Ziti Pasta Bake
Ziti pasta bake is full of lots of cheese and Italian herbs. It’s perfect for a quick weeknight meal.

Until I began this column, I had no idea how many variations of pasta there are.

I used to think I was pretty knowledgeable until I continued to discover new types that often were tough to find in small-town Kansas grocery stores.

My recipe this week called for ziti, a tube-shaped pasta I’m definitely familiar with, but my local store didn’t have any in stock, so I opted for some penne instead.

That got me to thinking that there are at least three tubular pastas I could think of: ziti, penne and rigatoni, and I decided to do some digging to figure out what the real difference is.

An article online by Brette Warshaw went into great detail about the minuscule differences between the three—most notably, the length. Standard penne is 2.12 inches long, ziti is 2 inches, and rigatoni is 1.8. Other than that, there are small differences in end cut and ridges, but that’s really about it from a visual standpoint. So, when I made this week’s recipe for a ziti pasta bake, I just grabbed what was available as far as tube-shaped pasta and hoped I wasn’t making a mistake.

The recipe I tried comes from the blog “Together as Family.” You can find the original at https://togetherasfamily.com/cheesy-ziti-pasta-bake/. I added lots more herbs in my version.

Ziti Pasta Bake

Ziti pasta bake is full of lots of cheese and Italian herbs. It's perfect for a quick weeknight meal.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: basil, cheese, cream cheese, garlic, Greek yogurt, marinara, mozzarella, oregano, parsley, sour cream, spaghetti sauce, ziti

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces ziti
  • 24 ounces spaghetti sauce
  • 14.5 ounces petite diced tomatoes undrained
  • 8 ounces cream cheese softened
  • 2 teaspoons basil
  • 2 teaspoons parsley
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 6-8 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set it aside.
  • Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the sauce, diced tomatoes, cream cheese, basil, parsley, oregano, garlic, onion powder, salt and pepper.
  • Once the pasta is done, drain it (don’t rinse it) and add it to the mixing bowl and stir.
  • Pour half of the pasta mixture into the baking dish and then spread the sour cream over the top. Sprinkle on about half of the mozzarella, spread the remaining pasta on top, and then finish with the rest of the cheese.
  • Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until the top of the cheese is melted fully and slightly browned.
  • Serve with some garlic bread.

This was creamy and cheesy and really yummy. It was also meatless, and I didn’t miss the protein at all. You could easily use a meat sauce in this, though, if you would like to.

And despite the use of penne, it was pretty good. I will warn you, though, that apparently my substitution is not without controversy. Chef Paula Ghosh wrote a blog post about ziti vs. penne, and she notes that despite the two pastas having similar origins, ziti is meant to be used in baked dishes, and penne is meant to be mixed in with sauce.

She claims that even seemingly insignificant differences in pastas can change the entire flavor profile of a dish. Since she’s the expert, I suppose I’ll have to take her word for it, but I can tell you this was great even with the penne. It might be even better if you followed the pasta rules.

This piece first appeared in print on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas and sponsored by Main Street Co. & Kitchen Corner in Newton, Kan. Visit their website at shopmainstco.com.