Baked Ziti

Do you like lasagna, but not the fuss? Make baked ziti instead! It’s a lot like a classic lasagna casserole, but easier to make and without lots of layers or broken noodles. It makes for a perfect midweek or weekend meal, or a hot dish to bring to a potluck. Make extra and freeze for later.

This recipe is a pretty basic version, but everyone who makes baked ziti has their own unique tricks and twists to it. Some vary the cheeses, some the meat, some make meatless versions, and some people leave out the tomato sauce for a truly cheese-tastic casserole.

Baked Ziti

This version uses bulk Italian sausage, as well as a key fresh herb. In summer, that would be basil. In winter, rosemary. You could also easily use savory, sage, thyme or parsley.

Ziti is a pretty common pasta shape in most areas, but you can substitute penne pasta if you can’t find it. You want a substantial short pasta shape with places to hold the sauce and meat. You can assemble this ahead, and either refrigerate or freeze before you do the final baking.

From the recipe archive, first posted 2010.

Baked Ziti Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: Serves at least 8

If you don't have Italian seasoning in the pantry, use 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried basil and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.

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Ingredients

  • 1 pound ziti (can sub penne) pasta
  • Olive oil
  • 1 pound bulk Italian sausage or ground beef or pork
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary (or basil), minced
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 large jar of marinara sauce (about 32 ounces) or make your own tomato sauce
  • 1/2 pound of mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 1 heaping cup of ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese

Method

1 Heat a large pot of water (2 quarts of water) to a strong boil. Add a tablespoon of salt. Add the pasta and cook at a rolling boil, uncovered, until the pasta is al dente—edible but still a little firm to the bite. Drain the pasta through a colander. Toss with a little olive oil so the pasta does not stick together while you make the sauce.

2 While the water is heating in the previous step, start on the sauce. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering hot, add the bulk sausage or ground meat. Break up any large chunks of sausage as it cooks. Brown well. Don't stir that often or it will be more difficult for the meat to brown. If you are using ground beef or pork instead of sausage, sprinkle with a little salt.

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3 When the meat is mostly browned, add the onions and stir well to combine. Sauté everything until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary or basil, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Cook 1 minute, then add the tomato sauce and stir well. Bring to a simmer.

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4 Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9x13-inch casserole pan, then dot the surface with half the ricotta cheese. Ladle a spoonful of sauce into the pasta, stir it well and then add the pasta into the casserole.

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5 Pour the rest of the sauce over the pasta, dot the remaining ricotta cheese over the pasta, and sprinkle on top both the mozzarella and the Parmesan cheese.

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Bake in the oven until the top is lightly browned and the cheese melted, about 20 minutes.

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Links:

Crockpot Baked Ziti - from A Year of Slow Cooking

Vegetarian Baked Ziti with Spinach - from Ezra Pound Cake

Butternut Squash Baked Ziti - from In Good Taste

 

Showing 4 of 60 Comments

  • April

    Ahh, yes! The baked ziti. This was a popular meal for friends to bring whenever I had one of my 3 children. A great meal, easy to throw together and the leftovers reheat fantastically. I’m interested in your souped up version, though. Looks to be much more flavorful than the one I make. Hello red pepper flakes! Guess I know what’s going on next week’s menu planning! Thanks for posting this recipe!

  • Anna

    Much like April’s post – this is one of my go to dishes for taking to a new mom. Almost everyone likes it, good calcium (I make it with extra ricotta), no long strings of spaghetti, makes a ton, freezes, reheats, etc. I prefer penne because it’s thicker and has the great ridges.

  • Susan

    I love this dish, it’s real comfort food. I add veg’s to mine while cooking the onions. I’ve added chopped zucchini, or peas, or Romano beans (called Italian beans sometimes), chopped spinach. This is one of those good, flexible casseroles where you can get a little creative.

  • Liv

    This looks great! Quick question – if I freeze this before baking, can I just bake it frozen? Or do I have to thaw it in the refrigerator before baking?

    Thanks!

    I would put the frozen casserole into a cold oven and heat up the oven and then cook until it is heated through and the cheese is melted. ~Elise

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