This Easy Baked Ziti recipe is classic Italian comfort food. It has tender ziti pasta, the most perfectly seasoned ground beef, tomato sauce, and three types of ooey gooey cheese! It’s a classic dinner idea that everyone loves!
This Easy Baked Ziti Recipe is a Classic!
Baked ziti is an Italian comfort food at its best. I love that it has all of the deep, aromatic, and cheesy flavors of lasagna but it’s much easier to make and okay to get messy! Baked ziti is like lasagna’s laid back little brother.
That makes it the perfect dish to assemble with the kids! You can prep your pasta, make your meat sauce, and grab your cheeses then just throw it all together however you’d like. Make a totally guilt free mess. No matter how you mix these ingredients together, they’re going to taste great. Your baked ziti doesn’t need to look perfect – but it will still taste perfect.
The four main things you need for a delicious baked ziti are pasta, seasoned ground beef, tomato sauce, and cheese.
Here’s everything you’ll need to bring it together:
- ziti or penne pasta
- olive oil
- yellow onion
- ground beef
- herbs and spices: sweet paprika, dried basil, dried oregano, salt and fresh ground black pepper
- tomato sauce
- ricotta cheese
- shredded mozzarella cheese
- freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Fresh chopped basil, for garnish
How to Make Baked Ziti
- Prep: Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
- Lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish and set it aside.
- Cook pasta: Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain and return to the pot. Set aside.
- Saute: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat.
- Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 20 seconds.
- Brown the beef: Add the ground beef to the skillet. Season it with paprika, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper.
- Cook the ground beef for 5 minutes, or until it’s browned and breaking up as you go.
- Add: Stir in the tomato sauce. Stir in the water and bring everything to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust for salt and pepper.
- Combine sauce and pasta: Add about 2 cups of the beef sauce to the cooked pasta; stir to combine.
- Layer: Transfer the pasta to the previously prepared baking dish.
- Add several tablespoons of ricotta over the pasta. The mounds of ricotta shouldn’t be bigger than a tablespoon because if they are, they will not melt during baking.
- Pour the remaining beef sauce over the pasta.
- Top with the remaining cheeses.
- Cover and bake: Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.
- Uncover: Remove foil and continue to bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until cheese is completely melted and mixture is bubbly.
- Rest and serve: Remove the baked ziti from the oven and let it stand for 5 minutes.
- Garnish with chopped basil and serve.
Tips for the Best Baked Ziti
Follow these simple tips if you want to have the best baked ziti.
- Make sure you save enough sauce for a thick layer at the top. This will keep the pasta insulated and make sure it doesn’t dry out while baking.
- If you find that your ricotta feels a little dry or grainy, you can mix one egg into your ricotta before you add it to the ziti.
- You can use low fat cheese in place of the full fat counterparts but it won’t be as melty, gooey, and flavorful. I find that low-fat cheeses never melt quite the way I’d like.
- If you want to up the spice factor, you can add 1 tsp of red pepper flakes.
Baked ziti has it all – meat, pasta, tomato sauce, and cheese! The only thing that could possibly make it better is bread! I like to serve a nice crusty loaf of Italian bread, homemade garlic bread, or this skillet cheese bread with my baked ziti.
One of the best things about making a casserole like baked ziti is that there’s no need to dirty loads of dishes with extra sides. If you really want to add some veggies, throw them right into the baked ziti (see below for some of the ways I add-in veggies).
You could also serve a large family style salad on the side topped with a homemade Italian vinaigrette. This adds the perfect balance to the meal and aids in digestion.
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Let your leftovers return to room temperature before storing. Then, place them in an airtight container. You can store leftover baked ziti in the fridge for 5 days or the freezer for about 3-5 months.
You can also store an entire premade baked ziti in the freezer, which makes it a perfect freezer meal to bring to a new mom, troubled friend, or family member who is recovering from an injury or surgery. Make sure that it is tightly wrapped and write the baking instructions right on the foil.
To reheat, simply pop it in the oven until it is warm. You may want to add some fresh tomato sauce to keep it from drying out.
Frequently Asked Questions
Got questions about baked ziti? Well I’ve got answers for you. Let’s go!
Can I use a different pasta shape?
Yes, for baked ziti, you can use your (or your kids) favorite pasta shape, or whatever you have. My kids love bowties. Pasta shapes that are tubes like penne or rigatoni work best because the sauce, cheese, and meat get stuck in them and you get a perfect bite each time. I wouldn’t suggest using spaghetti, linguine, or angel hair pasta – stick with shapes for the best result.
Can I add veggies?
Absolutely! I’m a big fan of hiding veggies from the kiddos right in their favorite meals. You can mince carrots and celery and add it to the tomato sauce. You can also add some chopped fresh spinach or kale. I also love to add in mushrooms and/or peas! I’ve even roasted eggplant and thrown that into the sauce!
Can I use a different meat?
If you don’t want to use ground beef, you can opt for ground turkey or ground pork, instead. If you want to make things even easier – instead of browning your ground beef with all of the onions, garlic, and herbs, you can use uncased Italian sweet sausage or leftover homemade meatballs (that you crush up)!
Easy Cheesy Baked Ziti
- 12 ounces ziti or penne pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion diced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 4 cups tomato sauce 2 cans
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup ricotta
- 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- fresh chopped basil for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish and set aside. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain and return to the pot. Set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 20 seconds.
- Add ground beef to the skillet; season with paprika, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Cook ground beef for 5 minutes, or until browned, breaking it up as you go.
- Stir in the tomato sauce. Stir in the water and bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust for salt and pepper.
- Add about 2 cups of the beef sauce to the cooked pasta; stir to combine. Transfer pasta to previously prepared baking dish. Add several tablespoons of ricotta over the pasta. The mounds of ricotta shouldn’t be bigger than a tablespoon because if they are, they will not melt during baking. Pour remaining beef sauce over the pasta. Top with cheeses.
- Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until cheese is completely melted and mixture is bubbly. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes. Garnish with chopped basil and serve.