You can certainly switch up the dairy ingredients in baked ziti; some recipes use sour cream, provolone, a parmesan cream sauce, cottage cheese, cream cheese, or mascarpone. But to nail the texture and flavors of a classic baked ziti, the formaggi trio that performs best in this hearty comfort food are mozzarella, parmesan, and ricotta.
Each cheese has a role to play in making baked ziti the soul-soothing meal that it is. The ricotta adds creaminess and a slightly sweet flavor, making it the signature soft cheese you'll see in most recipes. Plus, after baking in the oven, it melts and takes on an even silkier texture. As we know from our favorite pizzas, mozzarella melts and stretches exceptionally well, so this cheese only adds to the gooeyness of the final product while bringing a mild flavor. Conversely, parmesan provides a sharp, salty bite that brings the cheesy blend squarely out of mild territory.
How To Incorporate The Three Cheeses Into Your Baked Ziti
Although a traditional recipe requires all three, you won't want to toss them in at the same time. Since each cheese has a part to play, it's vital to add them into the dish in the proper way. After you've cooked the marinara base of onion, garlic, tomato paste, red wine, tomato sauce, and spices, add your ricotta to the sauce. And avoid incorporating it aggressively, instead folding the cheese in to keep it from turning grainy while everything bakes.
To ensure the mozzarella melts evenly throughout the dish, you'll want to layer slices of it in between the pasta mixture. Drop some of the pasta-sauce combination in your baking dish, then add mozzarella, followed by more pasta and more mozzarella. You can use shredded mozzarella here too, but the slices make for a thicker cheesy layer. Finally, sprinkle shredded parmesan under your top layer of mozzarella so that your first bite will have plenty of flavor.
Make sure to tent the dish with foil for the majority of baking so that the cheese doesn't burn -- but if you want it a little browned on top, pop your pasta under the broiler for the last few minutes of baking. You'll end up with rich, creamy, salty spoonfuls of baked ziti with just a little added crispiness.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.