Easy baked ziti loaded with pasta, marinara, cheese and beef. A staple Italian dish that’s always a big crowd pleaser with the family!
One of my all time favorite foods is pasta. There is something so comforting about taking a bite of warm, cheesy noodles covered in a flavorful sauce. This dish is one of my favorites, as well as baked ravioli, spaghetti bolognese and crockpot lasagna. Yum!
Today I’ll be sharing my favorite cheesy baked ziti recipe that is made at least once a month in my home, if not more. It has been a staple in my family for as long as I can remember. I loved helping my mom cook dinner as a little girl, especially when it was something I was excited to eat. I still remember pulling up a stool and having the job of stirring the ziti noodles.
It’s also a great meal to take to someone who just had a baby or is sick. I like to buy foil pans from the Dollar Store and fill the pasta inside. It’s the perfect make ahead meal! It also tastes wonderful served with garlic bread or breadsticks and a chopped salad. :) Super yummy!
- Noodles: Ziti noodles are the classic noodles to use, however you could sub other types of pasta like rigatoni or penne as well.
- Cheese: The recipe calls for freshly grated mozzarella, however feel free to make swaps based on what you have on hand, like parmesan or provolone.
- Tomato based products: We add in a can of diced tomatoes, as well as a 26 ounce jar of spaghetti sauce or marinara sauce.
- Sour cream: I love the added creaminess that the sour cream gives the ziti. It takes this recipe over the top!
- Meat: You can use a pound of your preferred meat of choice. I like to use either ground beef or Italian sausage.
- Aromatics and spices: There are lots of different aromatics and spices used to give this dish it’s wonderful flavor. You’ll need onions, garlic, fresh basil, oregano, salt and pepper.
How to make baked ziti
- BROWN. Heat oil over medium heat in large skillet and add in onions and garlic. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, then add in hamburger and cook until brown.
- BOIL. While the meat is browning, boil pasta according to package directions and then drain.
- SIMMER. Once the meat has browned, stir in tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, salt, pepper, oregano and basil. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes.
- ASSEMBLE. Add in sour cream and noodles and mix. Then pour half the mixture into a greased 9×13″ pan and top with half of the cheese. Pour remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle on remaining cheese.
- BAKE. Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly. Then top with fresh basil or parsley if desired.
Cooking tips + variations
- Noodles. Ziti noodles work best because they have a larger width and the ends of the noodles are cut straight across. This makes them a great vessel for the sauce. You can use other types of noodles too, like penne, rigatoni, rotini, fusilli and farfalle.
- Spice. Feel free to add some red pepper flakes to give the dish a little heat.
- Cheese. Grate your own mozzarella cheese! Freshly grated cheese melts way better than the pre-shredded bags and makes all the difference!
- Layer. Make sure to assemble the ziti in layers so that there’s pasta and shredded cheese in every bite!
- Ricotta. Instead of adding the sour cream, you can use a ricotta filling similar to a classic lasagna. Simply pour the pasta mixture in the dish, add the ricotta filling on top, then pour in the remaining pasta and then cover with mozzarella.
- Covering the pasta. No need to cover the pasta when cooking. It cooks in the oven uncovered for 20-25 minutes until bubbly. Only cover if you are reheating or cooking baked ziti that you’ve frozen.
- Instant pot. Instead of baking in the oven, try making instant pot baked ziti. No need to boil the noodles separately, they cook right in your pressure cooker!
Make-ahead, freezing + reheating
- Make-ahead: To make in advance, simply assemble, cover with foil and place in the fridge. The dish will keep in the fridge for about 2 days. When ready to bake, simply remove foil and bake at 350°F for 35 to 45 minutes.
- Freezing: Place half of the pasta mixture into an 8×8″ pan, add cheese and cover with foil. Then place the pan in a zip top bag and freeze. When ready to cook, remove from the freezer and thaw on the counter for 1 hour or in the refrigerator overnight. Preheat the oven and bake covered for 35-45 minutes.
- Reheating leftovers: Loosely cover with foil and cook in oven at 350°F until warmed throughout. The foil helps to keep the ziti from drying out. I’ve found that it takes about 15 minutes to heat all the way through.
Other delicious Italian dishes:
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 1 pound ground beef or Italian sausage
- 1 pound ziti or penne noodles
- 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 26 ounce jar spaghetti sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (2 teaspoons fresh)
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2-4 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1-2 cups grated fresh mozzarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 9×13 pan. Set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add in onion and garlic then saute for 3-5 minutes, or until onions are tender. Add in hamburger and cook until brown.
- While hamburger is browning boil pasta according to package directions, then drain.
- Once hamburger is brown, add tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, salt, oregano, pepper and basil leaves. Stir and allow to simmer for about 10-15 minutes.
- Stir in sour cream and noodles. Then pour half the mixture into the pan. Top with half of the mozzarella cheese and then pour the rest of the pasta mixture on top. Place the remaining cheese on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.
- Top with fresh basil or parsley if desired.