below, but we’ll jump into the chili details first. Jess calls it her Very Good Vegan Chili. I double the recipe and cook it in the absolute largest pot I own – freezing the extra portions for later. It freezes brilliantly. The chili is bold, thick flavor-packed, and primed for lots of toppings.
bowl of vegan chili topped with sour cream and avocado

What I Like About This Chili

The two stand-out things I love about this chili are the flavor and the texture. Both are fantastic. Jess describes a chili full of “simmering on the stove all day” flavor, in minutes. Using smoked paprika and fire-roasted tomatoes absolutely contribute to hitting that mark. On the texture front, she has us puree a small amount of the chili with a hand blender, to lend a rich, creamy vibe when it is re-incorporated. This is a super clever technique I’ve used when making ribollita, but it never occurred to me to try it with chili. Total game changer!
marble table topped with bowls of chili and a skillet cornbread

Key Ingredients:

  • Beans: This is a triple-bean vegan chili. The beans are the stars. Jess lists a mix of black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans. You can use canned beans or the equivalent amount of beans cooked from dried. Sometimes I use a blend of both depending on what I have on hand or in the freezer. I encourage you to experiment with different types of beans. One version I did that was extra good swapped Rio Zape beans for the pintos.
  • Chile Powder: Ok, here’s where you *really* need to pay attention. There is a wide range of “chile powder” out there. Chile powder can be pure, single-varietal chile powder, a blend of pure chile powders, or a blend of chile powder and other spices. Jess likes to use ancho chile powder in this chili, I tend to keep guajillo chili powder on hand lately, so I’ve been using that. If you have a chile powder you know and love, use it. The key: don’t go overboard. You can always add more, a bit at a time, but if you make your chili too spicy, it’s hard to go back. For a large pot like this one, Jess would use 4 tablespoons of ancho chili powder, I’ve been starting with 2 tablespoons of guajillo chili powder. Make notes so you can adjust in the future.
  • Tomatoes: As I mention in the recipe below, I make this with crushed tomatoes because that’s what I tend to keep on hand. Jess calls for diced in the original recipe. The key is: fire-roasted. It really brings some added depth and dimension to this chili.

health nut cookbook by jess damuck
Health Nut: A Feel-Good Cookbook

Take a peak at a few of the photo spreads from this book. As a life-long Californian I lost my mind (in a good way) when I first saw Health Nut. It has 70s California health food vibes throughout, and my co-op nostalgia kicked in hard. The fonts! The graphics! Omg the recipes!
opening page spread of health nut cookbook by jess damuck
chapter opener text and graphics from health nut cookbook by jess damuck

The sun-drenched photography is by Linda Pugliese and some amazing double-exposures by Roger Steffens. If real food with hippie vibes through an updated lens is where you want to be as a cook, track this book down. I know a lot of you were fans of Salad Freak, also by Jess, Health Nut is her follow up. You can follow Jess here.
photo of jess damuck in health nut cookbook
photos from health nut cookbook by jess damuck

Having a great chili recipe in your back pocket is never a bad idea. It’s legitimately the perfect go-to if you’re feeding a crowd. A chili like this one is both fantastic, and can accommodate the whole range of eaters – vegetarians, gluten-free, and dairy free. It’s great alongside this skillet cornbread.  

More Chili Recipes

bowl of vegan chili topped with sour cream, lime, cilatnro and avocado

More Bean Recipes

Continue reading Health Nut Vegan Chili on 101 Cookbooks

Baked Steelhead Trout

This easy Baked Steelhead Trout recipe is quick, flavorful, and delicious! It’s roasted with lemons, lemon zest, and capers. Baked Steelhead Trout If you find yourself at Aldi, you must pick up a package of their steelhead trout. It’s delicious, topped…

This easy Baked Steelhead Trout recipe is quick, flavorful, and delicious! It’s roasted with lemons, lemon zest, and capers. Baked Steelhead Trout If you find yourself at Aldi, you must pick up a package of their steelhead trout. It’s delicious, topped with lemon and capers, and baked in the oven. I served it with an […]

Chicken Saltimbocca

Chicken Saltimbocca is made with pounded chicken breasts stuffed with prosciutto and sage in a light white wine sauce. Lighter Chicken Saltimbocca Chicken Saltimbocca is a variation of the traditional Italian dish Saltimbocca, which typically features …

Chicken Saltimbocca is made with pounded chicken breasts stuffed with prosciutto and sage in a light white wine sauce. Lighter Chicken Saltimbocca Chicken Saltimbocca is a variation of the traditional Italian dish Saltimbocca, which typically features veal cutlets wrapped with prosciutto and sage. I order this dish all the time from my favorite Italian restaurant, […]

Italian Shrimp Salad

This garlicky Italian Shrimp Salad recipe is loaded with shrimp, celery, and a mix of bold Italian olives, all brightened with a lemony dressing. Italian Shrimp Salad Shrimp salad is my go-to dish when I need to bring an appetizer to a party! It’…

This garlicky Italian Shrimp Salad recipe is loaded with shrimp, celery, and a mix of bold Italian olives, all brightened with a lemony dressing. Italian Shrimp Salad Shrimp salad is my go-to dish when I need to bring an appetizer to a party! It’s a great way to make sure I’m getting lean protein and […]