The Ricotta Swap For Smoother Baked Ziti

Potentially one of the richest and most filling pasta dishes of all time, there's truly no comfort food quite like a classic baked ziti. The dish is made with pasta, sausage, and red wine — and let's not forget the copious amounts of ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella cheese. On a cold winter day, a bowl of the creamy, tomato-y pasta is sure to warm your soul and your stomach.

Baked ziti is not only rich in cheesy goodness but also Italian heritage. According to Garrubbo Guide, it's an example of an al forno dish, which simply means it's cooked in the oven, and this traditional method of making food dates as far back as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Al forno is the method traditionally used to make other beloved Italian favorites such as bread, pasta, and pizza, Delighted Cooking shares. 

And when it comes to baked ziti, everyone has their own favorite way of customizing it. According to Kitchn, you can add spinach, extra seasonings, white wine, or use slow-cooked tomato sauce for more depth of flavor. And when it's time to mix in the cheese, there is one swap you can make for an even creamier baked ziti.

Try switching out ricotta for parmesan cream sauce

Although baked ziti packs in three types of cheeses, ricotta, with its mild flavor and distinctive creamy texture, is often considered the star of the show. Though ricotta isn't technically considered a cheese, it's no less delicious when paired with a punchy wine or baked ricotta cheesecake recipe. And according to Kitchn, perhaps it's best to end its uses there, as the outlet says in baked ziti, ricotta can often dry out and develop a grainy texture.

An improved substitute, according to Serious Eats, is to make a quick Parmesan cream sauce. To do so, simply whisk heavy cream with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and you'll have a smooth addition that won't turn dry in the oven. Or, if you want to get a little fancier, An Italian in My Kitchen recommends a Parmesan cream sauce made with whole milk, butter, flour, and Parmesan that you can use in baked pasta recipes. Serious Eats further notes that while the sauce is delicious baked into ziti, it's even better when spooned on top of the dish after cooking.

If you're simply looking to substitute another cheese for ricotta without the extra step, cottage cheese is the most similar, and cream cheese and mascarpone are also worthy replacements (via Izzy Cooking). But the richness and smoothness of Parmesan cream sauce are worth the extra effort.