It’s creamy, cheesy, and crunchy: it’s stuffed ziti fritta! And, best of all, this delicious Olive Garden appetizer is easy to make at home.
Stuffed ziti fritta is an American-Italian fusion dish. You make it by stuffing tube pasta with an amazing cheese mixture. It’s made with five cheeses, so you know this dish will be gooey and delicious.
Then, you coat the filled pasta in breadcrumbs and deep-fry everything until the coating turns golden.
Olive Garden, an American-Italian casual dining chain, popularized stuffed ziti fritta. It’s called stuffed ziti fritta because “fritta” means “fried” in Italian. And that’s exactly what you do with the pasta.
When you’re done, you’ll have a crispy coating and gooey interior, similar to a mozzarella stick.
Stuffed ziti fritta is a great appetizer or finger food for game nights, sleepover parties, movie nights – or any time you have a hankering for salty, savory, crispy goodness.
And when you make it at home, you can eat it right out of the fryer. Going out to eat can be expensive, so why not enjoy Olive Garden’s delicious food in your own kitchen?
Tips For Making the Best Stuffed Ziti Fritta
Use Rigatoni, Not Ziti
While ziti pasta is the original shape used in this stuffed ziti fritta recipe, it can be a bit hard to stuff. So, I like to use rigatoni pasta instead.
Ziti and rigatoni are made from the same dough, so they taste the same. And they even have similar shapes.
However, rigatoni has a wider hole down the middle, so it’s easier to stuff.
Cook Al Dente
For this stuffed ziti fritta recipe, only cook the pasta until it’s al dente. If you cook it too much, the noodles will start to fall apart when you put the stuffing in.
To get the perfect al dente pasta, cook ziti or rigatoni for 10-12 minutes.
Soften the Cream Cheese
Soft filling makes the stuffed pasta easier to stuff. So, about 10-15 minutes before you start making the filling, take your cream cheese out of the fridge.
But if you forget, you can try beating the cream cheese in a stand mixer for a few minutes to soften it.
Use a Pastry Bag
For me, the easiest way to fill the pasta is with a pastry bag. Choose a nozzle that fits in the pasta’s opening, and gently squeeze the cheese mixture into the tube.
However, if you don’t have a pastry bag, you can use a plastic bag with one corner snipped off. Your stuffed ziti fritta probably won’t look as neat, but it will taste just as delicious.
Freeze Before Frying
To keep the breaded noodles from falling apart in the deep fryer, put them in the freezer for 30 minutes before you add them to the oil.
In addition, freezing them will help them get extra crispy.
How to Make Stuffed Ziti Fritta
- Prep Time30 min
- Cook Time20 min
- Total Time1h+20 min
- Servings6 portion
- Yield6 portion
Chilling Time: 30 min
For the pasta:
For the filling:
- Cook the Pasta
First, fill one of the pots to the halfway mark with water. Then, add a dash of salt.
Heat the water to a boil and pour in the pasta. Let the pasta cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the al dente stage.
In general, this will take less time than the package says. So, start testing the pasta about 2 minutes before the box says it should be done.
When the noodles have reached al dente, take the pot off the stove and drain the pasta. Then, add a splash of olive oil and stir the pasta so it’s coated and won’t stick to itself.
Allow the pasta to cool down while you begin the filling.
- Prepare the Stuffing
In the mixing bowl, add all of the cheeses and stir them together well. Then, fill the piping bag or plastic bag with the mixture.
If using a plastic bag, snip one corner off for piping.
- Fill the Pasta
To properly fill the pasta, only fill half of the tube at a time. So, pipe the mixture into one side of a noodle, and then flip it around to fill the other.
Once you have filled all of your noodles, put them on the baking tray. Freeze the cheese-filled noodles for 30 minutes.
- Bread the Pasta
Before breading the pasta, start heating the frying oil. In the second large pot or deep fryer, bring the oil to 350 degrees F.
While you wait for the oil to heat, bread the stuffed ziti.
First, dip a piece of pasta in the flour. Make sure that all sides are covered, and then gently tap off any extra.
Next, dip the pasta in the egg, and again let the extra drip off.
Finally, dip the pasta in the breadcrumbs and make sure it’s completely coated.
Repeat this process with the rest of the stuffed rigatoni or ziti.
- Deep Fry
When the oil is hot, add a few pieces of pasta. Lower them gently so they don’t splash or break, and only add about 5-6 pieces at a time.
Let the noodles fry for about 3 minutes. At that point, the outside should be golden brown, and the cheese inside will be gooey and melted.
Line a plate with paper towels, and when the noodles are done, place them on top. And continue cooking the remaining noodles in small batches.
- Serve and Enjoy!
For a pretty presentation, sprinkle chopped parsley and grated parmesan cheese on top. And serve the stuffed ziti fritta hot with your favorite dips!
What to Serve With Stuffed Ziti Fritta
Marinara Sauce and Alfredo Sauce
Olive Garden serves stuffed ziti fritta with marinara and alfredo sauce, and you can too!
Marinara sauce is a simple tomato sauce that’s a little sour and a little acidic. This is perfect for cutting the creaminess of the stuffed ziti.
Alfredo sauce, on the other hand, brings out the cheesiness of the ziti fritta. Since this sauce is made with parmesan cheese and heavy cream, it’s great for people who love rich dips!
With either of these dips, you can add extra herbs into the sauce or on top of the pasta for more flavor. For example, fresh basil and parsley are delicious in marinara sauce.
Since stuffed ziti fritta is a pretty heavy dish, it’s nice to serve it with lighter sides that won’t overpower it. For example, a plain green salad is a great option.
Crisp, fresh veggies balance the cheese-filled noodles, fried to perfection.
Fried foods like breaded rigatoni and ziti taste best if you eat them immediately. That way they’ll be perfectly crisp.
But if you do have leftovers, put them in an airtight container. You can refrigerate them for a day or two, or you can freeze stuffed ziti fritta for up to 2 months.
Also, certain cheeses, such as cream cheese, don’t taste good if they’re frozen. But since the cream cheese in this stuffed ziti fritta recipe is mixed with other cheeses, it will be fine in the freezer for a month or two.
Dried noodles are made from durum wheat, which is different from the regular wheat used in bread and pastry. Durum wheat has more protein and fewer carbohydrates, which means it has a lower glycemic index.
This means your blood sugar won’t spike as quickly. However, this stuffed ziti fritta isn’t a health food.
There’s a lot of saturated fat from the cheese, which can cause issues with cholesterol levels and heart disease over time. This copycat stuffed ziti fritta recipe also has a lot of fat in general, as well as a lot of calories per serving.
But as with everything, you know your body best, and treats are fine in moderation. – Kristen Mae Magbanua, RDN