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A classic Baked Ziti with sausage, ricotta and mozzarella cheese, baked in the oven until hot, bubbly and golden brown. This flavorful pasta bake is perfect for Sunday dinner.
Baked ziti is a flavorful Italian pasta dish, made with ziti pasta, meat sauce and cheese. To make the best baked ziti, you want to boil the pasta until it is just barely al dente so that it finishes cooking in the oven, soaking up some of the savory sauce as it bakes. Rather than ground beef, baked ziti is typically made with Italian sausage, which makes the ziti especially flavorful and hearty.
It’s hard to beat cheesy baked ziti when it comes to comfort food. Like my classic Lasagna recipe, this homemade baked ziti is perfect for feeding a crowd. It’s easy to make and assemble, especially if you use store-bought marinara sauce. While I love my homemade marinara sauce for serving over pasta, sometimes it’s worth it to take a little help from the grocery store to save time. If you’re looking for a make ahead meal, this recipe for baked ziti is perfect since it can be assembled up to 2 days before baking, or even longer if you plan to store it in the freezer.
Below you’ll find my tips for making a satisfying baked ziti that will have everyone at the table asking for seconds. Enjoy!
Baked Ziti Recipe Ingredients
The ingredients in this baked ziti recipe come together to make the most flavorful pasta bake. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Ziti Pasta: Ziti pasta is a tube shaped pasta. It’s smooth on the outside and hollow in the center. If you can’t find ziti pasta, you can substitute penne pasta or rigatoni.
- Italian Sausage: Italian sausage adds so much flavor to this baked pasta! Feel free to use turkey or chicken sausage. If you use ground beef, the baked ziti will not be as flavorful.
- Olive Oil: For sautéing the onion.
- Onion & Garlic: For flavor.
- Marinara Sauce: I usually use store-bought marinara sauce when I make this dish to save time. My homemade Marinara Sauce also works well in this recipe.
- Seasonings: I use Italian seasoning, dried basil, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes to make this baked ziti extra flavorful. The red pepper flakes are optional but highly recommended for a touch of heat.
- Spinach: This is not a traditional baked ziti ingredient, but it works so well in this recipe. The spinach wilts down into the sauce so that you hardly know it’s there, yet it adds a healthy veggie to the meal.
- Ricotta Cheese: A classic baked ziti ingredient, the ricotta adds creaminess to the pasta bake.
- Mozzarella Cheese: It is best to buy a ball of mozzarella cheese and shred it yourself, as the pre-shredded cheese that you can buy at the store doesn’t melt as smoothly.
- Parmesan Cheese: Grated Parmesan cheese adds another layer of cheesy flavor!
You may also want to have some fresh basil or fresh parsley on hand for garnishing the baked ziti when you serve it. Fresh herbs add a bit of color and make the flavors pop.
How to Make Baked Ziti
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until it is al dente, or just cooked with a bit of a bite to it. Be careful to not overcook the pasta, as it will continue cooking in the oven, absorbing some of the sauce and flavor as it bakes.
- Drain the pasta and return it to the empty pot. Do not rinse the pasta, as rinsing would prevent the sauce from sticking to it as well.
- Then cook the sausage and make the sauce. Start by sautéing the onion in olive oil in a large skillet.
- If the sausage is in casings, remove it and then add the sausage to the pan. Crumble and cook the sausage until it browns. Then stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
- Stir in the marinara sauce and seasonings. Then cook at a low simmer for 10-15 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.
- Stir in the spinach.
- To assemble the baked ziti, start by spreading 1 cup of the meat sauce over the bottom of a 13×9-inch baking dish. Then stir 2/3 of the remaining meat sauce into the pasta in the pot. Transfer half of the saucy pasta to the baking dish.
- Dollop spoonfuls of the ricotta cheese over the pasta in the casserole dish. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the shredded mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
- Add the remaining pasta on top and spread it into an even layer. Top with the remaining sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Bake at 350° F, covered with foil, for 35 minutes. Then uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the casserole is hot and bubbly and golden brown on top.
- Let it rest for 10 minutes and then dig in!
Find the full printable recipe with ingredient amounts and instructions in the recipe card below.
What to Serve with Baked Ziti
This hearty casserole doesn’t need much in the way of side dishes. Toast up some Garlic Bread or make a batch of Garlic Knots and toss together a fresh green salad. This Italian Salad and this Kale Salad are favorites.
Make Ahead Ziti
You can make baked ziti ahead and then refrigerate it for up to 2 days or freeze it for up to 3 months before baking. Be sure to let it cool completely before putting it in the freezer. Wrap the dish airtight with plastic wrap (or cover it with a lid if you have one that fits). Thaw frozen baked ziti for 24 hours in the refrigerator before baking. Plan to add about 15-20 minutes to the covered bake time if baking ziti that is cold from the refrigerator.
Storage & Reheating Tips
One of the best things about this easy baked ziti is the leftovers! Over time, the flavors will meld together so it tastes even better on the second and third day. To store and reheat:
- Refrigerator: Store leftover baked ziti in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
- Freezer: Let cool completely and then store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. I like to freeze individual portions for easy thawing and reheating. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
- To Reheat: The easiest way to reheat individual portions of baked ziti is in the microwave. You can also reheat it in a covered dish in a 350° F oven.
More Favorite Pasta Recipes
- Stuffed Shells
- Macaroni Pasta Bake
- Cajun Chicken Pasta
- Instant Pot Spaghetti
- Chicken Florentine Pasta Bake
- One Pot Pasta
- 1 pound ziti pasta, or penne pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- 1 pound Italian sausage, I used mild
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 48 ounces marinara sauce, store-bought or homemade marinara
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1-2 pinches red pepper flakes, optional
- 5 ounces chopped fresh spinach, about 4 cups loosely packed
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 6 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese*
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the pasta and cook according to package directions for al dente. Drain the pasta (do not rinse) and return it to the empty pot.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes.
- If the sausage is in casings, remove it from the casings. Add the sausage to the skillet. Crumble and cook the sausage until it browns, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
- Add the marinara sauce, Italian seasoning, dried basil, black pepper and red pepper flakes (if using). Stir. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook the sauce for 10-15 minutes.
- Remove the skillet from the heat and stir the chopped spinach into the sauce.
- Spoon 1 cup of sauce into the bottom of a 13x9-inch baking dish and spread evenly across the bottom of the dish. Gently stir ⅔ of the remaining sauce into the pasta in the pot. Transfer half of the saucy pasta to the baking dish and spread it out into an even layer.
- Dollop spoonfuls of the ricotta cheese over the top of the pasta in the baking dish. Sprinkle on ⅓ of the shredded mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese.
- Spread the remaining pasta in an even layer on top of the cheese. Top with the remaining sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Spray one side of a sheet of foil with cooking spray and use it to cover the baking dish, cooking spray side down (to prevent the cheese from sticking to the foil).
- Bake, covered, for 35 minutes. Then uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the casserole is hot and bubbly and the cheese on top is golden brown. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
- Don't use pre-shredded mozzarella cheese because it may not melt smoothly. It is best to buy a ball of mozzarella (not fresh mozzarella) and shred it using a box grater.
- Make Ahead Instructions: You can assemble the baked ziti and then refrigerate it for up to 2 days or freeze it for up to 3 months before baking. Be sure to let it cool completely before putting it in the freezer. Wrap the dish airtight with plastic wrap (or cover it with a lid if you have one that fits). Thaw frozen baked ziti for 24 hours in the refrigerator before baking. Plan to add about 15-20 minutes to the covered bake time if baking ziti that is cold from the refrigerator.
- Store leftover baked ziti in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.