This baked ziti recipe is made with pasta, homemade tomato sauce, ground beef, and three types of cheese layered in a casserole dish and baked to gooey perfection!
Baked ziti is an easy twist on classic lasagna, it's perfect for when you want something warm, cheesy, and comforting!
This recipe for baked ziti can easily feed a crowd and makes great leftovers. It's also perfect for making ahead of time because it tastes even better as the flavors have time to come together.
What's in Baked Ziti:
Noodles: Ziti noodles are small and tube-shaped. A good substitution would be penne pasta, which is basically the same shape just with slanted edges instead of straight.
Meat: I used 80/20 ground beef. Ground sausage or pork are other good options. Or you can leave the meat out entirely if you'd like.
Cheese: Ricotta, shredded mozzarella, and grated parmesan cheese. For the parmesan always use fresh-grated cheese, not the powdery stuff in a bottle. You can also substitute the parmesan with Romano or Asiago cheese.
Tomato sauce: You can use a jar of store-bought marinara to save time, but homemade is always best!
Homemade Tomato Sauce Ingredients:
- Tomato passata: Tomato passata is a type of tomato puree that's made with in-season tomatoes as a way of preserving them so they remain fresh year-round. Passata is great as a base for thick and flavorful tomato sauces that don't need to be cooked for hours. It can be found in most grocery stores in the same aisle as the canned tomatoes. If you can't find it, canned tomato puree is the closest alternative.
- Brown sugar: Adding brown sugar to the sauce helps to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Red wine: Wine adds a great depth of flavor to the sauce. Use a drinking-quality dry red wine such as cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, or merlot.
- Seasoning and spices: Salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. Leave the red pepper flakes out if you don't want a spicy sauce.
How to Make Baked Ziti:
Make the tomato sauce: Place a large pot over medium-high heat and add 1 tbsp. of olive oil. Finely chop one small yellow or white onion and saute for about 5 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add 3 cloves of minced garlic and saute for another minute. Stir in the tomato passata, tomato paste, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, dry red wine, seasonings, and spices. Turn the heat to low and keep over a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.
Make the Pasta:
Bring salted water to a boil, add the noodles, bring the water back to a boil and cook for 2 minutes less than the package directions, stirring occasionally. You want to cook them just under al dente (tender with a slight bite).
Drain the noodles through a colander, return to the pot, and toss with 1 and ½ cups of tomato sauce. Stir in 1 cup of ricotta cheese and ½ cup of shredded mozzarella. Cook and stir over low heat until the cheese is melted. Remove from heat and set aside.
Make the Meat Sauce:
Add 1 tbsp. olive oil to a large frying pan. Add the ground beef and cook, breaking up the beef as you do, until it's cooked through and no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in 2 cups of tomato sauce with the ground beef.
Add 1 cup of meat sauce to the pasta and stir to combine.
How to Layer Baked Ziti:
Spread the rest of the tomato sauce (about ¼ cup) in the bottom of a 9 x 13" casserole dish. Top with half of the pasta, then sprinkle 2 cups of shredded mozzarella and 1 cup of shredded parmesan cheese on top. Add the meat sauce and spread it out evenly on top of the cheese.
Add the rest of the pasta and spread it out evenly on top of the meat sauce. Top with the remaining 1 and ½ cups of shredded mozzarella and 1 cup of shredded parmesan.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. You can also place the pan under a broiler for a few minutes to help the cheese turn golden brown.
Garnish with chopped fresh parsley or chopped fresh basil before serving, if desired.
How to Make Baked-Ziti Ahead of Time:
Baked Ziti is perfect and easy to make ahead of time, you can assemble and cover the pasta and keep it in the fridge for up to 4 days, then bake as normal once you're ready to serve.
You can also make the tomato sauce ahead of time and keep it in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 1 week. To make the meat sauce ahead of time, add 2 cups of tomato sauce to the cooked ground beef and keep it in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
How to Reheat Baked Ziti:
To reheat large portions: Sprinkle some water over the top and bake in a 350° oven, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is hot and bubbly.
To reheat individual portions: You can reheat small portions of baked ziti in a toaster oven at 350°, covered with aluminum foil, until hot.
To reheat in the microwave: Splash some water or marinara on top to keep the pasta from drying out. Cover with plastic wrap or a paper towel and microwave for 1½-2 minutes. If it's still cold, continue to microwave in 15-30 second intervals until hot.
Can Baked Ziti be Frozen:
Yep! Baked ziti freezes well and then reheats easily straight from frozen. Let the baked ziti cool completely in the fridge before freezing. You can freeze individual portions or cover the entire dish tightly with aluminum foil and keep frozen for up to 3 months. Reheat in a 350° oven, covered, for about an hour, then remove the foil and continue baking until the cheese is hot and bubbly.
More Pasta Recipes:
- 9 x 13" casserole dish
- 12 oz. ziti pasta (about 4 cups, dry)
- salted water , for boiling the pasta
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 2 cups fresh-grated parmesan, Asiago, or Romano cheese (5 oz.)
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 small yellow or white onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (24.5 oz.) bottle tomato passata*
- 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
- 1 and ½ tbsp. brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. dry red wine*
- 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes, optional
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 lb. 80% lean ground beef
- ¾ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- 2 cups prepared tomato sauce
- Start boiling salted water for cooking the pasta.
- Make the tomato sauce: Add 1 tbsp. olive oil to a large pot and place the pot over medium heat. Add the finely chopped onion and saute for 5 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the minced garlic and saute for 1 more minute.
- Stir in the tomato passata, tomato paste, brown sugar, red wine, and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes (if using). Taste and season with more salt if needed. Turn the heat to medium-low and stir occasionally while the sauce simmers.
- Make the pasta: Your water should be boiling by now, add the ziti noodles and bring the water back to a boil. Boil the pasta, uncovered, for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up the noodles. Drain the noodles through a colander, add back to the pot and toss with 1 and ½ cups of tomato sauce. Add 1 cup of ricotta cheese and ½ cup of the shredded mozzarella, stir and cook over low heat until the cheese is melted. Taste and season with more salt if necessary. Keep over low heat just so the pasta stays warm.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F.
- Make the meat sauce: Add 1 tbsp. olive oil to a large frying pan. Add the ground beef and cook, breaking up the beef as you do, until no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper. Add 2 cups of tomato sauce and stir to combine.
- Add 1 cup of meat sauce to the pasta.
- Assemble the pasta: Spread the rest of the tomato sauce evenly in the bottom of a 9 x 13" casserole dish. Add half of the pasta and spread it out in an even layer. Sprinkle 2 cups of shredded mozzarella and 1 cup of fresh-grated parmesan cheese over the pasta. Spread the meat sauce evenly on top of the cheese, then cover with the rest of the pasta. Top with 1 and ½ cups of shredded mozzarella and 1 cup of fresh-grated parmesan cheese. (See post for step-by-step photos)
- Cover the top with aluminum foil and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. You can also set it under a broiler for a few minutes to help get the cheese golden brown.
- Garnish with chopped fresh parsley or chopped fresh basil, if desired. Serve warm. Leftovers last, covered, in the fridge for up to 1 week.