The Baked Ziti Recipe That Will Be Gone in Minutes!

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Who doesn’t love a big, bubbling pan of cheesy baked ziti fresh from the oven? This classic Italian-American pasta casserole is pure comfort food – tender ziti noodles enrobed in rich tomato sauce, dotted with creamy ricotta, and blanketed under a golden crust of melted mozzarella and Parmesan. Baked ziti is basically a quicker, easier version of lasagna that delivers all the same cozy, homey vibes. It’s ideal for family dinners, potlucks, and make-ahead weeknight meals, as it can easily be assembled in advance and popped in the oven when you’re ready to eat. Best of all, this foolproof recipe makes a huge pan, so you’re sure to have plenty of leftovers – if you’re lucky!

The Secret to Luscious, Saucy Ziti

The key to amazing baked ziti is striking the perfect balance between the pasta, sauce, and cheese. You want the noodles to be al dente – cooked until just tender, but not mushy – so they can stand up to the thick layer of toppings. The tomato sauce should be savory, garlicky, and a touch spicy, infused with the flavors of onion, oregano, and basil. And you can never have too much cheese! This recipe calls for full-fat ricotta for its richer taste and smoother texture, plus two whole pounds of shredded mozzarella for maximum gooeyness.

Some baked ziti recipes use a plain marinara sauce, but I find that bolstering the sauce with some browned ground beef or Italian sausage makes the dish so much more flavorful and satisfying. You can use all beef, all sausage, or a combination of the two. The meat sauce is simmered with garlic, onion, and a touch of heavy cream to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

When layering your casserole dish, start with a thin pool of sauce to keep the bottom layer of pasta moist, then alternate the noodles with the meat sauce, ricotta, and mozzarella. I also like to stir some of the shredded cheese directly into the pasta to ensure it’s evenly distributed throughout. Finish off with a generous dusting of Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil for that perfect crunchy, golden crust.

Tip: Don’t be shy with the seasonings! Taste your sauce and ricotta mixtures and adjust the salt, pepper, garlic, and herbs to your liking.

Once your baked ziti masterpiece is assembled, all that’s left to do is slide it into a hot oven and wait for the magic to happen. You’ll know it’s ready when the cheese is melted and bubbly and the top is dappled with toasty brown spots. Resist the urge to dig in right away and let the dish cool for 10-15 minutes before serving – trust me, it’s worth the wait.

Make It Ahead, Make It Your Own

One of the beauties of baked ziti is that it can be fully assembled up to a day in advance and refrigerated until you’re ready to bake. It’s the ultimate make-ahead meal for busy weeknights or stress-free entertaining. You can even divide the mixture between two smaller pans and freeze one for later. Just be sure to take the dish out of the fridge while the oven preheats so it cooks more evenly.

This baked ziti recipe is delicious as written, but it’s also ripe for improvisation. Customize it based on your tastes, your pantry, or your mood! Swap the ziti for another sturdy pasta shape like penne or rigatoni. Try using half hot Italian sausage for a spicy kick. Sneak in some extra veggies by stirring sautéed mushrooms, peppers, or greens into the sauce. Experiment with different cheeses like provolone, pecorino, or even ricotta salata. You really can’t go wrong.

As for what to serve alongside your cheesy, saucy, irresistible baked ziti, you can’t beat the classic Italian-American combo of garlic bread and a simple green salad. Maybe open a bottle of red wine if you’re feeling fancy. But honestly, this dish is a complete meal on its own, the kind of thing you’ll want to cozy up with on the couch, not eat daintily at the dining room table. It’s comfort food to the max.

Tip: For easy serving and cleanup, dish up individual portions of baked ziti in oven-safe bowls. Bring them straight to the table and let people help themselves!

Whether you’re feeding a hungry family or meal prepping for the week ahead, this dependable baked ziti with meat sauce is sure to satisfy. Boasting layer upon layer of tender pasta, chunky tomato sauce, savory ground beef and sausage, and no fewer than three types of cheese, it’s a dish that’s guaranteed to please. It travels well, reheats like a dream, and is easy to scale up or down. Sure, it’s not exactly health food, but it delivers pure joy and comfort in every cheesy, saucy, carb-y bite. So next time you’re craving Italian flavors and need to feed a crowd, reach for this foolproof baked ziti recipe and watch it disappear!

Cheesy Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce

Course: Main CourseCuisine: Italian-American


Prep time


Cooking time





This irresistible baked ziti is loaded with savory meat sauce, three types of gooey cheese, and tender al dente pasta. It’s a family-friendly meal that’s perfect for cozy weeknight dinners and feeding a crowd!


  • 1 lb ziti pasta

  • 1 lb ground beef (or Italian sausage, or a mix)

  • 1 onion, diced

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes

  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

  • 15 oz ricotta cheese

  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided

  • 1 cup grated Parmesan, divided


  • Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the ziti and cook until al dente according to package directions. Drain the pasta and set aside.
  • While the pasta cooks, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring often to break up the meat, until the beef is browned and the onion is softened, about 8-10 minutes. Drain any excess grease.
  • To the skillet, add the crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning, heavy cream, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Stir to combine and bring the sauce to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  • Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Add half the cooked ziti in an even layer, then dollop with half the ricotta and sprinkle with half the mozzarella. Pour half the remaining sauce evenly over the cheese.
  • Repeat the layers with the remaining ziti, ricotta, mozzarella, and sauce. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese evenly over the top and drizzle with a little olive oil.
  • Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the casserole is heated through, about 20 minutes more. If you’d like a browner top, broil for the last 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve hot with garlic bread and a green salad, if desired.


  • You can substitute penne or rigatoni for the ziti if desired. Use your favorite brand of pasta sauce if you don’t want to make your own. Italian sausage can be used in place of or in addition to the ground beef for extra flavor.
  • To make ahead, assemble the ziti but do not bake. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours, or freeze for up to 3 months. If baking from frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight before baking.
  • Baked ziti will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. Reheat leftovers in a 350°F oven until warmed through.

Common Questions about Baked Ziti

Q: What’s the difference between baked ziti and lasagna?
A: While both are pasta casseroles layered with sauce and cheese, lasagna uses flat lasagna noodles while baked ziti features tube-shaped pasta like ziti or penne. Baked ziti also tends to be more saucy and often includes ricotta cheese mixed right into the pasta.

Q: Can I make this baked ziti vegetarian?
A: Absolutely! Simply omit the ground beef or sausage and make a meatless tomato sauce instead. For extra flavor and protein, try sautéing mushrooms, peppers, or plant-based sausage and adding them to the sauce. The pasta and cheese will still make this a hearty main dish.

Q: How can I make this dish ahead of time?
A: To make baked ziti ahead, assemble the dish up until the point of baking, then cover tightly with foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. You can also freeze the unbaked ziti for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, thaw overnight in the fridge if frozen, then bake as directed, adding an extra 10-15 minutes if needed.

Q: What should I serve with baked ziti?
A: Baked ziti is a hearty meal on its own, but you can round it out with some crusty garlic bread to mop up the sauce and a simple green salad for freshness. Roasted broccoli or green beans would also pair well. For dessert, keep things simple with gelato or fresh fruit.

Jamie Anderson
Jamie Anderson
Hey there! I'm Jamie Anderson. Born and raised in the heart of New York City, I've always had this crazy love for food and the stories behind it. I like to share everything from those "Aha!" cooking moments to deeper dives into what's really happening in the food world. Whether you're here for a trip down culinary memory lane, some kitchen hacks, or just curious about your favorite eateries, I hope you find something delightful!

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