Baked Ziti is one of those easy casseroles that tastes like you’ve been cooking all day long but it’s surprisingly quick!

Layers of tender ziti noodles, with a meaty zesty Italian sausage sauce and a cream creamy ricotta cheese layer.

Top it all with a generous helping of mozzarella cheese and bake until bubbly. An amazing meal in about an hour!

a plate of baked ziti

Why We Love Baked Ziti

Rich, zesty, cheesy and best of all, it’s easy!

  • Baked ziti with ricotta is an easy twist on a classic lasagna recipe.
  • Instead of long lasagna noodles, we use ziti pasta and bake it with meat sauce and lots of cheese.
  • It rivals any restaurant pasta for less cost and it has heaps of flavor!
  • Adding Italian sausage to this ziti recipe (or any pasta sauce) makes a quick sauce taste like it’s been cooking for hours!
  • This ziti dish is perfect to make ahead and it reheats and freezes well. Cook once and enjoy for days!

ingredients for baked ziti

Ingredients

SAUCE: The sauce is made with Italian sausage which adds lots of flavor. You can swap it for ground beef (or ground turkey) but be sure to add extra seasonings or spices (and some chili flakes for heat) and a tablespoon of olive oil for flavor. To make this dish vegetarian, use finely minced vegetables like mushrooms, eggplant, and/or zucchini.

I like the addition of  pasta sauce since it’s already seasoned but feel free to use tomato sauce and add a bit of Italian seasoning if it’s what you have on hand

PASTA – Ziti is our pasta of choice but any medium pasta will work. Swap out with penne or turn it into rigatoni pasta.

CHEESE – Ricotta cheese makes up the creamy cheese layer. You can swap it out by blending cottage cheese with an egg until smooth. I stir in some cheese, spinach or additional herbs can be added.

TOPPING – More cheese. Mozzarella is the perfect topper and I always garnish with a pinch of freshly grated parmesan cheese and some fresh herbs like parsley or basil.

Variations

Swap up this baked ziti recipe to your liking with the following:

    • Swap the sausage with turkey sausage or another ground meat of your choice. Add extra seasonings, salt, and a clove of garlic if not using sausage.
    • Add more ‘heat’ by adding a dash of red pepper flakes…just a little spicy.
    • Add 1/2 cup heavy cream to the simmering tomato sauce if desired.
    • Extra fresh herbs can be added to the cheese mixture or on top before serving.

preparing baked ziti casserole

How to Make Baked Ziti

  1. Brown the sausage and onion over medium-high heat (per the recipe below). Add sauce ingredients and simmer.
  2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water.
  3. Combine the cheese mixture in a small bowl.
  4. In a greased baking dish, layer sauce, ziti, and the ricotta mixture.
  5. Top with the remaining shredded mozzarella and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

baked ziti casserole ready to go in the oven

How Long to Cook Baked Ziti

This easy Baked Ziti recipe is basically cooked so the baking is to blend the flavors, heat everything through and of course, melt the cheese. Cook it uncovered until the top looks bubbly and browned!

    • 350°F for 30-35 minutes
    • 375°F for 25-30 minutes
    • 400°F for 20-25 minutes

Tips for a Great Baked Ziti

  • Use a large sauté pan so the sauce can simmer without overflowing.
  • Cook the pasta al dente (a little undercooked) as it will continue to cook as it bakes.
  • This dish can be baked in any large casserole dish.
  • Top with fresh basil or parsley for serving.
  • To make Baked Ziti ahead of time, prepare as directed and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. You may need to add an extra 5-10 minutes baking time if your recipe is chilly from the fridge.
  • If desired, this can be divided into two 9-inch baking dishes and half can be frozen. Thaw overnight in the fridge and bake until hot and bubbly.

To Reheat Baked Ziti use either the microwave or pop it back in the oven on low, slow heat. Reheating baked ziti doesn’t change the texture or the flavor, but adding an extra layer of shredded mozzarella to the top freshens it up just a bit!

baked ziti casserole in a white dish

More Italian Inspired Favorites

Did you enjoy this Baked Ziti? Be sure to leave a rating and a comment below!

a plate of baked ziti
4.95 from 214 votes↑ Click stars to rate now!
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Easy Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti has layers of zesty meat sauce, ricotta cheese and tender ziti noodles baked until golden.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 8 servings

Ingredients  

  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 28 ounces pasta sauce or marinara sauce
  • 14 ounces diced tomatoes undrained
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • ½ cup water
  • 16 ounces ziti
  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese shredded
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese shredded

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 375°F
  • Brown ground sausage and onion breaking up until the sausage is fairly fine. Drain any fat.
  • Add in Italian seasoning, water, tomatoes and pasta sauce. Simmer 10-15 minutes or until thickened.
  • Meanwhile, boil ziti in salted water until al dente. Drain and rinse.
  • In a small bowl, mix ricotta, egg, parsley, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese.
  • Add a thin layer (about 1 cup) of sauce to the bottom of a greased 9x13 pan. Layer half of the ziti, top with all of the ricotta, and half of the sauce.
  • Add remaining ziti, remaining sauce, and top with cheese.
  • Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Video

Notes

  • Use a large saute pan so the sauce can simmer without overflowing.
  • Cook the pasta al dente (a little undercooked) as it will continue to cook as it bakes.
  • If using ground meat besides sausage, add additional seasonings, salt & a tablespoon of olive oil to the sauce.
  • Top with fresh basil or parsley for serving.
  • To make Baked Ziti ahead of time, prepare as directed and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. You may need to add an extra 5-10 minutes baking time if your recipe is chilly from the fridge.
  • If desired, this can be divided into two 9-inch baking dishes and half can be frozen. Thaw overnight in the fridge and bake until hot and bubbly.
4.95 from 214 votes↑ Click stars to rate now!
Or to leave a comment, click here!

Nutrition Information

Calories: 598 | Carbohydrates: 54g | Protein: 34g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 97mg | Sodium: 1257mg | Potassium: 816mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 1005IU | Vitamin C: 15mg | Calcium: 485mg | Iron: 3.6mg

Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.

Course Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine Italian

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To Freeze Baked Ziti

Like most casseroles, baked ziti can be frozen successfully. If you are freezing the entire casserole in one piece, be sure to line the dish with aluminum foil before assembling and baking, then, once it is chilled, freeze in the pan and then remove the casserole and wrap it in aluminum foil and plastic wrap, label, and place in the fridge.

Or, portion into smaller pieces and put in freezer bags, label, and freeze! Easy peasy lunch for school or work!

plated Baked Ziti with a title
cheesy Baked Ziti on a plate with writing
casserole dish of Baked Ziti with writing
close up of plated Baked Ziti with writing
dish full of cooked Baked Ziti and plated with writing

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About the author

Holly is a wine and cheese lover, recipe creator, shopping enthusiast and self appointed foodie. Her greatest passion is creating in the kitchen and making deliciously comforting recipes for the everyday home cook!
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Comments

  1. I tried this recipe last week and it was great. I did have to use ground beef instead of the sausage, as my local store didn’t have it. My wife liked this better than what she gets at our local Italian restaurant.5 stars

  2. Hi – when you say to make ahead of time – i need to fully cook it? Will it not work if i do all the steps up to the second to last then cook it the next day?

    1. Hi Haley, to make ahead of time I do all of the steps up to cooking, but do not cook it. Then it can be refrigerated and cooked the next day. Enjoy!

  3. All four men in my family said this was the best ziti! Made it twice this weekend-once for dinner and again for everyone to take some home!5 stars

    1. Hi Arlene, the egg helps bind and thicken the ricotta cheese mixture. I haven’t tried it without so I can’t say for sure. Enjoy!

  4. Thank you Holly. Delicious. I used 24oz sauce because I did not want to open another jar for 4 more ounces. It was perfect. I wonder if those that said it was dry forgot to add the water? Would using the pasta water make it too salty?5 stars

    1. So happy you enjoyed it, Tony! I think it would be okay to add the pasta water without making it too salty. If you try this recipe using the leftover pasta water, we would love to hear how it turns out!

  5. This looks wonderful! Do you have any recommendations for maintaining a full flavor without meat? My daughter is vegetarian so I’m always looking for adaptations.

    1. Hi Dee, I don’t follow a vegetarian diet so I am not sure how you would maintain the full meaty flavor of the sauce but I would love to hear what you do! Maybe some other readers can offer some guidance on how best to prepare this dish!

    2. I saute baby bella mushrooms in place of meat in my baked ziti which helps add some flavor, but make sure to saute them first. Raw mushrooms will make too much liquid and your ziti will be runny. You can also add fresh or frozen spinach in with the mushrooms if you like.

  6. This is a really, really good recipe and I made it exactly per the instructions except I used penne as I didn’t have the other kind of pasta. I made it last night and it was a huge hit. It makes lots, so packaged it up for leftovers and/or freezing. Ten out of ten! Thanks Holly!!! Tonight I’m going to use your recipe for roast chicken. I love how straightforward and well explained all of your recipes are. You’re my go-to cooking website!5 stars

    1. So glad you loved this as much as we do MJ! Thank you for your kind words, I hope you enjoy the chicken!

  7. I have used so many recipes from you, I finally decided to sign up! Than you, Nan Bedee-Gilley

  8. made this tonight, did a couple of substitutions, penne instead of ziti and cottage cheese instead of the ricotta, just didn’t have any at the store, but all in all, went by the recipe, tastes great and will keep it around, thanks5 stars