This easy baked ziti recipe is extra creamy thanks to smooth and tangy cream cheese. This baked pasta dish comes together quickly, leftovers stay moist and flavorful for days, and it can even be made ahead of time.
8ounces(225g) block cream cheesesoftened to room temperature and cut into 8 cubes; any fat content2
1-24ounce jar(680g) pasta sauce3
1-14ounce can(411g) petite diced tomatoes4undrained
2cups(226g) shredded cheese5divided
fresh basilfinely chopped; optional
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (177ºC). In a large pot of salted water, 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 and set it aside.
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 about half (I usually just do one big handful) 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 (148ºC) oven for 20 minutes.
Make ahead: thiscasserole can be assembled and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Add an extra 5 minutes to the baking time.
Pasta: I have made this recipe with ziti, penne, and rigatoni. You can really use any type of tube-shaped pasta or any short noodle. Box amounts vary-- aim for a 13-16 ounce box.
Cream cheese: I prefer full-fat or low-fat cream cheese. I do not love this recipe with fat free cream cheese. Be sure to use the block cream cheese and not tub or whipped cream cheese.
Pasta sauce: I typically use an Italian-spiced sauce and one without chunks. You can also use a meat sauce.
Petite diced tomatoes: I have used diced tomatoes but much prefer the size of bites with petite diced tomatoes.
Shredded cheese: I usually use mozzarella or an Italian blend shredded cheese. You can shred it yourself, but this recipe works great with pre-shredded cheese.