Baked Ziti
The Best Baked Ziti recipe that’s rich, satisfying, comforting with pools of cheesy goodness and easier to make than lasagna! This Baked Ziti recipe is a classic Italian American pasta bake that rivals any restaurant at a fraction of the price. It is essentially an easy twist on lasagna that’s every bit as cheesy and decadent without all of the fuss. To make Baked Ziti, ziti pasta is smothered in homemade Bolognese with Italian sausage and layered with creamy ricotta (with a secret trick), buttery mozzarella and nutty Parmesan. Each and every bite is hot, meaty, cheesy, saucy perfection. It’s the epitome of comfort food that tastes like you’ve been cooking all day but is surprisingly easy to make. Best of all, this Baked Ziti recipe is perfect to make ahead and it also reheats and freezes well. In this Baked Ziti post, I’ve included everything you need to know about Baked Ziti ingredients, how to make Baked Ziti, how to make ahead and how to freeze.
Prep Time
45minutes
Cook Time
45minutes
Prep Time
45minutes
Cook Time
45minutes
Baked Ziti
Ingredients
  • 1pound ziti pastamay sub penne
  • 4cups freshly shredded mozzarella cheesemore or less to taste
  • 1cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bolognese Sauce
  • 1pound lean ground beef
  • 1pound mild Italian sausagecasings removed
  • 1 onion, choppedmay sub 1 ½ tsp onion powder
  • 1 carrot dicedoptional
  • 1 stalk celery, dicedoptional
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, mincedmay sub 1 ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4-1/2teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes in puree
  • 215 oz. cans tomato sauce
  • 3tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2cup water
  • 1tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1tablespoon sugarmore or less to taste
  • 1 1/2teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1tablespoon beef bouillon or better than bouillon
  • 1 1/2TBS EACH dried basil, dried parsley(may sub 1/4 cup fresh each)
  • 2teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2tsp EACH dried thyme, salt, pepper
  • 1 whole bay leaf
Ricotta
  • 3cups whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2cup sour cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4cup chopped fresh basilor 1 tablespoon dried
  • 1/4teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions just until al dente – don’t overcook! Strain and rinse with cold water.
  2. In a Dutch oven, brown ground beef, sausage, onion, carrots and celery over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 30 more seconds. Drain grease. Add all remaining Sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. While sauce is simmering, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a deep 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray; set aside.
  4. Add all of the Ricotta ingredients to a large bowl and mix until combined; set aside.
  5. Mix cooked pasta with Bolognese. Transfer half of the pasta to a 9×13 baking dish. Dot half of the ricotta mixture over the top in little blobs. Top evenly with half mozzarella. Repeat layers of remaining ziti, ricotta and mozzarella. Top evenly with Parmesan.
  6. Tent the pan with foil and secure tightly all around the edges. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 15-30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired.
Recipe Notes

Tips and Tricks

  • Italian Sausage.  Italian Sausage comes seasoned with Italian seasonings, primarily fennel.  Fennel is crucial for authentic Italian flavor so if you skip the Italian sausage, make sure you add some fennel to your meat sauce.
  • Lean Ground Beef.  Take care you are using  (93/7)  lean ground beef so that the sauce doesn’t end up greasy.  You will also want to drain your meat of any excess grease after cooking.
  • Pasta alternative. If you can’t find ziti, you can successfully substitute with penne pasta in equal amounts.  Penne can be easier to find at your grocery store. It is very similar to ziti, the only real differences being it is cut on the diagonal and has ridges on the outside.
  • Mozzarella.  I prefer shredded mozzarella cheese over fresh mozzarella balls because I find them too watery for lasagna.  I also prefer shredded mozzarella cheese over sliced because its so much easier to evenly distribute. If you want to use mozzarella slices, then I suggest asking your deli counter to very thinly slice the mozzarella.
  • Parmesan.  You don’t want to use the powdered or pre-shredded Parmesan cheese.  Freshly grated Parmesan tastes far superior and melts much better.
  • Shred cheeses yourself.  Always avoid pre-shredded bagged cheeses because the cheese is coated in anti-clumping chemicals used to prevent the strands from clumping together in the bag.  These same chemicals inhibit the cheese from melting beautifully.
  • Don’t overcook pasta!  I recommend testing your ziti about 2 or 3 minutes before the box recommends – pasta should be al dente– meaning it should still be a little firm in the center/ have a “bite” to it especially in this recipe because the ziti will continue to bake in the oven.
  • Combine pasta when ready to assemble.  Don’t combine the ziti with the Bolognese sauce until you’re ready to assemble the casserole or else the warm sauce will start to cook your pasta – you want to wait for the oven to do that or you’ll end up with mushy pasta. 
  •  

MAKE AHEAD

Yes!  Baked Ziti is the perfect make-ahead meal to either refrigerate and bake the next day or to assemble and freeze.

  • Assemble and refrigerate. You can make and assemble the entire Baked Ziti casserole a day in advance and refrigerate (without baking).  I actually think the casserole tastes better this way because the flavors have more time to develop and meld.
  • Make sauce in advance. You can also make the Bolognese sauce up to 3 days in advance and refrigerate it or freeze it for up to 3 months.  If you use cold, thawed sauce in your ziti, you will need to add an additional 15 minutes or so to the baking time. Alternatively, you can warm the sauce before baking.

HOW TO FREEZE BAKED ZITI UNCOOKED (RECOMMENDED FOR PREP)

  • Assemble Baked Ziti according to recipe directions in a freezer safe dish.
  • Wrap the dish tightly all around with 2 layers of plastic wrap.
  • Cover tightly with one layer of aluminum foil.
  • Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • When ready to bake, place ziti in the refrigerator 48 hours ahead of time to defrost completely.
  • Remove plastic wrap and cover tightly with foil.
  • Bake ziti according to directions, adding an additional 10-15 minutes.

HOW TO FREEZE LEFTOVERS

  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at lease one hour before freezing (this will prevent an unpleasant texture).
  • Cover tightly with a second layer of plastic wrap all the way around the dish.
  • Cover tightly with one layer of aluminum foil.
  • Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • When ready to bake, place ziti in the refrigerator 48 hours ahead of time to defrost completely.
  • Remove plastic wrap and cover tightly with foil.
  • Bake Ziti according to directions, adding an additional 10-15 minutes.

HOW TO COOK FROM FROZEN

  • Remove plastic wrap from the casserole and cover tightly with foil.
  • Bake covered at 350 degrees F for 1 ½ hours.
  • Uncover and bake an addition 15-30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

HOW TO FREEZE INDIVIDUAL SERVINGS 

  • Bake Ziti according to directions.
  • Let cool completely then slice into individual servings.
  • Transfer servings to freezer safe plastic bags or separate airtight containers.
  • To reheat in oven: transfer serving(s) to a baking sheet. Bake from frozen at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes.
  • To reheat in microwave: transfer serving to a microwave safe plate.  Microwave on high for 3 minutes then continue to microwave at 30 second intervals until heated through.