When it comes to hearty and comforting Italian-American classics, few dishes can rival the timeless appeal of Baked Ziti! Made with simple pantry ingredients, this beloved culinary creation is a blend of tender ziti pasta, savory meat sauce, and an irresistible layer of gooey cheese, all baked to perfection!
Easy Baked Ziti Recipe
Break out your favorite casserole dish! Whether it’s a family dinner, a potluck gathering, or a simple weeknight indulgence, this baked ziti recipe never disappoints. At its core, it revolves around ziti pasta, designed to capture and cradle the flavorful sauce. In this case, we’re talking about a savory sausage marinara with a layer of ricotta in between, all topped with melty mozzarella!
In a way, it’s reminiscent of a rustic take on lasagna, using tubular noodles. And what makes it even more appealing is its versatility. You can choose to use store-bought or homemade marinara sauce, switch up the meat, or go for a vegetarian twist.
Why You’ll Love This Baked Ziti
- Easy Recipe! This dish doesn’t require any fancy ingredients or special cooking skills. It’s a great go-to option for busy weeknights or times when you want a hearty meal without the fuss.
- Delicious Italian Flavor! Crafted with the perfect combination of pasta, meaty red sauce, and lots of cheese, this baked ziti perfectly captures the essence of Italian-American cuisine.
- Versatile Dish! Its crowd-pleasing nature makes it a fantastic choice for any occasion. From family dinners to potlucks, gatherings, and celebrations of all kinds this baked pasta dish is always a hit.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Ziti Pasta: The tubular shape of the pasta is perfect for trapping the delicious sauce and makes the dish!
- Olive Oil: Used to saute the aromatics and sausage. I always use extra virgin olive oil for the most depth of flavor.
- Onion and Garlic: Together this duo infuses the dish with classic Italian flavor. Always use freshly minced garlic cloves for the best results.
- Italian Sausage: Adds a hearty and flavorful punch to the sauce. You can use spicy or mild Italian sausage.
- Marinara Sauce: Provides both moisture and flavor. Feel free to use your favorite store-bought marinara or homemade marinara.
- Herbs: A combination of dried basil and dried oregano adds a layer of herby Italian goodness. You can use fresh herbs if you prefer.
- Seasonings: Salt and black pepper enhance the overall flavor of the dish.
- Ricotta Cheese: Adds an element of creaminess and richness. Cottage cheese is another option.
- Egg: Binds the cheese mixture together, giving it structure.
- Mozzarella Cheese: Forms a gooey, golden-brown top layer that’s irresistible.
- Parmesan Cheese: Combined with the ricotta it adds a touch of salty cheesiness.
- Fresh Basil – Used to garnish, it adds a burst of color and freshness. You can also garnish the dish with fresh parsley.
How To Make Baked Ziti
Just like baked mostaccioli, this classic Italian-American favorite is easy to make! By using already made marinara it cuts the time nearly in half and the oven does most of the work!
Preheat The Oven
Start by preheating your oven to 375°F (190°C). The oven must be hot when the casserole goes in to bake. Then grab a large 9×13 inch (23×33 cm) baking dish and set it aside.
Boil The Ziti
Next, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Then add the pasta and cook it according to the package directions to al dente. Once done, drain the ziti well in a colander and set it aside for a later step.
Make The Sauce
While the pasta is cooking you can begin the sauce. First, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Then add the chopped onion and garlic, and sauté them for about 5 minutes or until the onion becomes translucent.
Next, add the Italian sausage and cook it until it’s browned and fully cooked. Now, stir in the marinara sauce, dried basil, dried oregano, salt, and black pepper. Then simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes.
Make The Ricotta Mixture
As the sauce simmers, combine the ricotta cheese and egg together in a large bowl until smooth. Then mix in 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella cheese and the grated Parmesan cheese until everything is well incorporated.
Assemble The Dish
It’s time to build the ziti! Start by spreading a layer of the meat sauce on the bottom of your large baking dish. Then spread half of the cooked ziti over the sauce. Next, spread all of the ricotta cheese mixture evenly over the pasta followed by half of the remaining meat sauce.
Then add the rest of the ziti on top followed by the rest of the sauce. Finally, top the dish with the remaining shredded mozzarella cheese.
Bake The Ziti
First, cover the baking dish with a sheet of aluminum foil. Now, transfer it to the preheated oven and let the ziti bake for 20 minutes. Now, remove the foil and bake the pasta for another 10 minutes or until it’s bubbly and golden brown on top.
Rest And Serve
Once it’s ready, let the baked ziti cool for a few minutes before serving. Then garnish it with some fresh basil and serve it with some garlic bread if you like!
Frequently Asked Questions
While baked ziti and lasagna share some similarities, they are not the same dish. Both feature pasta, sauce, and cheese, but the key difference lies in the pasta shape and layering.
Typically, you’ll cover it with foil for the initial part of the baking process. This promotes even cooking and prevents the cheese on top from burning. Then remove the foil for the second half of baking to let the cheese brown.
You can add sautéed vegetables like bell peppers, zucchini, spinach, or mushrooms. Experiment with different types of meats and cheeses to create unique variations. Feel free to be as creative as you like to suit your tastes.
Absolutely! Some other good choices include mostaccioli, penne, rigatoni, or even macaroni. The key is to choose a pasta that can hold the sauce well.
- Salt the pasta water well. Salting the pasta water not only flavors the pasta itself but also enhances the overall taste of the dish.
- Don’t overcook the pasta. You want to cook the pasta just till al dente, which means it should still be a little firm when bitten. This ensures that the ziti won’t get mushy in the oven.
- Properly brown the sausage. This is the key to the sauce. Browning adds a layer of flavor and depth.
- Let it rest. Allow the baked pasta to cool for a few minutes before serving. This short resting period allows the flavors to settle and makes it easier to serve.
You can keep leftover baked ziti in the fridge for up to 5 days in an airtight container. To reheat, sprinkle it with a little water, cover it with plastic wrap, and then pop it in the microwave for a few minutes on medium power. You can also reheat it over medium heat on the stovetop.
Discover Other Casseroles
- Easy Moussaka Recipe
- Beef Stroganoff Casserole
- Cheese Stuffed Manicotti
- Tater Tot Casserole
- The Best Lasagna
- Meatball Casserole
Craving More? Follow Along:
- 1 pound ziti pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 pound Italian sausage casings removed, mild or spicy
- 24 ounces marinara sauce 1 jar
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- salt and pepper to taste
- 15 ounce ricotta cheese 1 container
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese shredded
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese grated
- fresh basil chopped, for garnish
- Preheat your oven to 375℉ (190℃).
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the ziti until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain well.
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the Italian sausage and cook until browned. Stir in the marinara sauce, dried basil, dried oregano, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
- In a bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, egg, 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, and the Parmesan cheese.
- In a large baking dish, spread a layer of the meat sauce. Layer half of the cooked ziti, followed by all of the cheese mixture, then half of the remaining sauce. Add the remaining ziti, then the remaining sauce. Top with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
- Cover the dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then, remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and golden.
- Allow the ziti to cool for a few minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh basil or parsley, and enjoy!
Tips & Notes:
- Opt for mild or spicy Italian sausage to tailor the dish to your heat preference.
- If you don’t have ziti, penne or rigatoni make excellent substitutes.
- Fresh basil isn’t just for garnish; it elevates the whole dish. Feel free to add it to the meat sauce for extra flavor.
- The ricotta layer can be prepared a day ahead and stored in the fridge, making assembly quicker.
- If you find yourself with leftovers, rejoice! This dish tastes even better the next day.