Spicy Mexican Mole Baked Ziti

Well, it’s officially freezing here in NYC!

I’ve been spending my days layered up in leggings, sweaters, fuzzy socks and booties, even the occasional blanket-worn-as-a-shawl!

Very stylish, I can assure you.

The other thing I do to stay warm is look for any and every excuse to turn on the oven. Cake? Let’s do it! Reheat leftovers? Into the oven! Toast? Why not! I’ve been baking desserts, braising meats, broiling fish—really just about everything.

And since I knew I had to create another easy Latin-inspired dinner recipe for my sponsored Barilla partnership, I figured it was about time for a rich and comforting baked pasta dish. Hence, this gorgeous Spicy Mexican Mole Baked Ziti!

So much Latin-Italian fusion going on here.

Growing up in northern New Jersey, I ate a LOT of baked ziti. It was the ultimate cozy dish for cold winter nights, and a total crowd-pleasing recipe.

This is one of those Sunday dinner kind of recipes, when the whole family is over and you’ve got lots of hungry mouths to feed. The leftovers are amazing, too, making busy Monday and Tuesday just a little bit easier on you.

I added a bunch of Latin flavor to a traditional baked ziti recipe, by using a spicy, flavorful Mexican red mole sauce.

Mole is actually a name for several different kinds of Mexican sauces made from a mix of ground roasted chiles, tomatoes, chocolate, and spices. It’s rich, smoky, spicy, and full of complex flavor. Traditionally, making mole meant hours in the kitchen of roasting and grinding.

Now while I actually did make mine from scratch, you could easily use a good store-bought sauce—there are so many great ones available today so there is no need to spend hours in the kitchen like Abuela used to. Look for it in the Latin aisle of well-stocked grocery stores, or even online.

Mixed with regular old canned crushed tomatoes and a bit of chipotle adobo sauce (also easily found at the grocery store), it creates the most amazing smoky pasta sauce ever. It’s a really cool way to infuse a little bit of classic Latin tradition into your everyday.

For the cheese, I used ricotta cheese and shredded queso Oaxaca, which is a Mexican cheese that’s very similar in taste and texture to mozzarella.

I used Barilla Ziti for this recipe for obvious reasons (this is baked ziti, after all), but you could easily substitute your favorite Barilla pasta shape. Something like penne or rigatoni would work well, too.

Whichever shape you choose, I think Barilla's pasta is particularly perfect for baked dishes like this one because the quality is such that it really holds its shape once cooked, and doesn't break up or get all clumpy.

When making baked pasta dishes, it’s really important to undercook the pasta to avoid getting mushy pasta after the additional bake time. Even al dente is a bit too much in this case!

I recommend cooking the Barilla ziti for about 8 minutes, then immediately draining and rinsing under cold water to stop the cooking. When you put it in the oven to bake, it will finish cooking and your final dish will come out absolutely perfect!

Just 45 minutes in the oven until super bubbly and melty, and you will have an amazingly easy dinner to serve the whole family.

For more easy pasta recipes with Latin flavors, visit pastaatuestilo.com. This is a sponsored post on behalf of Barilla, however, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive sentiments towards Barilla or their products. I only work with companies that I genuinely use and love. Thanks to them--and you!--for making all this possible.

Mexican Mole Baked Ziti
Serves 8-10 

1 box Barilla Ziti pasta (or other small tube shape like penne)
Kosher salt
Olive oil
1 pound button mushrooms, sliced
2 cups Mexican red mole sauce (store-bought or homemade)
2 cups crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons chipotle adobo sauce
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 pound queso Oaxaca or mozzarella cheese, shredded

Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti for 8 minutes, or until just slightly harder than al dente. Drain, rinse under cold water, and toss with olive oil. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet set over medium heat and sauté the mushrooms until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Whisk together the red mole sauce and the crushed tomatoes. Add all but 1 cup of the mole-tomato mixture to the pasta, and toss gently to coat.

Add the ricotta, the adobo sauce, and 3/4 of the shredded cheese (reserving the rest), and the cooled cooked mushrooms. Fold in gently until evenly mixed.

Pour pasta into a baking dish, cover with the remaining mole-tomato sauce and top with the remaining shredded cheese.

Bake for 45 minutes or until bubbling.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.

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