When it comes to pasta dishes there is nothing like a great baked ziti. This beloved Italian-American dish is comfort food at its best! The blend of cheese, sweet Italian sausage, and tender pasta combines with the rich flavors of a robust tomato-based sauce for a dish your whole family will love!
The great thing about Baked Ziti is its versatility. I used sweet Italian sausage for my Philadelphia-style baked ziti, but you could leave the meat out or swap it out with ground beef, ground turkey, or ground chicken.
If you’re not a fan of Ziti noodles, that’s an easy fix too. You can use penne pasta, rigatoni, or any of your favorite tube-shaped pasta. For a creamy version of this Italian-American classic, add a little heavy cream to the sauce.
Baked ziti has always been one of my favorite pasta recipes. It’s loaded with flavor that takes this pasta bake to another level of deliciousness!
If you like my easy baked ziti recipe, make sure to check out our Chicken Riggies recipe. It’s a ziti pasta recipe that originated in upstate New York that’s loaded with flavor!
Ingredients to make Baked Ziti
Let’s start by gathering the ingredients we need to make my Baked Ziti recipe. In Chef Speak, this is called the “Mise en Place,” which translates to “Everything in its Place.”
Not only does setting up your ingredients ahead of time speed up the cooking process, it also helps ensure you have everything you need to make the dish.
How to make Baked Ziti
- Add the ricotta cheese, egg, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes to a large bowl
- Stir to thoroughly combine all the ingredients.
- Add half of the shredded mozzarella cheese to the ricotta cheese mixture.
- Mix to combine. Cover the ricotta mixture with cling wrap and refrigerate until needed.
For a cheesier flavor add half a cup of grated Locatelli or parmesan cheese to the mixture. You can also use cottage cheese in place of the ricotta.
- Add one teaspoon of salt to a large pot of water over high heat and bring it to a boil.
- Add the ziti to the large pot of salted water and cook per the instructions on the package for al dente. (the pasta will cook a little more during the baking process so it’s important to cook the pasta al dente)
- Remove the pot from the stove and carefully drain the pasta.
- Once drained return the pasta to the pot (off the heat) and add the butter to the pasta, stirring to combine.
*This will help to keep the ziti from sticking together (you can use olive oil if you prefer). Set aside until needed.
- Place a large skillet over medium heat. and when the pan is hot add the chopped onion to the pan and season with salt and black pepper. Let the onions cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes until they begin to caramelize. Stir as needed so the onions don’t burn.
- Add the minced garlic to the pan and continue to cook the garlic for 1-2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add the Italian sausage meat to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high.
- Stir the ground meat, breaking up all the big pieces of cooked sausage, and continue to cook until well browned. Remove the pan from the heat.
Some recipes call for chopped bell peppers. Feel free to add them while cooking the onions. It’s all about making food you and your family enjoy eating.
- Add the ziti, ricotta mixture, and sausage mixture to a large bowl.
- Stir until all the ingredients are well blended.
- Add three cups of tomato sauce to the mixture.
- Mix well to fully combine.
It’s better to combine all the ingredients when they are all finished cooking. Adding the spaghetti sauce to the noodles ahead of time will soften them as they sit, making the pasta mushy.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Add a layer of tomato sauce to coat the bottom of a large baking dish.
- Pour the ziti mixture into a casserole dish.
- Add the remaining sauce to the top of the baked ziti mixture and cover with aluminum foil. Then place the baking dish on the center rack of the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes.
- Carefully remove the baking dish from the oven and top with the remaining shredded mozzarella cheese, then sprinkle the finely chopped Italian parsley on top of the cheese. Then place the baked ziti back into the oven and continue to bake until the mixture is hot and bubbly.
Sprinkle the chopped Italian parsley (or fresh basil) on top of the baked ziti and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. It needs this time to set up.
This dish has all the great flavors of lasagna without having to use lasagna noodles.
Serve this cheesy pasta casserole with a side salad, and garlic bread (or garlic knots), and watch the smiles around your dinner table. It’s perfect for Sunday dinner, a special occasion, game day, or a potluck.
Store any leftover Baked Ziti covered with plastic wrap or in an airtight container, refrigerated for 3-4 days. It can also be frozen for up to 3 months.
You can make this recipe using your favorite jarred sauce or homemade sauce. If you’re looking for the best spaghetti sauce recipes, try our Authentic Spaghetti Sauce recipe or Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce recipe.
I like serving a tossed salad or caesar salad with this classic dish, along with either garlic bread, or crusty Italian bread. You can also serve broccoli rabe, sauteed spinach, or oven-roasted broccoli as a side dish.
Baked pasta dishes are found as far back as the Middle ages in Italy, but baked ziti is an Italian-American dish, created by Italian immigrants in the United States.
Yes, you can. You can replace the meat with your favorite plant-based meat substitute or vegetables to create a vegetarian version of this dish.