Easy-baked ziti recipe loaded with pasta, marinara, cheese, and beef. A staple Italian dish that’s always a big crowd-pleaser with the family!
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Favorite Ziti Recipe
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, three-cheese manicotti, and crockpot lasagna. Yum!
Today I’ll be sharing my favorite 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 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. This million-dollar spaghetti recipe, mostaccioli and hamburger casserole are a few other other great make-ahead meals!
These simple ingredients are pantry staples and simple to combine for this amazing baked ziti dinner! Each ingredient baked together gives texture, flavor, and a delicious dinner for all ages. This a simple recipe that comes together quickly!
Find the full printable recipe with specific measurements below.
- Noodles: Ziti noodles are the classic noodles to use, however, you could substitute 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, but sometimes I use both like I do in my bolognese sauce recipe.
- Aromatics and spices: There are lots of different aromatics and spices used to give this dish it’s a wonderful flavor. You’ll need onions, garlic, fresh basil, oregano, salt, and pepper.
How to Make Baked Ziti
Baked ziti is an easy dinner to make on a busy weeknight. Simply brown the ground beef, cook the pasta, then combine it together. It is a perfect Italian dinner!
- Prep. Heat oil over medium heat in a large skillet and add in onions and garlic. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, then add in hamburger and brown. While the meat is browning, boil the 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 the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle on the 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
Follow these cooking tips and modifications to help make this baked ziti just the way you like it! Pick your favorite noodles, add spices for extra flavor, or enjoy grating your own cheese for an extra step. All these ideas make takes this baked ziti to the next level!
- 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!
- Meat. Instead of ground meat, try making baked ziti with meatballs.
- Layer. Make sure to assemble the ziti in layers so that there’s pasta and shredded cheese in every bite!
- Ricotta. Instead of adding sour cream, you can use a ricotta filling similar to a classic lasagna. Simply pour the pasta mixture into 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!
5 star review
“Absolutely Fantastic! This is the best baked Ziti recipe I have ever made. The sour cream adds so much richness & creaminess to this dish, even when I used light sour cream. This will be in rotation in my household. Thank you for posting it.”-Ferrayl
Yes! This baked pasta is covered in a tomato-based sauce, added in meat, and then covered in a mixture of ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan mixture. Other ingredients can be added as well.
Baked ziti is a pasta that is stirred in marinara sauce, a blend of cheeses, and cooked ground beef whereas lasagna is made by layering pasta sheets, marinara sauce, and cheese mixture. Both are baked in the oven in a baking dish.
In Italian, ziti is called maccheroni di zita which means macaroni of the bride. It was known to be a part of most wedding buffets in Southern Italy.
Ziti noodles are hollow tube-shaped pasta that is used in casserole dishes. This noodle will hold onto the cheese but also stores the marinara sauce.
There is no need to cover the baked ziti since this bakes only a short amount of time you do not need to worry that it will dry out as the sauce will keep the pasta moist. If you cover it the top does not have a the chance to get a nice golden brown cheesy top!
Make-Ahead, Freezing + Reheating
Baked ziti is perfect for storing in the fridge, freezing, or making ahead of time! All these options are easy to do and here are the ways to do it below.
- 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 the 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 the 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
Baked Ziti Recipe
- 1 pound ziti noodles , or penne noodles
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- 4 cloves garlic , minced
- 1 pound ground beef , or Italian sausage
- 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 (26-ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
- 2-4 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano , or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¾ cup sour cream
- 1-2 cups grated fresh mozzarella cheese , divided
For serving (optional): Fresh basil or Parsley
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- Boil ziti according to package instructions. Drain.
- In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Stir in onion and garlic and sauté 3 to 5 minutes, or until onions are tender. Add in beef and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until browned. Drain excess grease, if needed. Stir in tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes.
- Stir in sour cream and cooked ziti. Spoon 1/2 of the mixture into the baking dish. Top with 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese. Spoon the remaining ziti mixture over the cheese. Top with the remaining cheese. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.
- Top with fresh basil or parsley, if desired, to serve.
Nutrition provided is an estimate. It will vary based on specific ingredients used.
Did you make this recipe? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below!