Baked ziti is a pasta bake recipe that’s sure to be a hit with the whole family! It’s packed with pasta, cheese, and a meaty marinara sauce, and it’s perfect for assembling in advance for an easy weeknight dinner.
The only thing better than an easy pasta dinner is an easy pasta bake! Everyone loves pasta, but when you combine that pasta with sauce and cheese then bake it in the oven, magic happens. With baked ziti, you get that creamy sauce bubbling up from the edges, a topping of melty cheese, and a super filling dinner all in one convenient casserole dish!
I love making baked ziti for a weeknight meal because it’s so filling that we usually have leftovers, which means I can cook once and we can eat twice! Baked ziti is also a great recipe for bringing to a potluck or serving at a casual get-together like a game day party. All you need is a side salad and some homemade garlic bread and you’ve got yourself a complete meal!
Easy Baked Ziti Recipe
I think the key to good baked ziti is all in the sauce. Although you start with marinara, you’ll add in ground beef, onions, garlic, and ricotta, making it creamy, meaty, and full of flavor. Since you’re dressing up the sauce with all these add-ins, you don’t necessarily have to splurge on the priciest marinara at the grocery store, but do make sure you use one that’s tried-and-true! A bland, one-note tomato sauce just won’t cut it when you’re making baked ziti.
- Ziti pasta – You’ll need a pound of uncooked pasta.
- Ground beef
- Olive oil
- Garlic cloves – If your family loves garlic, you can double or even triple the amount.
- Black pepper
- Marinara sauce
- Fresh ricotta – I recommend using whole milk ricotta for maximum creaminess.
- Mozzarella cheese
- Parmesan cheese
- Pasta – You can use another pasta shape if you like. Rotini works well because it “grips” onto the sauce nicely!
- Ground Beef – Ground turkey or Italian sausage can be used if you prefer.
- Marinara – If you have another favorite jarred pasta sauce, you can use that instead.
- Mozzarella – A bag of Italian-blend shredded cheese works too!
How to Make Baked Ziti
Preheat the oven to 350ºF and pull out a 9×13 casserole dish.
2. Cook the Pasta
Cook the ziti in salted water according to the package instructions until al dente, then drain.
3. Make the Sauce
Sauté the onion in the olive oil in a deep pan or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Once the onion is softened, add the ground beef and use a spatula to break it up; continue to cook until the beef is browned. Stir in the garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook for a minute, then pour in the marinara and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and spread a ladle full of the sauce onto the bottom of the casserole dish.
4. Assemble the Baked Ziti
Stir the ricotta into the remaining sauce, then fold in the pasta. Pour half of the pasta into the baking dish, then top with half of the cheeses. Add the remaining pasta, topping it with the remaining cheese.
Bake the casserole for about 25 minutes, then turn on the broiler and cook for a minute or two more, or until the cheese is browned in spots.
6. Garnish and Serve
Let the casserole cool for 5 minutes, then garnish with basil and serve.
Hint: If your casserole dish is filled up to the top, place it on a baking sheet to prevent the sauce from bubbling up over the edges and dripping into your oven.
- Gluten-Free – You can use your favorite gluten-free pasta to make gluten-free baked ziti.
- Vegetarian – Use your preferred meatless ground in place of the ground beef for vegetarian baked ziti.
- Roasted Veggie – I love adding roasted vegetables to baked ziti! Try broccoli, mushrooms, cauliflower, or zucchini.
Do you bake ziti covered or uncovered?
You should bake ziti uncovered so the steam escapes, which keeps the baked ziti from becoming soggy.
What side dish goes with baked ziti?
Baked ziti is pretty filling on its own, so don’t feel like you need to make side dishes to serve with it. A simple salad is really all you need, or if you want to get two meals out of your baked ziti, serve it with a salad and garlic bread.
Can baked ziti be frozen?
Yes, baked ziti freezes well! You can assemble the casserole and freeze it before baking or you can freeze the leftovers. Let it thaw in the fridge before baking.
It’s important to cook the pasta to al dente because it will continue cooking once it’s combined with the sauce and baked in the oven. If your pasta is over-cooked, it will get mushy and fall apart!
If you’re looking for more….try these recipes next!
- Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Pasta
- Creamy Tomato and Basil Penne Pasta
- One-Skillet Creamy Tomato Italian Sausage Pasta
- Instant Pot Tortellini
- Creamy Lemon Garlic Pasta with Chicken
- Ricotta Stuffed Shells
- 1 lb ziti pasta
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 5 cups marinara sauce
- 15 oz fresh ricotta
- 12 oz mozzarella cheese shredded, divided
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese divided
- Cook pasta in salted water until just al dente – drain.
- In a deep pan or dutch oven, over medium-high heat, add olive oil and onion and cook until softenened.
- Add ground beef to pan and cook with onions – breaking up the beef with a spatula, until beef is fully cooked through and onions are softened (5-7 minutes).
- Add minced garlic, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and saute another minute.
- Add marinara sauce and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat.
- Spread a ladle of meat sauce over the bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish.
- Add ricotta cheese into the sauce and meat mixture just until combined.
- Add cooked pasta and stir just until noodles are coated.
- Transfer half of the pasta to the casserole dish. Top with 1/2 of shredded mozzarella and 1/2 grated parmesan. Add remaining pasta and top with remaining mozzarella and parmesan.
- Bake at 350˚F for 25 minutes. Broil 1-2 minutes to brown the cheese.
- Let cool 5 minutes then garnish with basil if desired and serve with a side of garlic bread and salad for a full meal.