I Tried Giada De Laurentiis’ Five-Star Lemon Baked Ziti and Yes It’s That Good

published Oct 13, 2023
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Giada de Laurentiis' Lemon Baked Ziti
Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller

I can’t help but have casseroles on my mind this time of the year. It’s the familiar taste of home that gets me every time. It doesn’t matter which recipe it is — the heart and soul of a casserole consists of heavy doses of family, tradition, and, of course, being stuffed.

When it comes to casseroles, no two words get my appetite going more than “baked ziti.” It’s one of the most versatile and easy dishes to whip up, and I love trying different iterations of this classic family meal. So when Giada De Laurentislemon baked ziti popped up on my radar, I was intrigued by the inclusion of the word “lemon” and felt compelled to try it out for myself. I was definitely curious how the acidity and sourness of lemon would affect the rest of the ingredients. 

How to Make Giada De Laurentis’ Lemon Baked Ziti

There are a few different steps involved in bringing this recipe to life, so just follow along closely. Start by greasing a 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass or ceramic dish and set it aside. Preheat your oven to 350°F and position the oven rack in the center of the oven.

In a large pot of salted water, boil the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the pasta and set aside.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick skillet and add in the pancetta. Cook for about 8 minutes or until brown and crispy. When ready, carefully remove the pancetta from the pan and let drain on paper towels.

For the sauce, use a 2-quart saucepan to melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk for about 2 minutes until smooth, then gradually add the milk, whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming. Add lemon zest and continue to simmer over medium heat until the sauce thickens, making sure to whisk constantly. After about 10 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the parmesan, salt, and pepper.

Use a large bowl to combine the cheese sauce, cooked pancetta, pasta, basil, and thyme. Toss the mixture until all of the ingredients are coated and incorporated together. Stir in lemon juice, then spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the top with mozzarella, followed by a mixture of parmesan and breadcrumbs. Finally, drizzle the top with olive oil and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is beautifully golden-brown. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving and enjoying.

Credit: Nathan Hutsenpiller

My Honest Opinion of Giada De Laurentis’ Lemon Baked Ziti

I loved this recipe so much that I’m heating up leftovers while writing this review. Truthfully, Giada’s lemon baked ziti was a sleeper recipe for me, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about lemon being one of the main ingredients. However, when I had my first taste of that incredible cheese sauce, boy did I sing a different tune. The sauce had a thickness and creaminess to it reminiscent of gravy, and the hint of lemon just pushed it over the edge, making it the glue that held the entire recipe together. 

I’ve always been a sucker for a good oven-baked casserole, and the melted mozzarella topped with a breadcrumb and parmesan mixture brought all the nostalgia of my grandmother’s cooking to the forefront while I chowed down. I absolutely love when food has the ability to not only taste amazing, but actually give you feelings and bring back core memories in the process. I will without a doubt be adding Giada’s recipe to my rotation, and can’t wait to see what my family thinks of it this holiday season.  

3 Tips for Making Giada De Laurentis’ Lemon Baked Ziti

  • Use the pancetta cooking juices as a drizzle. For extra flavor, instead of using olive oil as a drizzle for the topping, use the leftover cooking juices from the pancetta. 
  • No pancetta, no problem. If your local deli is out of pancetta, then prosciutto, guanciale, or bacon would be acceptable alternatives while still bringing loads of flavor to the dish.
  • A little lemon goes a long way. The addition of lemon zest and lemon juice definitely translates into the flavor of each bite. So if you aren’t keen on the potential of lemon overpowering the recipe for you, cut the zest down to just one lemon, and go easy on the lemon juice.