Pasta, Pizza, Risotto, Vegan/Vegetarian

Italian Baked Ziti (with Hard Boiled Egg and Eggplant Meatballs)

Nicoletta November 22, 2019

Jump To Recipe

Italian Baked Ziti (with Hard-Boiled Egg and Eggplant Meatballs) is my interpretation of a family favorite: the Pasta al forno that my grandma would make for a Sunday Lunch. Always with ziti pasta, a rosé tomato sauce, hard-boiled eggs tucked inside, and a good amount of mozzarella and Parmigiano. I added tiny eggplant meatballs, that are oven-baked and so delicious! Get some help in the kitchen and start making this incredible pasta dish for your next family gathering.

Song of the day: Hey Look Ma, I Made It – Panic! At The Disco

Italian Baked Ziti- feature

This oven-baked ziti recipe features a luscious tomato sauce with ricotta mixed in, al dente ziti coated in the sauce, all dressed with mozzarella, Parmigiano, chunks of hard-boiled egg and tiny eggplant meatballs. Not your usual pasta bake, and definitely not a 30-minute meal, but so rewarding and fulfilling!

 

 

Sunday Lunch at Nonna’s

What a whirlwind of activities those Sunday lunches at my grannies! In the small kitchen, my grandma would make sure everyone had their task assigned, my mom and my aunts would help out chopping, cutting, rolling, stirring, whatever was being asked by “the boss”. The TV would be blasting in the living/dining room where my grandpa, dad, and uncles would be chatting, while us cousins would be running around the table set in the center of the room, or going on a raid in the kitchen, lol. 

Pasta al Forno

When my nonna (grandma) did not make her famous fettuccine, pasta al forno or lasagna were the dishes on our Sunday menu. There were my grandma’s wonderful tomato sauce and ziti as the pasta of choice (she loved them!) that we would help break into pieces, never two alike. Moreover, of course, ricotta, to mix in the sauce and make it a rosé sauce, mozzarella, grated Parmigiano, and a couple of hard-boiled eggs to nestle inside. 

As a result, I am reliving those memories in the kitchen today with a few extra touches compliments of  Giada with a vegetarian twist on my part! Come with me on this delicious memory ride and let’s cook together making a wonderful Italian Baked Ziti (with Hard-Boiled Egg and Eggplant Meatballs)!

Italian Baked Ziti-in the pan after the oven

The Sauce

The tomato sauce alone would deserve a post on its own. The ingredients are:

  • e.v.o. oil
  • San Marzano tomatoes
  • garlic
  • mirepoix: carrot, onion, celery
  • chili flakes (peperoncino)
  • salt and pepper
  • basil leaves

Italian Baked Ziti-making the sauce

After simmering for 40 minutes, the sauce gets so thick and flavorful! Discard the garlic clove, celery, and basil sprigs. Then, add the ricotta. You can thank me later. Adding ricotta to a tomato sauce is a third-generation “thing” in my family: my grandma started it, my mom still does it (see her lasagna here), and I do too.  It’s one of the best things, if you decide to try it.

Italian Baked Ziti-the sauce

The Eggplant Meatballs

Why eggplant meatballs? I hear you asking. Well, many pasta al forno recipes have meatballs inside, this is my version. First because I am vegetarian, secondly, because they are amazing. They would deserve a post on their own as well. I’ve been making eggplant meatballs for a long time, although I never posted a recipe. They require some time, you can make them while the sauce is cooking on the stove.

  • First, you need to roast the eggplant, whole, that you have poked with a fork, in the oven at 400° F (200°C) for 30 minutes.
  • Secondly, scoop out the pulp, squeeze it through a sieve, and mix the pulp with an egg, some breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, parsley, and Pecorino Romano. 
  • Thirdly, form tiny meatballs in between the palm of your hands. They will be soft but I won’t suggest you add or roll them in more breadcrumbs. 
  • Lastly, bake them for about 15 minutes, turning them at half the time.
The Hard-Boiled Egg

I feel you are puzzled by the addition of the hard-boiled egg. My grandma always added hard-boiled eggs to her pasta al forno and lasagna dishes. In Central and Southern Italy it is quite usual and I can attest, quite delicious. Actually, my nonna used to crack an egg in the tomato sauce that she would use to dress her fettuccine with. I would be the sole, happy, recipient of that egg. If you’ve never had an egg that has cooked in tomato sauce, well, it is unbelievably tasty.

The Pasta

Ziti is a very popular tube-shaped pasta, mostly used in baked pasta dishes. The ziti my grandma used were the long ziti, the size of bucatini but wider, that you need to break into smaller pieces, never two alike. As a matter of fact, we found the already cut ziti, which will be more uniform as per cooking time and appearance. 

  • Cook the ziti in plenty of salted boiling water for half the cooking time. Drain them, but keep it a little watery, and toss them in a bowl with half of the rosé sauce. Leave the other half of the sauce for the assembly.

Italian Baked Ziti-the pasta and the sauce 

The Assembly

This Italian Baked Ziti (with Hard-Boiled Egg and Eggplant Meatballs) would be a perfect ‘family-cook-together’ type of dish. If you divide the tasks, it will be more pleasant, less time-consuming, and so much fun. 

Italian Baked Ziti-prep before the oven

Is It Ready Yet?

Italian Baked Ziti (with Hard-Boiled Egg and Eggplant Meatballs) are in the oven and the house smells wonderful. A peek at the oven door and you see the sauce bubbling and cheese melting, enveloping the pasta and those cute tiny eggplant meatballs. It takes about 30 minutes, then it needs to rest, to cool off a bit, and also to let the flavors mingle together.

Italian Baked Ziti

This Italian Baked Ziti (with Hard-Boiled Egg and Eggplant Meatballs) recipe is super delicious as it is, however, if you want to make some changes:

  • use your own tomato sauce, although I’m pretty sure once you try how flavorful this is, you are going to use it for a lot more dishes.
  • use your favorite meatball recipe and pan-fry them or oven-bake them as you most like. Just remember, make tiny meatballs!
  • use rigatoni or maccheroni in place of the ziti.

Italian Baked Ziti-in the pan and one serving in the plate 

Italian Baked Ziti (with Hard-Boiled Egg and Eggplant Meatballs) is a true comfort food. It is able to bring a smile on everyone’s face and will make your mouth water when presented to the table. It is also very substantial: the tomato sauce, ricotta, eggplant meatballs, hard-boiled egg, mozzarella, and Parmigiano when mixed with the pasta create an unforgettable dish with award-winning flavor and texture!

Baked pasta dishes like this one are tasty, rich, and joyful dishes that will really please everyone. They are the perfect dishes to bring to the table for your Sunday Supper, or special occasions.  

Thank you for all that you taught me nonna, and for your unconditional love. This dish is for you!

Song of the day: Hey Look Ma, I Made It – Panic! At The Disco

Print
Italian Baked Ziti-closeup in the pan

Italian Baked Ziti (with Hard-Boiled Egg and Eggplant Meatballs)

  • Author: Nicoletta
  • Prep Time: 2 hours
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x
  • Category: Pasta, Vegetarian
  • Method: Baking, Stove top
  • Cuisine: Italian

Description

This oven-baked ziti recipe features a luscious tomato sauce with ricotta mixed in, al dente ziti coated in the sauce, all dressed with mozzarella, Parmigiano, chunks of hard-boiled egg and tiny eggplant meatballs. Not your usual pasta bake, and definitely not a 30-minute meal, but so rewarding and fulfilling!


Ingredients

For the Sauce:

  • 796 ml (1 big can) San Marzano tomatoes, whole
  • 3 Tbsp e.v.o. oil
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 1 small red onion, minced
  • 1 small carrot, minced
  • 1 small celery stalk, cut in half
  • pinch of chili flakes
  • salt to taste
  • 2 sprigs of basil
  • 1/2 cup ricotta, added to the cooked sauce

For the Eggplant Meatballs:

  • 1 medium-size eggplant, roasted, the pulp
  • 1 Tbsp parsley
  • 2 Tbsp Pecorino Romano
  • 1 medium egg
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 23 Tbsp Italian-style breadcrumbs

Assembly:

  • 250 g ziti, broke into pieces, or mezzi ziti
  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella, cut in pieces
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Instructions

For the Sauce:

  1. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the e.v.o. oil, the garlic clove smashed, the minced onion and carrot, the celery and chili flakes. Cook, stirring often, until the carrots begin to soften, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add salt and the tomato puree (rinse out the can with some water and add that to the pot as well). Add the basil sprigs and stir to combine. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 40 minutes.
  3. When the sauce is done, turn off the heat, remove garlic, celery and basil. Let cool slightly in the pan, then add the ricotta and stir to combine. Set aside.

For the Eggplant Meatballs:

  1. Wash the eggplant (aubergine) and poke it with a fork. Place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in the oven at 400° F (200 ° C) for 30 minutes, turning at half the time.
  2. Once cooked, take it out of the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the pulp and discard the peel.
  3. Place the pulp in a colander or sieve and squeeze it to lose the excess moisture.
  4. Transfer the drained pulp to a bowl, and add the egg, Pecorino, salt and pepper, parsley and bread crumbs. Mix well.
  5. With the palm of your hands form tiny meatballs the size of a walnut.
  6. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush them with extra virgin olive oil before baking and cook them at 400° F (200 ° C) for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown, turning them at half the cooking time.

For the Hard-Boiled Egg:

  1. Place the egg in a saucepan and cover with cool water. Bring water to a rolling boil over high heat, then boil for 6–7 minutes over medium-high heat. Drain, peel and let cool. Chop into pieces and set aside.

For the Pasta:

  1. Cook the ziti in plenty of salted boiling water for half the cooking time. Drain them, but keep it a little watery, and toss them in a bowl with half of the rosé sauce. Leave the other half of the sauce for the assembly.

Assembly:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400º F (200° C).
  2. Cover the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with a couple ladle of the sauce.
  3. Next, layer half of the cooked ziti, followed by more sauce.
  4. Dot with three-quarters of the meatballs and the chopped boiled egg.
  5. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella and half of the Parmigiano.
  6. Top with the remaining half of the pasta and then the remaining meatballs and mozzarella.
  7. Finish with the remaining sauce and Parmigiano.
  8. Bake until lightly browned on top and bubbling around the edges, 30 minutes. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Notes

You can use your favorite tomato sauce, although I’m pretty sure once you try how flavorful this is, you are going to use it for a lot more dishes.

Use your favorite meatball recipe. Pan-fry them, or oven-bake them, or cook them in the sauce, as you most like. Just remember, make tiny meatballs!

You can use rigatoni or maccheroni in place of the ziti.

The cook time is only for the final baking of the dish. The prep time includes the cooking of the eggplant, sauce, egg, boiling of the pasta, and meatballs.

Recipe Card powered by

Italian Baked Ziti-in the pan and in the plate

You Might Also Like

27 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply Chef Dennis November 25, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    Yum! I really love Italian recipes. They are one of the best. This Italian Baked Ziti (with Hard-Boiled Egg and Eggplant Meatballs) is making me super hungry that I could hear my tummy growl.

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta November 27, 2019 at 9:36 am

      Thanks! Every time I see tese pictures I get hungry, too. Time to make some more!

  • Avatar
    Reply Elaine November 26, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    Thanks for the peek into your childhood kitchen. I would have loved to be there. This is such a great recipe for making with others. My brothers and sisters-in-law often create together in the kitchen. This will be a great recipe to try! Pinned!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta November 27, 2019 at 9:37 am

      Thank you, Elaine! She would have loved having you there. The more the merrier, even if the house was small. And surely enough food for everybody. This pasta is truly amazing!

  • Avatar
    Reply Jacqui Debono November 27, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    Baked pasta dishes are my favourite! Thanks for sharing some of your family secrets too – love the thought of ricotta in the sauce!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta November 30, 2019 at 8:47 am

      Ricotta in the tomato sauce was my family’s answer to bechamel which nobody loved. It is such a great addition! Thank you!

  • Avatar
    Reply Jess November 28, 2019 at 8:34 pm

    I absolutely LOVE baked ziti! Who wouldn’t love pasta and that sauce and all that CHEESE! YUM! Your recipe looks and sounds delicious! I can’t wait to try it out!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta November 30, 2019 at 8:48 am

      Thank you! This is such a hearty and comforting recipe! So flavorful!

  • Avatar
    Reply Carrie | Clean Eating Kitchen November 29, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    There’s just something so comforting about a pasta bake – one of my fave dishes! Love the vegetarian meatballs in this, they sound delicious!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta November 30, 2019 at 8:49 am

      I agree, one of the most perfect comfort foods. The eggplant meatballs are incredible!

  • Avatar
    Reply Kelly Anthony November 29, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    New interpretations of old family favorites are the best, and just so happen to LOVE baked ziti! This version is so fun and new — the eggplant and hard-boiled eggs must make so much heartier so there’s more to go around 🙂

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta November 30, 2019 at 8:50 am

      I have to credit my grandma for the boiled egg in the baked pasta dishes 🙂 . It is such a flavorful addition. Thank you!

  • Avatar
    Reply Denise November 30, 2019 at 7:24 am

    Nothing beats a delicious and comforting pasta bake. This looks incredible, especially the eggplant meatballs!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta November 30, 2019 at 8:51 am

      Thanks! Yes, when you fond those tiny meatballs tucked in the pasta bake you cannot but smile 🙂 .

  • Avatar
    Reply Tammy December 1, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    Love the sound of those eggplant meatballs and I’m so intrigued that you added hard boiled eggs to this. Love baked ziti definitely need to try this one!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta December 2, 2019 at 11:28 am

      Thanks so much! Yes, both the eggs and the eggplant meatballs add a wonderful component to the baked pasta.

  • Avatar
    Reply Aline December 2, 2019 at 12:03 am

    This recipe is perfect for this week – my family can’t go on another day eating turkey leftovers hahah They’ll love this!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta December 2, 2019 at 11:28 am

      Thanks! It’s a little time consuming but definitely worth it!

  • Avatar
    Reply Paula Montenegro December 2, 2019 at 2:19 am

    I’m dying over the idea of eggplant meatballs! That is genius. This whole pasta dish is right up my alley. Can’t wait to add it to my weekly cooking!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta December 2, 2019 at 11:29 am

      Thank you! Those meatballs are amazing on their own! 🙂 Have fun making the dish!

  • Avatar
    Reply Jo December 2, 2019 at 3:03 am

    Baked pasta dishes always scores with family and friends. This baked ziti looks absolutely delicious! Those eggplant meatballs are my favorite part in the recipe.

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta December 2, 2019 at 11:30 am

      Yes, baked pasta is always a winner! This is very flavorful and fulfilling! Thanks!

  • Avatar
    Reply Matt - Total Feasts December 2, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    I will fully admit, I am not a fan of eggplant (I’m blaming poorly cooked eggplant I was served as a kid), but I’m so tempted by this. I love a good baked pasta recipe, and your description and photos do make it look delicious. Might have to give it a try!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta December 3, 2019 at 10:25 am

      I know, not everybody loves eggplant. You can always replace it with regular meatballs 🙂 . Thank you!

  • Avatar
    Reply Jacque Hastert December 3, 2019 at 8:27 am

    Eggplant is a favorite at our house. I can’t wait to those this casserole together and impress the family.

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta December 3, 2019 at 10:26 am

      Eggplant meatballs are so amazing! I have to make more! Thanks!

  • Avatar
    Reply Mimi December 5, 2019 at 6:22 am

    This sounds fabulous! And I still have some really rich and thick tomato sauce I made from my summer tomatoes Leftover from when I made zucchini involtini for Thanksgiving. Thank goodness red sauce freezes so well! I can’t wait to make this. And who doesn’t love a baked pasta dish?!

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.