If you love lasagna you are going to love this easy Baked Ziti casserole. It’s so easy to make, plus loaded with ziti noodles, sauce, Italian sausage, cheese and seasonings. A hearty, comforting dinner recipe that your family will ask for over and over again. It freezes great and is that perfect meal to take to a friend!
Layers of tender ziti, hearty sausage meat sauce, and pockets of cheese combine to make a pan of the best comfort food ever. When it’s cold and we need a cozy dinner to warm us up, baked ziti is what I make!
I love this recipe so much – it’s a great family meal and it’s perfect for sharing with friends and family when they need a hot meal. The flavors are great and it’s easy to make.
We love it with a salad on the side and some breadsticks! Trust, me when I say this dinner will satisfy everyone! It’s always a hit.
Why This Recipe Works
- There’s nothing complicated about this recipe – all of the components are easy to make!
- You can prep it ahead, keep it in the refrigerator to bake later when you’re ready to eat! It’s also freezer-friendly.
- My family loves it! It’s kid-friendly and a winner with the adults, too.
- Ziti – You can also use penne if that’s what you have on hand!
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Italian sausage – Want it spicy? Use hot Italian sausage. I use mild sausage because my kiddos are not into a lot of heat.
- Diced onion – Yellow or white onions are best.
- Minced garlic – In a pinch grab some garlic powder.
- Italian seasoning
- Marinara sauce – Pick your favorite jarred marinara sauce.
- Salt and pepper
- Ricotta – You can also substitute cottage cheese if you prefer.
- Italian cheese blend – This is shredded cheese blend that is made with several different kinds of cheese.
- Shredded Mozzarella cheese – Grab the block of cheese and grate it yourself for the best result!
- Chopped parsley
How to Make It
Cook the Pasta: Boil the pasta for a little less time than is listed on the package. You want it mostly cooked but still a little firm because it will finish cooking in the oven. Once it’s cooked, drain it and set it aside.
Make the Meat Sauce: Cook the sausage in a large skillet with olive oil. Add the onion and then the garlic, and the seasonings. Add the marinara and bring the sauce to a simmer. Let it simmer while you make the cheese filling.
Cheese Filling: Combine the ricotta and Italian cheese blend in a mixing bowl.
Assemble the Dish: Once you have the cooked pasta, sauce, and cheese filling you can assemble the baked ziti.
- Coat the pasta with one cup of the sauce and stir to combine.
- Pour half of the ziti into the baking dish.
- Drop half of the cheese mixture by the dollops on top of the pasta.
- Spoon half of the sauce over the cheese scoops.
- Repeat these layers one more time and then sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the top. Tent the baking dish with foil.
Bake! Place the baking dish in the oven and bake the pasta casserole for 20 minutes at 350°F. Remove the foil and turn on the broiler. Broil the top of the ziti for a few minutes until the cheese it lightly golden in spots.
Garnish and Serve: Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top and serve!
Pasta Tip: When you drain the pasta, you can toss it with a little bit of olive oil. This will keep it from sticking together while it sits.
Baking Dish Tip: I like to use a deep 9×13″ baking dish for this recipe. It’s a big pasta casserole and needs plenty of room!
Make-Ahead Tip: You can assemble it early in the day, refrigerate it, and then bake it when it’s time for dinner. You may need to add a few minutes to the baking time.
Freezer Tip: You can also freeze it before you bake it. It will keep well for up to a month in the freezer, just make sure it’s wrapped well. Let it thaw in the refrigerator and then bake as instructed.
Yes, you will want to keep it covered with foil while it bakes. I like to tent the foil so it’s not touching the cheese. Keeping it covered will prevent it from drying out while it bakes.
The are similar with the same flavors and ingredients, but prepared in a different way. Lasagna is a baked pasta made with sheets of pasta, with the cheese and sauce layered with the pasta. Baked ziti is less structured and made with a tubular pasta that is loosely layered with sauce and cheese.
My recipe does. I like to make it with a sausage meat sauce. You can make a vegetarian baked ziti and just use marinara sauce.
Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for three to four days.
When you make this baked ziti for your family be prepared for all the rave reviews! It’s a dinner my family asks for on repeat – yours will, too! I hope you give it a try and love it as much as we do.
More Baked Pasta Recipes
- Classic Baked Spaghetti Casserole with layers of meat sauce, pasta, and Alfredo sauce is a cozy comfort food dinner you will love.
- Mexican Pasta Bake is a fun twist that combines Mexican flavors with tender spiral noodles for an easy dinner.
- Beef Ragu turns chuck roast into a delicious seasoned beef tomato mixture that is served over pappardelle pasta.
- If you have leftover ham you need to try my Cheesy Ham and Bowtie Casserole!
- Creamy Cabbage Casserole is a summertime side dish perfect for that garden fresh cabbage.
- Lasagna Casserole is an easy way to make lasagna – it will be a hit when you make it!
- This BBQ Chicken Casserole is made gluten free, low carb and protein packed with zucchini noodles and Greek yogurt! Great for healthy weeknight dinners!
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- 1 lb ziti noodles can sub penne want ziti noodles for video
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb Italian sausage
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
- 32 oz marinara sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ tsp salt
- 15 oz ricotta
- 1 c. Italian cheese blend
- 2 c. shredded Mozzarella cheese
- Chopped parsley garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cook ziti noodles according to directions on the box until the pasta is al dente, a little firm. You will also be baking this so do not cook pasta al dente. When it is done cooking, drain, return to the pan and set aside. You can toss with a little olive oil to prevent it from sticking together, if desired.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering hot add the sausage and cook until it’s brown and crispy. Add the onion to the skillet when the sausage is almost cooked through. Continue to cook over medium-high heat until the onion is soft and translucent.
- Add the garlic and Italian seasoning, stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Cook for 1 minute, then add the marinara sauce and stir well. Bring to a simmer.
- In a mixing bowl combine the ricotta and Italian cheese.
- Add 1 c. of red sauce into the prepared ziti pasta, stir to combine.
- Pour half of the ziti into a 9×13’’ baking dish the deeper the better. Add half of the ricotta cheese mixture on top of the ziti in small dollops. Then spoon half of the red sauce over the ricotta. Repeat these layers, pasta, ricotta mixture and sauce. Top with Mozzarella cheese.
- Cover the baking dish with foil. Tent the foil so it’s not touching the cheese.
- Place the baking dish in a preheated oven for 20 minutes.
- After baking time is done, remove foil from the dish. Turn the oven to broil and return the casserole to the oven.
- Broil for 3-5 minutes or just until the cheese is lightly browned.
- Remove from the oven, top with chopped parsley if desired and serve.