This baked ziti recipe is the real deal – it’s the Italian-American classic that you know and love and crave, crave, CRAVE! And guess what? It’s easy to make and feeds a crowd.
Baked ziti didn’t come to us from Italy even if most of the ingredients did. Instead, it’s an Italian-American creation. I don’t know how or why it was first made but it seems quite similar in flavor and ingredients to lasagna, except it’s a bit easier to make because you don’t do as much layering. It is only a guess that lasagna was the original inspiration for ziti, but certainly, if you love lasagna you’ll love this.
How To Make Baked Ziti
It’s really easy. What you do is to cook up some ziti noodles according to the package directions. While they cook, you mix some cheeses (mozzarella and Parmesan) with ricotta, egg, parlsey and seasoning. (I’ve seen recipes online for baked ziti that call for sour cream instead of ricotta. I haven’t tried it. But if you dislike ricotta, that would be a good substitution to try).
Once the pasta is cooked, you drain it and then mix it with that cheese mixture. This makes sure that every noodle in your dish has some delicious cheese coating it. You’re going to add some tomato sauce to this mixture too. This keeps it nice and moist. What kind of sauce? Hang on. Info coming up! First, get out your casserole dish. You’ll need a nice big one. I use a deep dish lasagna pan like this one.
Put some sauce into the bottom of the pan. You can use a basic tomato sauce, store-bought from a can or a basic homemade tomato sauce like this. If you use a tomato sauce, it will be a vegetarian dish. If you want it meaty, you can use a meat sauce or spaghetti sauce instead. Here’s my basic spaghetti sauce recipe, which works great here. As a general guide, what you’ll need is 2 pounds of ground meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey or a combination) cooked and then mixed with 4 cups of tomato sauce.
Some sauce goes into the bottom of the lasagna pan. Then you add half of your ricotta-coated pasta, a layer of sauce and a layer of shredded mozzarella cheese. Then another layer of pasta, sauce and cheese.
Pop it into a 375ºF oven uncovered until heated through and bubbling, about 30 minutes (it will take longer if you started with cold pasta).
There are three options for making this ahead.
- You can cook the noodles ahead of time. Refrigerate them and then assemble when you’re ready to bake it. If doing this, you can either refrigerate the noodles plain or you can toss them with the ricotta mixture before refrigerating. Noodle Tip: If you’re leaving the noodles plain in the fridge stop them from sticking together by tossing them with a tablespoon or two of olive oil or vegetable oil.
- Instead of baking it immediately, you can assemble it, cover it and then put it into the fridge for up to 3 days. Bake it straight from the fridge. It will take about an hour. See the note about baking below.
- You can assemble it, seal it well in plastic wrap and then freeze it for up to a month. Let it defrost in the fridge for 24 hours before baking. If you’re going to freeze the ziti, you’re best to use a disposable baking dish like this. I like them because they have good tight-fitting lids.
Note about baking make-ahead ziti: If you’re putting your ziti into the oven for 45 minutes or longer, then you need to cover it with foil first otherwise it will dry out. So if you assemble it and refrigerate it, or if you are using cold noodles to make the dish, cover it for for the first 30 minutes and then uncover and continue baking until hot.
- 1 lb. ziti
- 6 cups grated mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1 (15oz.) tub ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
- coarse black pepper
- 8 cups tomato sauce or meat sauce, divided
- Cook the ziti according to package instructions. Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine 2 cups of mozzarella with the ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, 1/2 cup parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Drain the pasta and add it to the ricotta mixture in the large bowl. Stir to coat noodles. Add 2 cups of the tomato or meat sauce and stir again.
- Measure 2 cups of the tomato/meat sauce into a large casserole dish or lasagna pan. Top with half of the pasta mixture. Top the pasta with 2 cups of the tomato/meat sauce and then top the sauce with 2 cups of mozzarella cheese. Add the remaining pasta, then the remaining sauce and then the remaining cheese.
- Bake until heated through and bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and serve.