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…).