Classic Baked Ziti (So Delicious!)
Words cannot express how insanely delicious this classic baked ziti is! So meaty, extra cheesy with three different kinds of cheeses, and super easy to make. This one is most certainly an epic weeknight dinner that everyone will love- so dang flavorful! Such a great recipe that you can make ahead for all occasions and freezer-friendly as well. Pair alongside a side salad and/or garlic bread for ultimate dinner greatness!
Hey friends, hey! I feel like we’re in that weird time of year where summer is not yet over but all of the fall items are beginning to pop up lol. Real talk, I was in Target the other day and spotted pumpkin candles already. And before you ask, yes, I did buy myself two of them in anticipation for my most favorite season- just keepin’ it all the way real ya know. My longtime readers already know this about me, ha!
I’ve been into comforting classics lately; foods that I make routinely and hit the soul just right. Yeah, my baked ziti is just that. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I make it. Baked ziti is a dish that I find myself turning to on busy weeknights, when entertaining, and whenever I wanna gift someone a good ole cozy dish just because. It is a classic gem of deliciousness and a meal that screams crowd pleaser.
The Best Baked Ziti You Will Ever Eat!
>>> Listen, I love this baked ziti recipe for so many reasons and I know you will as well, here’s why:
- SO EASY! Unlike other pasta recipes, classic baked ziti is super simple and straightforward. You won’t find a heavily developed meat sauce or a bajillion ingredients to make this baked ziti. Yup, she’s an easy to make recipe yet so unbelievably good- love this so much!
- CHEESY, CHEESY GOODNESS! I think we can all agree that a cheesy pasta is a damn good pasta. Yes. Y’all, my recipe has *three* kinds of cheeses in it and those cheeses blend together so nicely when sopped up with that glorious meaty sauce, yum. The golden brownness when it’s done baking just sends me.
- FLAVOR-TOWN EXPRESS! Like I said earlier, while this baked ziti recipe is easy to make, it does not compromise on flavor at all. Every single bite is loaded with wonderfully rich meat sauce, spices, a combination of cheeses, and fresh basil, it’s simply perfect.
Baked Ziti Ingredients- Here’s What You’ll Need
(Note: the full ingredients list, including measurements, is provided in the recipe card directly below.)
- Ziti pasta: yessir, we’re making *baked ziti*, amirite? This is the obvious, however, if you do not have or can’t find ziti pasta other great pastas that will work for this recipe are penne and rigatoni pasta.
- Olive oil + butter: the combination of the two for browning the meat and sautéing.
- Ground Italian sausage: my recipe uses an all sausage base for the meat. I prefer hot Italian ground sausage for a bit of heat, too. I find sausage to give off a juicier and more flavorful meat sauce. If you do not consume sausage or need an alternative, ground beef works just as good! Additionally, you can even use a combination of the two if you’d like!
- Onion: one good ole yellow onion imparts a ton of flavor, a white onion also great.
- Garlic: 5 fresh garlic cloves- and put down the jarred minced garlic purty please!
- Tomato paste: works together to develop the rich + bold meat sauce.
- Brown sugar: helps to balance out the acidity from the tomato products and gives more flavor.
- Crushed fire roasted tomatoes: You should find this in most grocery stores in the canned goods aisle. This is one of the main stars of the sauce- fire roasted tomatoes have even more flavor since they were previously roasted over an open flame.
- Spices: salt, pepper, dried oregano, dried basil, garlic powder.
- The cheeses: ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese.
- Fresh basil: there’s fresh basil throughout this baked ziti for a lovely herbaceous punch- more specifically, a basil chiffonade (thin strips of basil)…further explained in the recipe card below.
How To Make This Baked Ziti Recipe
(Note: please see the recipe card directly below for the complete written instructions.)
- Preheat the oven and prep your baking dish. I like to grease my baking pan with a spray of olive oil or avocado oil. Greasing the pan helps to ensure that nothing heavily sticks to the pan.
- Brown the sausage. Melt the oil and butter in a large pot and then cook the sausage. Using a wooden utensil to help break up the ground sausage helps a ton! Then cook the sausage until it browns completely and you begin to see the sausage achieve little crispy bits. After cooking, use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausage to a cleaned bowl and set aside.
- Add in the chopped onion. Sauté the onion in the residual fat left in the pot, cooking until tender.
- Add the garlic. Toss in the minced garlic and cook together along with the onion.
- Add in the tomato paste + brown sugar. Stir in the tomato paste and brown sugar.
- Pour in the crushed tomatoes and seasonings. Add in the crushed tomatoes along with the salt, pepper, dried oregano + basil, and garlic powder. Stir everything together to fully combine.
- Add the sausage. Add the reserved cooked sausage back into the pot and stir together.
- Simmer the sauce. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking the sauce to simmer.
- Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions, al dente. Reserve 1/3 cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta.
- Bring the pasta and sauce together. Add the cooked pasta along with the pasta water into the pot with the meat sauce. Stir everything together to combine and remove from the heat.
Other Great Weeknight Recipes To Make
- Easy Philly Cheesesteaks
- One-Pot Creamy Beef Pasta
- Southern Fried Cabbage and Sausage
- Chicken with Caper Cream Sauce
- Instant Pot Pork Carnitas
- Classic Meatloaf Recipe
- Easy Skillet Lasagna
- Creamy Rasta Pasta
Things We Love About Baked Ziti ❤️
So, we love baked ziti because it is a really delicious pasta recipe that requires little to no effort– this is everything! I always like to say that baked ziti is basically lasagna without the headache of lasagna noodles and layering and everything else lol. Also, it’s a nice and hearty dish that is literally so perfect to make ahead of time, great for meal prepping, and also freezer-friendly for those future plans.
How To Assemble Baked Ziti
Putting together your baked ziti dish couldn’t be any easier, peeps! Here’s how:
- Layer half of the pasta onto the bottom of the pan in an even layer.
- Top the pasta layer with dollops of the ricotta cheese (as shown in the image below).
- Then sprinkle half of the mozzarella cheese directly on top of the ricotta.
- Add a little of the basil chiffonade on top of the mozzarella cheese.
- Add the remaining pasta on top, again, in an even layer.
- Lastly, sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top.
Let’s Talk About The Cheese!
Like a lot of baked ziti recipes, this one includes ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese. In different amounts, all three of these cheeses blend beautifully and give this dish the ultimate cheesiness that we’re looking for. Ricotta is a wonderfully creamy type of fresh cheese that is amazing- especially in baked-type of pasta dishes. Alternatively, shredded low-moisture/part-skim mozzarella cheese has a nice delicate and smooth taste that melts so perfectly! Meanwhile, parmesan cheese is a type of hard cheese that has a stronger and more pungent flavor. All of them make this baked ziti so damn good.
Tips + Tricks For The Best Baked Ziti
- Let the meat sauce simmer– Once the sauce is combined, don’t shut off the heat! Allow the sauce to simmer together as directed in the recipe card below for the flavors to meld together.
- Don’t overcook the pasta– Boil your pasta according to the package directions; most pasta packages/boxes will have the *al dente* cooking time referenced. Keep in mind that the pasta will continue cooking once combined within the meat sauce and while baking.
- Use block-style mozzarella cheese– I know it’s tempting to opt for the pre-bagged shredded cheese but, if you can, don’t. That kind of cheese has a powder coating on it that we don’t want, trust me. For a creamier and better tasting baked ziti, grab a block of mozzarella cheese and use a hand grater to shred the cheese yourself. It’s a small extra step but grating your own cheese is so worth it.
>> Quin’s hot take: This entire baked ziti situation is giving everything it needs to give and then some. Ya girl is not a big fan of heavy sauce-laden pasta recipes. Too much red sauce or too thick of a sauce makes me internally scream because #helloacidreflux lol. Y’all, I enjoy tomato-based ingredients but only to a certain extent, ha! All in all, I love that the red sauce here in this recipe is minimal and does exactly the job. This classic baked ziti recipe is a real deal favorite of mine; a pan of this dish in my home never lasts long.
Let’s Talk Substitutions, Variations, and More!
I know some of you wanna dive into this baked ziti but may have some questions or want tips:
- About The Meat (sausage)– Feel free to use ground beef or ground turkey if sausage isn’t your thing. Otherwise, you can also use a combination of any of your favorite ground meats for this recipe.
- Vegan Baked Ziti?– Where are my plant-based bbs at? Y’all can get in on the baked ziti fun just the same with a few swaps! Use any of your favorite vegan ground “beef” along with vegan butter, non-dairy mozzarella cheese shreds + non-dairy parmesan cheese (I really like the cheeses from Follow Your Heart and Violife), and a vegan ricotta –> this one from Minimalist Baker is a really great recipe!
- Add some veggies!– Throw in some roasted/sautéed mushrooms, eggplant, or zucchini directly into the sauce! Additionally, you can also toss in some fresh spinach, chopped or un-chopped. Just be sure to stir the spinach within the sauce until all of the spinach wilts down.
What To Serve With Baked Ziti
We love serving this baked ziti recipe right along with my loaded olive cheese bread (it’s so insanely good, y’all!) OR any kind of garlic bread that you like. Oooeee, and for an ultra decadently delish vibe, peep these cheddar scallion biscuits, yum. Alternatively, a nice side salad is also clutch for pairing with baked ziti!
How To Store Baked Ziti
How to store: Baked ziti will last for 3-5 days when stored in the refrigerator. I recommend keeping any leftovers stored inside of an airtight container or wrapped in plastic wrap or foil. Baked ziti will last for 1-2 months when stored in the freezer. If storing in the freezer, wrap the leftovers very well to prevent any freezer burn/odors. When ready to consume frozen baked ziti, let the pasta thaw out in the fridge overnight. Then, reheat the pasta in the microwave or bake in the oven at 350° for about 15-20 minutes.
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UNTIL NEXT TIME…LOVE AND BUTTER,
This classic baked ziti recipe is so insanely delicious! So meaty, extra cheesy with three different kinds of cheeses, and super easy to make. This one is most certainly an epic weeknight dinner that everyone will love- so dang flavorful! Such a great recipe that you can make ahead for all occasions and freezer-friendly as well. Pair alongside a salad and/or garlic bread for ultimate dinner greatness!
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 pounds ground Italian sausage, hot or mild
- 1 medium-sized yellow onion, finely chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed fire roasted tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
For the baked ziti
- 1 pound ziti pasta
- 15 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
- 16 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, freshly shredded and divided
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
- 1/4 cup basil chiffonade, divided- see note below
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly spray or grease a 9×13 inch baking dish and set aside.
- Using a large deep skillet or dutch oven, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat.
- Once the mixture is sizzling, add in the ground sausage. Use a wooden utensil to break up the sausage and cook until the sausage is browned and lightly crispy, about 5-7 minutes. Then use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a clean bowl and set it aside.
- Add the chopped onion into the same pan and stir together. Sauté the onion until tender and translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Then add in the minced garlic and continue stirring the mixture until the garlic is fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
- Add in the tomato paste and brown sugar and stir together to fully combine. Then pour in the crushed tomatoes with all of the liquid as well as the salt, pepper, dried basil, dried oregano, and garlic powder. Stir everything together to combine.
- Add the reserved cooked sausage back into the same pot and stir to bring the sauce together. Reduce the heat to low and cook the sauce to a nice simmer, about 15-20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, while the sauce is simmering- on a separate burner, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to your package directions, al dente.
- Reserve 1/3 cup of the starchy pasta water, set aside, and then drain the pasta. Add the cooked pasta into the same pot with the meat sauce along with the 1/3 cup of pasta water. Stir everything together to fully combine and then remove the pot from the heat.
- To assemble the baked ziti: Spoon half of the pasta into the prepared baking dish in an even layer. Then dollop the ricotta cheese directly on top of the pasta in different sections. Next, sprinkle half of the shredded mozzarella cheese over the ricotta cheese along with a sprinkling of 2 tablespoons of the grated parmesan cheese. Then top with 2 tablespoons (half) of the basil chiffonade. Spoon the remaining pasta directly on top in an even layer and then sprinkle on remaining half of the mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese.
- Bake the pasta for 30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown.
- Allow the baked ziti to cool in the baking dish for 10 minutes. Then garnish with remaining basil chiffonade and serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Please read the blog post in its entirety for more tips + tricks.
- Basil chiffonade: Place fresh basil leaves directly on top of each other in a stack. Then, from the bottom, roll up the leaves together into a tight log. Use a sharp knife to cut the leaves crosswise into thin strips.
Keywords: olive oil, butter, sausage, onions, garlic, tomato paste, brown sugar, tomatoes, pasta, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, basil