Baked Ziti

CasseroleMake-aheadItalianPasta and Noodles

Baked Ziti - classic Italian American comfort food of pasta baked with sausage, tomato sauce and all kinds of gooey, yummy cheeses. So EASY and so good!

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

How to make Baked Ziti

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.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ziti (can sub penne) pasta
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound bulk Italian sausage or ground beef or pork
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or basil), minced
  • 1 tablespoon 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 Boil the pasta: 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 Brown the meat: 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.

3 Add onions and sauté, then add garlic, spices, then tomato sauce: 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.

4 Preheat the oven to 350°F.

5 Layer sauce, cheese, pasta in casserole dish: 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.

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.

6 Bake 20 min: Bake in oven at 350°F until the top is lightly browned and the cheese melted, about 20 minutes.

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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225 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Viktoria

    Cut recipe in half except used 3/4 cup Italian bulk sausage and almost a full jar spaghetti sauce with fennel seed, oregano, thyme and fresh basil added plus 1/2 tsp sugar. So excellent. Perfect fit for smaller rectangle glass pan

    xxxxxyyyyy

    Show Replies (1)
  2. Peter Guggenheim

    Made this dish with extra ground beef, diced red bell pepper and an additional half lb. of chorizo for an extra spice kick. It smells good. It’s for tomorrow’s dinner down the shore.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. Stephanie Ward

    This baked ziti is amazing!
    First ever baked ziti I had ever made and it definitely impressed!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  4. Melissa

    Thank you for this recipe! I am using it to help out a neighbor who needs surgery and can’t get up to cook. Trying to figure out if I should pre-bake or just prepare in a baking dish and refrigerate for her. Any tips? Thanks again!

    Show Replies (1)
  5. Amanda

    The flavor is there but the recipe calls for too much noodles in my opinion. Next time I make it I plan to use a little more than half the box it make it a bit more meatier and less like pasta with sauce and cheese

    xxxxxyyyyy

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