Classic Baked Ziti

$12.16 recipe / $1.52 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.88 from 39 votes
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As soon as the weather turns cool, I grab the cozy sweaters and start cooking the comfort food, like this Classic Baked Ziti. It’s rich and gooey with its layers of pasta, homemade red sauce with Italian sausage, and three types of melty cheese. Total comfort in a bowl. And the best part is that Baked Ziti is not fussy. You don’t have to worry about delicate sheet pasta or getting your layers perfect. It’s freeform, messy goodness at its best!

Overhead view of a wooden spoon scooping baked ziti out of the corner of a white casserole dish

Can I Use a Different Pasta Shape?

If you can’t find ziti (a smooth, tubular shaped pasta), you can substitute penne or rigatoni in this recipe. Rigatoni is the most similar to ziti, the only difference being that it has a ridges and is slightly shorter and wider.

Can I Add Vegetables to Baked Ziti?

Yes! I almost always add extra vegetables to whatever I’m cooking, but today I decided to go with the classic form of Baked Ziti. If I were to add vegetables, I would probably add some fresh spinach into the sauce and stir until it is wilted. Or, roast some broccoli, zucchini, or eggplant, and then toss that into the sauce.

Can I Substitute the Sausage?

The Italian sausage adds a lot of flavor to this dish, but there are still a few options for substituting the sausage. You can use ground beef, turkey, or chicken, but you’ll probably want to double the Italian seasoning blend to make up for the herbs that are found in Italian sausage. You can also use a vegetarian Italian sausage alternative, or substitute with a pound of chopped mushrooms.

What Should I Serve with Baked Ziti?

Homemade Garlic Bread is awesome with baked ziti, but if you want some vegetables on the side I would go with something like Oven Roasted Frozen Broccoli, or do a simple side salad.

How to Store the Leftovers

This Baked Ziti will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. I highly suggest dividing the leftovers into single servings so they cool quickly in the refrigerator. This recipe makes 8 large servings, so once the servings are cooled completely in the refrigerator, you can transfer a few to the freezer for longer storage. Then each serving is just a quick microwave away from being a filling last-minute dinner!

Front view of a wooden spoon lifting a scoopful of Baked Ziti from the casserole dish

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Classic Baked Ziti

4.88 from 39 votes
Like a freeform lasagna, this Baked Ziti has layers of pasta, homemade red sauce with Italian sausage, and three types of melty cheese!
Close up of a wooden spoon in the casserole dish full of baked ziti
Servings 8
Prep 10 mins
Cook 55 mins
Total 1 hr 5 mins

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. Italian sausage (sweet, mild, or hot) ($3.49)
  • 1 yellow onion ($0.27)
  • 3 oz. tomato paste ($0.27)
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes ($1.00)
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning blend ($0.30)
  • 1/2 cup water ($0.00)
  • 1 lb. ziti ($1.67)
  • 1/2 Tbsp salt (for pasta water) ($0.05)
  • 15 oz. ricotta ($1.69)
  • 1 cup Italian cheese blend* ($1.15)
  • freshly cracked black pepper ($0.05)
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella ($2.29)
  • 1 handful chopped parsley (optional, for garnish) ($0.20)

Instructions 

  • Brown the sausage in a large skillet or pot over medium heat, until it's brown and crispy on the edges (pork sausage contains a lot of fat, so I didn't add any extra to the skillet).
  • While the sausage is browning, finely dice the onion. Add the onion to the skillet once the sausage has browned, and continue to sauté over medium heat until the onion is soft and translucent.
  • Add the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning, and ½ cup water to the skillet with the sausage and stir to combine. Place a lid on the skillet and allow it to come up to a simmer. Once simmering, turn the heat down and allow it to continue to simmer while you cook the ziti. Stir the sauce occasionally as it simmers.
  • After getting the sauce started, begin the ziti. Bring a large pot of water with ½ Tbsp salt to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add the ziti, and let it continue to boil until the ziti is tender (about 7-8 minutes). Drain the ziti in a colander. Shake the colander a bit to shake excess water out of the pasta.
  • While the pasta and sauce are cooking, prepare the cheese filling. Add the ricotta, Italian cheese blend, and some freshly cracked black pepper (about 10 cranks of a pepper mill) to a bowl and stir to combine. Begin to preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  • After draining the ziti, return it to the pot and add 1 cup of the red sauce. Stir to coat the cooked pasta in sauce.
  • Pour half of the ziti to a 9×13" baking dish. Add half of the ricotta mixture on top of the ziti in small dollops. Finally, spoon half of the red sauce and sausage over the pasta and ricotta. It's okay if the ingredients don't cover in a solid layer. Repeat these layers with the second half of the pasta, ricotta mixture, and sauce. Finally, top with 2 cups shredded mozzarella.
  • Cover the baking dish with foil, making sure it's slightly tented so that it doesn't touch or stick to the melted cheese. Transfer the covered casserole to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  • After baking for 20 minutes, remove the foil, and turn the oven on to broil (keep the casserole on the middle rack, about 10-12 inches from the broiler). Broil for 5 minutes, or just until the cheese is slightly browned. Keep a close eye on the baked ziti as it broils, because broilers can vary in intensity. Top with chopped parsley, if desired, then serve.

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Notes

*In place of Italian cheese blend you can use a mix of mozzarella and Parmesan.

Nutrition

Serving: 1ServingCalories: 570.03kcalCarbohydrates: 39.15gProtein: 34.04gFat: 30.3gSodium: 1730.49mgFiber: 4.85g
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Scroll down for the step by step photos!

A white plate with baked ziti, garlic bread, and a black fork.

How to Make Baked Ziti – Step by Step Photos

Browned Italian sausage in a skillet

Begin by browning 1 pound Italian sausage in a skillet until it is brown and crispy on the edges. Pork sausage has quite a bit of fat in it on its own, so I didn’t add any extra to the skillet.

Diced onion added to the skillet with the sausage

While the sausage is browning, finely dice a yellow onion. Add it to the skillet with the browned sausage and continue to sauté for a few minutes more, or until the onion is soft and translucent.

Crushed tomatoes being poured into the skillet, with sausage, onions, tomato paste, and Italian seasoning

Add 3 oz. tomato paste (half of a 6 oz. can – don’t forget to freeze the rest of the can!), 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning blend, one 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, and 1/2 cup water. Stir to combine, place a lid on the skillet, and let it come up to a simmer. Once simmering, turn the heat down to low and let it continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, while you begin cooking the ziti.

Boiled ziti in a pot of water with a wooden spoon

Once the sauce is simmering away, begin cooking the ziti. Bring a large pot of water with 1/2 Tbsp salt to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add 1 lb. ziti. Continue to boil the ziti until tender, then drain in a colander. Shake the colander a bit to shake out the excess water.

Ricotta, Italian cheese, and black pepper in a bowl

While the ziti is boiling and the sauce is simmering, make the ricotta cheese blend. Add 15 oz. ricotta, 1 cup Italian cheese blend, and some freshly cracked black pepper to a bowl. Stir to combine. Also begin to preheat the oven to 350ºF at the time.

Sauce being added to cooked ziti in the pot.

After draining the ziti, return it to the pot and add 1 cup of the red sauce. Stir to coat the ziti in the sauce.

First layers of pasta, cheese, and sauce in the casserole dish

Pour half of the sauce coated ziti into a 9×13″ casserole dish. Add half of the ricotta mixture on top of the ziti in small dollops, then add half of the red sauce on top. Don’t worry if the layers don’t cover each other in a solid layer. It doesn’t have to be perfect!

Second layers of pasta, ricotta, and sauce, and final layer of mozzarella

Repeat with a second layer of pasta, ricotta mixture, and sauce, then top with 2 cups shredded mozzarella.

Baked ziti with melted cheese and foil peeled back

Cover the casserole with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Make sure the foil is slightly tented so it doesn’t touch the cheese and stick when it melts.

Broiled baked ziti with browned cheese on top

After baking for 20 minutes, remove the foil, turn the oven to broil, and return the casserole to the oven (keep it on the middle rack, about 10-12 inches from the broiler). Broil for about 5 minutes, or just until the cheese is browned on top. Keep a close eye as it broils because broilers can vary in intensity.

Finished baked ziti casserole topped with chopped parsley and a wooden spoon on the side

Garnish with a little chopped parsley, if desired, then serve!

Overhead view of a spoon just beginning to dig into the baked ziti casserole

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  1. Made this today. We loved it! We were out of crushed tomatoes and I didn’t realize till we started so I just used basic jars of tomato sauce instead of making some. Still a homerun recipe!

    Question: I used hot italian sausage links and slice it. The recipe doesn’t specify anywhere if you should use links and cut them out of the casings or smash them to separate or to use ground sausage (it looks kind of ground in the pics). Usually you always specify so I thought you might want to address that. Thanks for the great recipe!

    1. Hi, Colleen! That’s a great point! While you can buy Italian sausage in casings and just remove them to get to the ground meat, you can also purchase ground Italian sausage (without the casings) in shrink-wrapped packages like ground beef or turkey, in most grocery stores’ meat sections! I would suggest keeping an eye out for that next time you make this recipe — it will make it a lot easier (and way less gross) for you next time! I hope that helps! ~Marion :)

      For reference: https://www.kroger.com/p/kroger-mild-italian-ground-sausage/0001111097272

  2. I followed this recipe exactly. Delicious. I didn’t think it needed more sauce as others have suggested, but more sauce wouldn’t hurt.

  3. It looked delicious when I took it out of the oven, it was tasty but dry. I think I will increase the sauce next time.

  4. What is the 1 cup of Italian Cheese blend that is added to the ricotta and mozzarella?

    1. Italian blend grated cheese contains both grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano. XOXO -Monti

  5. I love this recipe because we were able to make it with what we had in the pantry and fridge. We subbed ziti for rigatoni and Italian sausage for ground beef. It was perfect with 2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning. We added spinach to the sauce and had garlic bread as a side. It was the perfect dinner for a cold night! My husband and 2 little boys loved it!

  6. You are a very talented person, Beth. Every recipe I’ve tried off this site has been out of this world! This ziti is no different. I used leftover chicken instead of sausage just because that was what I had on hand.

    The only thing I would add is more sauce, but I’m pretty sure that’s just a personal preference. People who love sauce like I do, add more.

      1. This is how I made it. The only other change was adding in spinach into the sauce as Beth suggested! Absolutely delicious.

  7. Made this fantastic Baked Ziti, or in my case, baked Mini Bow tie pasta last night and it turned out tasting fantastically good!

    I made a few changes, just to bump up the flavor and because I’d forgotten to get 1 item at the store.
    My first change was adding some chopped garlic in when I put the onions in to give it some extra flavor and because I just can’t cook without garlic! Haha I’m a garlic-girl! 2nd change was adding red wine in place of the 1/2 cup of water. Really gave the sauce a rich flavor, and I had it laying around open in my fridge. Lastly for sauce changes is, I just added in the whole 6oz can for a richer tomatoer taste. That sauce was great!
    I also used mini bow tie pasta just as a twist and fun shape change.
    Now, I read the recipe too fast and didn’t see I was supposed to get 2 types of shredded cheese, so I had to make do and improvise! On this issue, I used a heaping handful of shredded mozzarella, ricotta, parsley, sprinkle of salt and a hefty dose of grated Parmesan cheese in the ricotta mixture. It still turned out great thought!

    From then on, I followed the directions. This recipe was fantastic and will be made for sure many, many times again! Thank you for it! Every recipe I’ve tried from Budget Bytes has been an utter smashing success!
    Thank you, once again!

    1. I would divide it into single portions after baking and then freeze it that way so you can reheat one portion at a time in the microwave. :)

  8. So I had some leftovers of your Pasta with peas and bacon recipe and used it in this recipe! I needed a bit more pasta, so I did cook some more shells. I mixed some hot Italian sausage with a ground beef patty I had in freezer. Will make again