Baked Ziti

February 24, 2020

Baked Ziti – classic Italian comfort food made with hearty pasta, flavorful sausage, a homemade marinara and layered with ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheese! It’s a lot like lasagna but it’s faster since layers are lazier, but of course it tastes equally as good!

Single serving of baked ziti in a pasta bowl, garnished with fresh parsley on top.

The Best Baked Ziti Recipe!

Something about winter just says comfort food, right? It’s so nice to just cozy up to a warm from the oven dinner on a bitter cold day.

And it’s always nice to dive into a baked ziti dish that’s loaded with that deliciously irresistible, melty gooey cheese! It’s made with three kinds, who could resist that?

Plus this is one of those casserole style dinners that makes great leftovers. The flavors just get that much more time to meld in the fridge until the next day.

The Homemade Sauce

What really sets the baked ziti apart is the flavorful sauce. Fresh homemade is always best right?

It’s better than bottled sauce and worth the extra effort!

And with this sauce it’s all about those fresh herbs. Don’t skip them, they add so much flavor to this baked ziti!

Ingredients shown here that are needed to make homem

Ingredients for the Baked Ziti Sauce

  • Olive oil
  • Yellow onion
  • Mild sausage
  • Garlic
  • Canned crushed tomatoes
  • Canned diced tomatoes
  • Canned tomato paste
  • Fresh basil and parsley
  • Salt and pepper

Image of steps showing how to make sauce for baked ziti.

Ingredients Needed for Baked Ziti

  • Homemade sauce
  • Egg
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Ziti pasta

Steps showing how to make cheese filling for baked ziti and tossing pasta with sauce in pan.

How to Make Baked Ziti

  • Preheat oven and boil water: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (for pasta).
  • For the sauce: Heat olive oil in a large saute pan, add onions and saute 2 minutes then add sausage and cook, stirring and breaking up sausage occasionally, until cooked through, adding in garlic during last 1 minute, drain excess fat.
  • Stir in crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, 2 Tbsp parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture to a light boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes.
  • Too cook pasta: Cook pasta according to package directions about a minute shy of al dente. Drain pasta while reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
  • Return pasta to empty pot, immediately add reserved pasta water and 1 cup of the red sauce then toss pasta to coat.
  • For the cheeses: In a mixing bowl using a fork stir together ricotta, egg, 2 Tbsp parsley and season with salt and pepper. Mix in 1 1/2 cups of the mozzarella and 1/2 cup of the parmesan.
  • To assemble the ziti: Grease a baking dish. Spread 1 1/3 cups of the sauce into bottom of dish, then spread 1/2 of the pasta over sauce top with spoonfuls of ricotta mixture, flatten down slightly.
  • Top with remaining pasta. Spoon remaining sauce evenly over pasta layer. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 2 cups of the mozzarella and 1/4 cup parmesan.
  • To cook the baked ziti: Tent baking dish with foil and bake 15 minutes then uncover and bake 10 – 15 minutes longer until cheese is melted throughout. Serve warm.

Image showing steps how to assemble baked ziti.

How to Make the Easiest Baked Ziti?

Looking to simplify the recipe? I know real life happens and sometimes we just need shortcuts. You could make it super easy by:

  • Use bottled Rao’s tomato basil sauce in place of the homemade sauce (therefor omitting garlic, onion, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste and the fresh herbs. Just cook sausage then add sauce, no need to simmer).
  • If using bottled sauce you’ll want about 1 1/2 (24 oz jars).
  • Another option would be to use good quality pre-shredded cheeses.

Baked Ziti in a casserole dish shown after baking with a lightly golden browned cheese topping. One scoop is removed to show interior.

Can I Make it Vegetarian?

Yes, if you want it meatless just omit the sausage. Leave everything else the same, not extra filler is needed.

This will also cut calories in the dish.

Can I Use a Different Type of Meat?

Yes other meats you can use in place of ground Italian sausage include:

  • lean ground beef
  • ground pork
  • ground turkey
  • ground veal
  • use a blend of those mentioned

Bowl of baked ziti including ziti pasta, sausage, marinara sauce, three types of Italian cheese and fresh herbs.

More Italian Recipes to Try!

Baked Ziti

5 from 1 vote

Baked Ziti is a lot like lasagna but it's faster since they are lazier layers, but of course it tastes equally as good! Piled high with pasta, sauce and lots of cheeses! The perfect comforting dish.

Servings: 10
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 3/4 cup chopped yellow onions (1 medium onion)
  • 1 lb Mild or Hot Italian Sausage, such as Johnsonville
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can petite diced tomatoes
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup slightly packed chopped fresh basil, plus more for topping
  • 4 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (15 oz) container ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 1/2 cups (14 oz) shredded mozzarella, divided
  • 3/4 cup (1.7 oz) finely shredded parmesan, divided
  • 16 oz dry ziti pasta

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven and boil water: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (for pasta). 

  2. For the sauce: Heat olive oil in a large saute pan (deep skillet), add onions and saute 2 minutes then add sausage and cook, stirring and breaking up sausage occasionally, until cooked through, adding in garlic during last 1 minute, drain excess fat. 

  3. Stir in crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, 2 Tbsp parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture to a light boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and allow to simmer 10 minutes then remove from heat. 

  4. Too cook pasta: Cook pasta according to package directions about a minute shy of al dente. Drain pasta while reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water. 

  5. Return pasta to empty pot, immediately add reserved pasta water and 1 cup of the red sauce then toss pasta to coat.
  6. For the cheeses: In a mixing bowl using a fork stir together ricotta, egg, 2 Tbsp parsley and season with salt and pepper. Mix in 1 1/2 cups of the mozzarella and 1/2 cup of the parmesan.

  7. To assemble the ziti: Spray a 13 by 9-inch baking dish with non-stick spray. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the red sauce evenly into bottom of dish, then spread 1/2 of the pasta over sauce then dollop spoonfuls of ricotta mixture all over pasta and flatten slightly.

  8. Top with remaining pasta. Spoon remaining sauce evenly over pasta layer. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 2 cups of the mozzarella and 1/4 cup parmesan.

  9. To cook the baked ziti: Tent baking dish with foil (don't let it touch the cheese or it will stick) and bake 15 minutes then uncover and bake 10 - 15 minutes longer until cheese is melted throughout. Serve warm.

Recipe Notes

  • For a more browned topping you can broil during last few minutes of baking (as long as you aren't using a glass baking dish).
  • If you'd like a spicy baked ziti then add 1/4 - 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes to sauce.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Baked Ziti
Author: Jaclyn
Recipe first published December 17, 2015. Photos and text updated February 24, 2020.