This post may contain affiliate sales links. Please read my disclosure policy.
Want an easy weeknight dinner? Warm, comforting and amazing, this is an easy-to-make classic Baked Ziti recipe filled with Italian Sausage, tomato sauce, and cheese to the max! This recipe is especially indulgent with a side of Homemade Garlic Bread and a side salad for good measure.
Baked Ziti vs Lasagna
If you love Lasagna but hate the time it takes to make it, make Baked Ziti! While Lasagna is made with a similar filling, it does have some key differences compared to Baked Ziti.
Lasagna filling has a meaty tomato sauce with a cheese mixture of cottage cheese or ricotta cheese and Italian seasoning. It is then spooned in between sheets of lasagna noodles, with more cheese added on top and then baked until bubbly.
Baked Ziti is more of a pasta casserole without the structure of layers. This easy Baked Ziti recipe offers all of the same flavors and comforts that lasagna does but with way less effort. Meaty tomato sauce, filling pasta, and of course, all of that melted gooey cheese!
Today’s classic Baked Ziti recipe makes a large 9×13 pan which is perfect for large families or to use as leftovers! While I have my Instant Pot Baked Ziti on the blog (that is super popular), I thought I should post a more classic recipe that everyone can make. No special equipment needed!
What is the Difference Between Penne and Ziti Pasta?
Penne and Ziti are both a short tube-shaped pasta. The most noticeable difference between Ziti and Penne is the way the pasta is cut. Ziti is cut straight on, whereas Penne is diagonally cut. For this recipe, Ziti pasta was used, but you can use penne. Other tubular pasta substitutes would be rigatoni, shells, or large macaroni.
Baked Ziti Variations
Everyone has their secret tips and tricks in making Baked Ziti their own and in this house, I encourage it! Feel free to use my recipe as a base then customize to your liking. Here are a couple of options to get you started:
- Vegetarian Baked Ziti: feel free to make this a vegetarian meal by leaving out any meat products and then supplementing with more veggies!
- Adding Vegetables: you can absolutely use/hide vegetables in this dish. Consider wilting spinach, adding shredded zucchini, or shredded carrots to this dish! Or serve your vegetables on the side!
- Using Different Meat: although I use a pork Italian sausage for this baked ziti recipe, you can absolutely replace it with ground beef or ground turkey.
How to Make Baked Ziti
For full details, including ingredients and measurements, see the printable recipe card down below. Here are step by step directions on how to make baked ziti.
Boil the Pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook ziti pasta to al dente. Follow cooking times according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Brown the Meat
In another pot or deep large skillet with high sides, heat the pan over medium heat. Brown sausage, breaking apart as it cooks. Drain if desired. Replace back in the pan. To the cooked sausage, add olive oil, onion, and garlic and sauté until mostly tender.
Make the Homemade Sauce
Stir in diced tomatoes, marinara sauce, water, basil, oregano, bay leaves, salt, black pepper. Stir well. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes Taste sauce and adjust seasonings. Remove bay leaves.
Add cooked ziti noodles to the meat sauce and stir to coat. Add in fresh mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Stir to melt slightly.
Pour into lightly greased 9×13 pan. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese, cover with lightly greased aluminum foil and bake for 20-30 minutes or until everything is hot and bubbly and the top is a light golden brown. Top with chopped parsley (optional) and serve hot.
Storing Baked Ziti
Allow to cool to room temperature before storing leftovers. Baked Ziti will last in the fridge, in an airtight container, for 4-5 days! Which means it’s great for leftovers and meal prep. Alternatively you can make a double batch and freeze one portion for later!
To Reheat baked ziti: You can either do this a couple of ways. Reheat individual portions in the microwave until heated through. The other way is to reheat in the oven. Preheat oven to 350° F. Allow baked ziti to sit on the counter while the oven preheats (so your casserole dish doesn’t crack from extreme heat variations). Cover the top with foil and bake for 30-45 minutes until heated through.
How to Freeze Baked Ziti
One of the best parts about Baked Ziti is that it can be frozen to last even longer and make a super easy dinner for the future, I love when that happens!
Simply double the recipe, bake one portion, and with the other store in a freezable container before baking (those aluminum casserole dishes found at the grocery store would work great for this). Be sure to cover tightly with aluminium foil and then plastic wrap before freezing. Freeze for up to 3 months.
To bake after freezing: Thaw in the fridge overnight then bake as according to the recipe directions.
FAQ About Baked Ziti
No. This is just a specific pasta shape, penne pasta would work perfectly well in its place. You can use what you have on hand or what you prefer in this recipe.
You can substitute crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, or more marinara. Alternately, you could run a can of diced tomatoes through the blender or food processor.
Yes, if you don’t have a lot of time and have a jar of marinara sauce on hand, you’re welcome to use what you have.
Yes! I love to sneak veggies into meals whenever I can! Here are a few suggestions:
Make this dish vegetarian: feel free to make this a vegetarian meal by leaving out any meat products and then supplementing with more veggies!
Add more veggies: you can absolutely use/hide vegetables in this dish. Consider wilting spinach, adding shredded zucchini, or shredded carrots to this dish!
Use different meat: although I use a pork Italian sausage for this baked ziti recipe, you can absolutely replace it with ground beef or ground turkey or ground chicken.
What to Serve with Baked Ziti
Here are a few side dish ideas to round out your baked ziti meal.
- Dinner Rolls with Roasted Garlic
- Caprese Salad
- Roasted Asparagus
- Refreshing Salad or Dark Leafy Greens
More Comforting Pasta Recipes to Try!
I just love classic Italian-American recipes like this one. This really is the best baked ziti recipe and is in our family favorites rotation often! Total comfort food to the max! The printable recipe card is down below. Enjoy, friends! 🙂
If you make this recipe, I would really appreciate it if you would give it a star rating and leave your review in the comments! If you have a picture of your finished dish, post it on Instagram using the hashtag #laurenslatest and tagging me @laurens_latest.
Classic Baked Ziti
- 1 lb ziti pasta
- 1.25 lbs Sweet Italian Sausage
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 25 oz marinara sauce I used Rao's
- 14.5 oz petite diced tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- salt & pepper to taste
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella drained and cut into cubes
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 cup part skim mozzarella shredded
- Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Cook ziti according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- In another pot or deep skillet with high sides, heat pan over medium heat. Brown sausage, breaking apart as it cooks. Drain if desired. Replace back in the pan. To the cooked sausage, add olive oil, onion, and garlic and saute until mostly tender, about 3 minutes.
- Stir in diced tomatoes, marinara sauce, water, basil, oregano, bay leaves, salt, pepper. Stir well. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Taste sauce and adjust seasonings. Remove bay leaves.
- Add cooked ziti to sauce and stir to coat. Add in fresh mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Stir to melt slightly. Pour into lightly greased 9×13 pan. Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, cover with lightly greased foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Top with chopped parsley (optional) and serve hot.