this un-baked ziti is easily one of my new favorite recipes, one that i predict i will be making again and again (because 6 times in a month hasn’t been enough…). besides the fact that it’s delicious, can we talk for a second about how it only requires one pan? one, as in, one. no mixing bowls, no cheese grater. and you don’t even have to turn on the oven. it’s definitely one of the easier dinners i make, but it tastes like it took hours.
besides being easy to throw together, it’s also flexible. my default version includes hot italian turkey sausage but it’s equally delicious with sautéed mushrooms instead, if you want to keep it vegetarian. you can also make it as mild or as spicy as you prefer, both by tweaking the amount of crushed red pepper that you add (or don’t) and by using mild/sweet italian sausage in place of the hot/spicy italian sausage.
as far as leftovers go, i will say this: my husband and i love this as leftovers. that said, if you are firmly against pasta that is any softer than al dente, you might want to scale the recipe to fit your crowd so that you don’t end up with leftovers. as you can imagine with a pasta dish that is fairly saucy, the pasta absorbs liquid from the sauce as it sits in the fridge and the pasta continues to soften. it doesn’t bum me out, but i realize not everyone has room in their heart for softer pasta.
on a related note, i just want to address the ingredient that was almost a nonstarter for me when i first read the recipe: no-boil pasta. the original recipe called for no-boil lasagna sheets and both the recipe authors and commenters promised that the texture was good and not as terrible as i’d always sort of assumed no-boil lasagna would. the recipe was posted on food52, which i decided was food-snobby enough for me, so i gave it a try.
and they were right, mostly. the no-boil part was totally fine. what worked significantly less well was the shape and general unruliness of the lasagna sheets. breaking them in half as directed without shooting lasagna splinters all over the stove was a challenge, as was fully submerging all of the sheets in the sauce, without cramming them so much that they stuck together like laminated pastry and refused to soften all the way through.
i suffered through this nonsense once or twice in early rounds of testing before i noticed the box of barilla no-boil penne (“pronto”) on the shelf at the grocery store. success! penne is muuuuuch better suited to this little one pan miracle.
the last thing i had to straighten out was the cheese. the first time i made this un-baked ziti, i couldn’t find mascarpone (or maybe already had cream cheese and was trying to use it up?) so i used cream cheese, which the original recipe indicates you can substitute in for mascarpone. lies. i found the tang of the cream cheese to be too distracting. for my next trial, i switched to mascarpone and liked it much better.
i made this recipe while traveling over the holidays and couldn’t find mascarpone so opted to stir a little bit of the mozzarella that goes on top into the pasta instead and that worked just fine, too. a tiny splash of heavy cream would probably also work, if you had it already (i wouldn’t buy it just to use a tablespoon or two though; the pasta is delicious without it).
so now that i’ve worked all the kinks out, i look forward to making this new favorite recipe for years to come (perhaps starting with next week’s meal plan, as we’re down to our last half-serving of un-baked ziti…).
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 13 oz. (369 g. / 4 links from a 20 oz. package that contains 6 links) hot italian turkey sausage (can substitute sweet and/or pork sausage), casings removed (see notes for vegetarian option)
- 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
- 4 large cloves of garlic, minced
- crushed red pepper, to taste
- (2) 28 oz. (794 g.) cans of whole, peeled tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 sprig of fresh basil (intact), plus a small handful of loose leaves (torn into small pieces)
- 9 oz. (255 g.) no-boil penne, such as barilla pronto
- 4 oz. (1/2 cup / 113 g.) mascarpone cheese, see notes
- 8 oz. (227 g.) fresh mozzarella, diced
- in a large skillet with high sides and a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. when hot, add the sausages and break into small crumbles as they cook. stir frequently until pink is no longer visible when you break into the center of a crumble. transfer the browned sausage to a medium bowl, leaving as much oil in the pan as possible.
- turn the heat down to medium-low and add the onions. stir occasionally until the onions are translucent and just beginning to turn golden brown, about 5 – 6 minutes. add the garlic and crushed red pepper and stir constantly for 30 seconds, until the garlic is fragrant but not yet starting to brown. add the tomatoes and their juice, the oregano, the sprig of basil, and the cooked sausage. use a potato masher or a large spoon and clean kitchen scissors (if your pot is nonstick) to crush/cut the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. turn the heat up to medium then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. if the wilted basil sprig is going to bother you, remove it (i never bother).
- add the no-boil penne to the sauce and stir until the pasta is submerged in the sauce. it’s ok if a few little pasta tips are poking out of the sauce but if it’s more than that, add a little bit of water and stir to get the pasta submerged. cover the pan and let the pasta and sauce simmer for 10 minutes, stirring halfway through (be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan). after 10 minutes, check the pasta for doneness.
- once the pasta is done, dollop the mascarpone over the pasta then stir it into the sauce. sprinkle the mozzarella cubes over the top, replace the lid, and simmer until the cheese on top is melted, 2 – 3 minutes. remove from heat and let rest uncovered up to 10 minutes, if the sauce is too watery. once ready to serve, sprinkle the torn basil over the top. leftovers keep well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days, though the pasta will continue to soften a bit. heat leftovers in the microwave.
vegetarian option: to make this vegetarian, replace the sausage with 8 oz. (227 g.) sliced white mushrooms and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. sauté the mushrooms and the onion at the same time, then add the tomato paste with the garlic. no other modifications needed.
mascarpone: if you can’t find mascarpone (check the dairy case near cream cheese, the fancy cheese section near the deli, and the produce area near the berries), you can stir a little bit of the mozzarella that goes on top into the pasta instead (then top with the remaining mozzarella, as indicated above). a tiny splash of heavy cream would probably also work, if you had it already (i wouldn’t buy it just to use a tablespoon or two though; the pasta is delicious without it). i don’t recommend substituting in cream cheese, despite the similar texture, because the tangy flavor is distracting.
adapted from skillet lasagna at food52.