This fantastic Ziti recipe is full of creamy ricotta, tomato sauce, and fresh spinach, it is comfort food at its best, it will leave you satisfied, and you really want to try it again. Its flavors are a fantastic combination and they match perfectly.
Baked Ziti is an easy dish to make and perfect to serve a crowd, it is the recipe that you will turn to thousands of times for its incredible flavor and little complexity. Whether you serve it at a festive party or on a normal night of the week you are going to enjoy it 100%. Classic Ziti recipes were often filled with ground beef or Italian sausage. Instead in this recipe, we change the homemade marinara sauce for the meat sauce and add ingredients that are the key to an exquisite flavor such as fresh spinach that mixes very well with the noodles and adds a very beautiful touch of green, the Lemon ricotta gives this baked Ziti incredible creamy richness and a burst of bright flavor and last but not least, smoked mozzarella which adds a delicious savory flavor to the Italian pasta seasoning. You can't get enough!
- 4 cups of marinara sauce
- 2 cups of ricotta cheese
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon of lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon of oregano
- ¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- ¾ teaspoon of sea salt, more for the pasta water
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound ziti pasta
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- 1 pound fresh spinach
- 1½ cups of smoked mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup of grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
- Chopped fresh parsley and/or torn basil leaves, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Spread ½ cup marinara in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish.
- In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, garlic, lemon zest, oregano, red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon salt, and several grinds of fresh pepper.
- In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain.
- Return the pot to the stove. Over low heat, drizzle the bottom of the pot with a little olive oil and add the spinach. Toss and sauté 1 to 2 minutes until just wilted, working in batches if necessary. Turn off the heat, remove the spinach from the pot, and gently squeeze out some of the excess water. Coarsely chop it and set it aside.
- Add the pasta back to the pot along with the remaining marinara, most of the chopped spinach, ¼ teaspoon sea salt, and more fresh pepper and toss until combined.
- Add half the pasta to the baking dish, top with dollops of the ricotta, the remaining spinach, and scoop the remaining pasta on top. Top with the mozzarella and pecorino cheese. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until the cheese is browned, 16 to 22 minutes.
- Garnish with fresh basil or parsley and serve hot.