This easy casserole goes from start to eating in far less than an hour. Perfect for entertaining or a quick dinner idea.
1-13.5ouncebox pasta of your choiceI prefer ziti or penne
8ouncesblock cream cheesesoftened to room temperature and cut into 8 cubes; any fat content
1-25ouncejar pasta sauceI prefer a basil or Italian spiced
1-14ouncecan petite diced tomatoesundrained
2cupsshredded cheesedivided (I prefer mozzarella or Parmesan)
fresh basil or parsleyfinely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large pot, cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. I prefer to cook my pasta al dente since it will cook a bit more in the liquid in the casserole dish. Drain the pasta.
While the large pot is still hot, add the cubed cream cheese and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until mostly melted. Add the hot pasta, pasta sauce, and diced tomatoes. Stir until pasta is well-coated. Stir in half (1 cup) of the shredded cheese until evenly dispersed.
Pour the pasta into a 2 quart casserole (I have also used a 9x13" baking dish or disposable casserole container). Sprinkle remaining shredded cheese evenly over the top and bake for 25-30 minutes or until cheese bubbles. Remove from oven and allow to cool 15 minutes before serving. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator, covered or wrapped tightly, up to 1 week. Baked casserole freezes well-- up to 2 months. Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Cut up and heat individual servings in the microwave or cover with foil and bake in a 300ºF oven for 20 minutes. Make ahead: casserole can be assembled and refrigerated up to 12 hours. Add an extra 5 minutes to baking time.
If you'd like to add meat to this baked ziti, stir in 2 cups of cooked meat before you put it into the casserole to bake. Bake as directed.