This baked ziti recipe is layers of pasta with meat sauce and three types of cheese, all cooked together to golden brown perfection. A hearty dinner option that’s perfect for feeding a crowd!
When I’m craving a hot, cheesy meal on a cold day, I turn to this classic baked ziti. It’s got layers of tender pasta, a super flavorful meat sauce, and plenty of melted cheese. It’s my go-to recipe for parties and potlucks, and everyone always comes back for seconds!
How do you make baked ziti?
To make baked ziti, you need pasta, a creamy ricotta mixture and meaty marinara sauce. First make the sauce by cooking pieces of ground beef and Italian sausage in a pan with a little salt and pepper. While the meat is cooking, add chopped onion to the pan and cook it all until the meat is browned and the onion is translucent. Add garlic to the pan and briefly heat it before adding marinara sauce. Once everything simmers a bit, the sauce will be ready. While the sauce simmers, in a bowl mix together ricotta, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, an egg and seasoning.
When the sauce is done, build the dish by layering in a baking pan the sauce, cooked ziti pasta, the ricotta mixture, more ziti, the sauce again and finally mozzarella cheese on top. After a quick bake in the oven, the dish will be ready to serve.
Tips for the perfect baked pasta
- When you layer the pasta, make sure you have enough sauce to cover all the pasta. Covering the pasta in sauce helps it to cook evenly without drying out.
- The meat sauce can be made up to 2 days in advance. Sometimes I even make a double batch and freeze some for another night.
- I typically use 90% lean ground beef. It has plenty of flavor but is not overly greasy.
- This pasta can be assembled up to 2 hours before you plan to bake it. Store the pasta in a covered dish in the fridge until you’re ready to put it in the oven.
- Make sure to remove the sausage from the casings before placing the sausage in a pan to cook.
Baked ziti variations
You can easily customize this dish to add other flavors to the mix.
- Meat: You can use all ground beef or all sausage instead of a combination of beef and sausage. Feel free to use ground turkey instead of beef. Always use 93% lean ground turkey instead of 99% lean ground turkey.
- Pasta: Feel free to use other pasta tube shapes instead of ziti, as sometimes it can be difficult to find. Penne pasta and rigatoni may be easier to find and also work well.
- Cheese: Try mixing the mozzarella with other cheeses that melt well such as fontina or provolone.
- Veggies: You can add your favorite vegetables to the sauce such as mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, spinach, olives or artichokes.
What is the difference between lasagna and baked ziti?
Baked ziti is lasagna’s informal cousin. Lasagna noodles are long and flat while ziti noodles are small tubes. The flavors are very similar, but instead of carefully layering lasagna noodles, ziti layers can be heaped in the baking pan. The ziti tubes also help pick up the sauce and cheeses.
What does ziti pasta look like?
Ziti pasta looks like small round tubes of pasta. They are smooth tubes cut flat and perpendicular to the tube instead of some pastas which are cut at an angle.
This recipe makes a meaty, cheesy baked pasta that is Italian comfort food at its finest. The tender ziti is the perfect way to carry all the hearty flavor of this dish from fork to mouth. Give this recipe a try, it will become one of your favorites!
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For the sauce
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef I use 90% lean
- 1 pound mild Italian sausage casings removed
- 1/2 cup onion finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons garlic minced
- 24 ounce jar marinara sauce
- 8 ounce can tomato sauce
- salt and pepper to taste
For the ricotta mixture
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese grated
- 3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
- 16 ounces ziti pasta cooked according to package directions
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese shredded
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- cooking spray
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9"x13" pan with cooking spray.
For the sauce
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the ground beef and sausage to the pan. Season the meat with salt and pepper to taste.
- Cook the meat for 3 minutes, breaking it up into small pieces with a spatula. Add the onion to the pan. Cook for an additional 5 minutes or until meat is browned and cooked through and onion is tender. Drain any excess grease from the pan.
- Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the marinara sauce and tomato sauce to the pan and bring the sauce to a simmer.
- Let the sauce simmer for 5 minutes.
For the ricotta
- While the sauce is simmering, stir together the ricotta, egg, parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Mix until thoroughly blended.
- Place 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of the pan. Add 1/2 the pasta on top of the sauce.
- Place dollops of the ricotta cheese mixture over the ziti, along with 1/3 of the sauce.
- Add another layer of ziti pasta, then the remaining sauce on top. Sprinkle 2 cups of mozzarella cheese over the top.
- Bake covered for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until pasta is bubbly and cheese is melted and browned.
- Sprinkle with parsley, then serve.