Baked Ziti

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This Easy Baked Ziti recipe features layers of ziti noodles, sausage meat sauce, and mozzarella cheese baked to perfection. Ready in under an hour, it’s an easy weeknight dinner the whole family will enjoy.

A portion of baked ziti being served from the pan

Easy Baked Ziti Recipe

Baked ziti is classic Italian comfort food. With layers of ziti noodles, a tomato meat sauce made with ground sausage, and LOTS of cheese, it’s a dish that is loved by all. Not to mention easier to prepare!

It has similar flavors to lasagna, minus the ricotta, and is WAY easier to assemble. Plus you can easily customize it by using mild or spicy sausage and adding red pepper flakes. Keep it mild for a family dinner or add some heat if that’s what you prefer. Either way, dinner will be ready in under an hour!

Overhead view of a pan of baked ziti

Why You’ll Love This Classic Pasta Dish

Here are a few reasons why we love this homemade baked ziti.

  • Easy to prepare. One thing to love about this recipe is that it’s simple and straightforward to prepare. Cook the pasta, cook the meat, simmer the sauce, assemble, and bake.
  • Loaded with cheese. Cheese makes everything better, right? You’ll find Parmesan in the sauce and on top as well as mozzarella between layers of this pasta casserole.
  • Easy to make in advance. This pasta dinner can be prepared and assembled up to 2 days in advance, so all you need to do when you’re ready to enjoy is just pop it in the oven.
Homemade baked ziti ingredients

What You’ll Need

Here are the handful of ingredients needed for this baked ziti recipe. See the recipe card below for measurements.

  • Ziti noodles – Technically, baked ziti should always be made with ziti noodles…but similar short pasta (like penne) will work in this recipe too.
  • Sausage – You can use either sweet or spicy Italian sausage based on your preference. You can also use ground beef in place of the sausage or a mixture of sausage and ground beef.
  • Garlic
  • Crushed tomatoes – Form the base of the tomato sauce.
  • Heavy cream – Adds a smooth, creamy texture to the sauce.
  • Crushed red pepper – Optional, for more heat in the sauce.
  • Salt & pepper
  • Parmesan cheese – Freshly grated is best.
  • Basil leaves – Fresh basil adds a lovely aromatic touch to the dish, but you can substitute with dried basil if needed.
  • Mozzarella cheese – Freshly shredded is ideal but the packaged cheese will work too.

How to Make Baked Ziti

Here’s an overview of how to make homemade baked ziti. Scroll down to the recipe card for more detailed instructions.

  • Cook the noodles. Prepare the ziti noodles according to the package instructions, cooking until al dente.
  • Cook the sausage. Cook the sausage, breaking it into crumbles, until browned. Remove any grease from the skillet then add in the minced garlic.
  • Simmer the sausage. Add the crushed tomatoes to the skillet with the sausage. Simmer for 5 minutes then stir in the heavy cream and seasonings. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in half of the grated Parmesan and the chopped basil.
  • Assemble. Add half of the cooked noodles to a baking dish then top with half of the noodles. Sprinkle half of the shredded cheese over the sauce then repeat the layers. Finish with the remaining grated Parmesan.
  • Bake. Cover the baking dish with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  • Enjoy. Garnish with fresh basil or Italian parsley. Cool for 5-10 minutes then serve and enjoy!
Baked Ziti in a baking dish

Tips & Variations

Here are a few things to keep in mind when preparing this baked ziti recipe.

  • Add some veggies. Feel free to add additional vegetables like onions, bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, or spinach for extra flavor and texture.
  • Change out the meat. Sometimes we change out the sausage to ground beef or ground turkey.
  • Adjust the seasonings. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste, but be mindful of the salt content in the sausage and Parmesan cheese. You can also adjust the amount of crushed red pepper according to your desired level of spiciness. A few sprinkles of Italian seasoning can also be added if you prefer.
  • The sauce. if you do not have crushed tomatoes, feel free to use jars or homemade marinara or spaghetti sauce.
  • Cool before serving. Let the baked ziti rest on the stovetop for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. This gives the cheese time to solidify a bit, making it much easier to serve. Plus, the melted cheese will be HOT straight from the oven.
A fork diving into baked ziti

What to Serve with Baked Ziti

Baked ziti is wonderful served with garlic bread, a slice of a baguette, or even some breadsticks. The cheesy sauce is so good you’ll definitely want to scoop up every last bit!

If you enjoy a pasta and salad combo, you may want to start the meal with a classic side salad or this wedge salad.

A serving of baked ziti on a plate

Can I Assemble This in Advance?

Yup! If you want to do all the prep work of making dinner in advance, this baked ziti recipe is a great option.

Follow the directions as listed above and assemble into the baking dish. Instead of baking, cover it with foil and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Bake in the oven as directed, adding a few extra minutes to ensure it is heated through.

How to Store & Reheat Leftovers

  • Fridge. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • Reheat. Reheat gently in the microwave or oven before serving.
  • Freezer. You can also freeze baked ziti – either the entire baking dish or individual servings. Allow to cool completely then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. Bake from frozen until heated through or thaw in the fridge and reheat in the microwave.

More Easy Pasta Recipes

Baked Ziti Recipe feature
5 from 1 vote

Baked Ziti

This Easy Baked Ziti recipe features layers of ziti noodles, sausage meat sauce, and mozzarella cheese baked to perfection. Ready in under an hour, it's an easy weeknight dinner the whole family will enjoy.
Servings: 8 servings
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Total: 45 minutes

Ingredients
  

  • 1 pound Ziti noodles
  • 1 pound ground sweet or spicy sausage
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes 28 ounces
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper optional, for added heat
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil leaves chopped
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C) and lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.
  • Cook the Ziti noodles according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  • In a large skillet, cook the sausage over medium heat, breaking it up into crumbles, until browned and cooked through. Remove any excess grease from the skillet.
  • Add the minced garlic to the skillet and sauté for a few minutes until fragrant.
  • Pour in the crushed tomatoes and bring the mixture to a simmer. Allow it to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Stir in the heavy cream and crushed red pepper (if using). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the sauce simmer for another 5 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together.
  • Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in half of the grated Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh basil.
  • In the prepared baking dish, layer half of the cooked Ziti noodles. Pour half of the sauce over the noodles and spread it evenly.
  • Sprinkle half of the shredded mozzarella cheese on top of the sauce.
  • Repeat the layers with the remaining Ziti noodles, sauce, and mozzarella cheese.
  • Sprinkle the remaining grated Parmesan cheese on top.
  • Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes.
  • Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
  • Garnish with additional fresh basil leaves or garnish with fresh Italian parsley if desired.
  • Allow the Baked Ziti to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

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Nutrition

Calories: 639kcal | Carbohydrates: 50g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 37g | Saturated Fat: 18g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 107mg | Sodium: 836mg | Potassium: 497mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 925IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 308mg | Iron: 2mg

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2 comments on “Baked Ziti”

  1. Avatar photo
    Tiffany Pierce

    5 stars
    This baked ziti was absolutely DELICIOUS!!!! Instead of layering, as the recipe suggests, I mixed the sauce with the noodles BEFORE adding to the casserole dish. It turned out SO good!! I will definitely make this again! My 5yr old asked for seconds and kept telling me how good it was!!!