Easy Baked Ziti

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It’s the ultimate comfort food! Easy Baked Ziti—pasta in casserole form. Noodles and crumbled Italian sausage are drenched in tomatoes and cheeses, with a melted blanket of more cheese on top.

Is there any dish more wonderfully indulgent than pasta, sausage, and tomato sauce baked with a blanket of a variety of cheeses? You can compile them in any number of ways. Today, though, we’re making a Baked Ziti, which works sort of like a pasta casserole. It layers the pasta, sausage, sauce, and cheese so that its presentation is almost as delicious as the meal itself.

Whether you come from Italian stock or not, eating this meal is like getting a hug from your favorite Italian nonna. Yes, indeed, whenever I make this dish I get all patriotic for a country I am not even from. How crazy is that! Though some may argue over the dish’s origins, including pasta as it does means it certainly came from Italy. The “casseroling” part is probably more an Americanized versions, those expats out there should feel right at home making it.

I particularly like that Baked Ziti makes a great sharing dish for the whole family. And if one dish won’t be enough, it’s easy to double. Even if you don’t finish this dish in one evening, just store it and keep it for the next time. It will still taste fantastic for lunch! And, like other pasta meals, you can experiment with ingredients and spices and make a bespoke version for you and your fellow diners. I’ve used Italian sausage before when making this Orecchiette Pasta dish, and have used ziti for my Cheesy Baked Ziti recipe, but this one here combines the best of both meals.

What Is Ziti Exactly

I’ll tell you what it’s not: penne or rigatoni! I point this out because the three are regularly mistaken for each other, and understandably too. All three are short tubes, but there are subtle differences. Rigatoni is the outlier in size, as these noodles are bigger than the other two. Between penne and ziti, the differences lie in the cut and the texture. Penne have angled ends and ridges running the length of the noodle; ziti are basic by comparison, with a straight cut.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups ziti pasta
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Italian Sausage, crumbled
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp italian seasoning
  • ¼ tsp red chili flakes
  • 1 cup marinara or crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup mozzarella, shredded
  • ¼ cup parmesan, grated
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • fresh basil leaves (for garnish)
Easy Baked Ziti ingredients

How To Make Easy Baked Ziti

Step 1: Cook pasta according to the package instructions.Once the pasta is cooked, drain and set aside.

Step 2: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium high heat and sauté the chopped onions for 2 minutes. Add the sausage and sprig of rosemary to the pan and brown the meat well.

Easy Baked Ziti step

Step 3: Once the meat is browned add minced garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the marinara sauce and half of the ricotta cheese. Combine well, then add the cooked pasta and season with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and red chili flakes. Stir until the pasta is coated with the sauce and remove the sprig of rosemary.

Easy Baked Ziti step

Step 4: Transfer half of the pasta mixture into a casserole pan, then top with the remaining ricotta cheese. Add the other half of the pasta mixture and sprinkle on top the mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

Easy Baked Ziti step

Step 5: Bake the ziti pasta in the oven until the cheese is melted and browned, about 20 minutes. Let the pasta cool down before serving. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and enjoy!

Easy Baked Ziti step

Tips & Tricks For Making Perfect Baked Ziti

  • Experiment with different types of Italian sausage. Using sweet or spicy sausage can dramatically alter the personality of the dish.
  • Let the ziti sit for 15 minutes after taking it out of the oven. This will let the flavors meld and make the dish easier to serve.
  • Add a dash of the Italian seasoning to each component (i.e., the pasta, ricotta cheese, sausage/onions, and tomatoes) before merging them with the rest of the dish.
  • Cook the pasta al dente. It will continue to cook in the oven so don’t risk turning it to mush.
  • Layer the bottom the casserole dish with tomato sauce to prevent the pasta from sticking.

FAQs

Can I make a vegetarian version of this recipe?

Yep, just omit the meat and add in your favorite vegetables and herbs. A great vegetarian version would be to toss the pasta with tomato sauce, sliced zucchini and basil leaves, or add spinach, mushrooms, and bell peppers.

What if I can’t find ziti pasta?

That’s fine. Use whichever noodle you have on hand. Shorter noodles make serving easier, while shells cradle the sauce and cheese, so take this under advisement when making your choice.

Can I substitute the sausage?

You can substitute the sausage with a variety of meats, such as chicken, ground turkey, ground beef or even meatballs!

Do I need to cover it with foil?

Covering it with foil prevents the cheese from burning, which is a concern for some cooks. Use a toothpick to prop it up (i.e., “tent” it) so that you don’t unintentionally remove half the cheese when you remove the foil.

What temperature does the ziti need to reach?

It should reach an internal temperature of 165°F. Use a cooking thermometer to ensure it’s done.

What To Serve With Baked Ziti

Simple Challah Bread – I have made this recipe over and over again, and every time, I fall in love with it even more! It requires no kneading and would be perfect for soaking up all that tomato sauce.

Roasted Carrots with Chardonnay – So flavorful and yet so easy to make. The carrots balance out the indulgence of the ziti but with a hint of chardonnay that makes these “fun” carrots.

Arugula Caprese Salad with Lemon Basil Dressing – A fresh spin on the classic Caprese salad. Light and fresh with crunchy croutons.

Kale Caesar Salad with Parmesan Crisp Croutons – The real star of this salad is the homemade Parmesan crisp. For those of you who don’t think the Parmesan in the pasta will be enough!

How To Store Baked Ziti

Let the ziti cool completely to avoid condensation forming in the storage container. Now, you can either store it as is or divide it up into smaller portions, which will make reheating a simpler task. Your call. You can store it in the fridge for up to 4 days. If you don’t plan on eating it within that time, you can freeze it for up to 3 months. To reheat from frozen, let it thaw in the fridge overnight. You can then warm it up in the oven at 350°F until the cheese starts to bubble.

Easy Baked Ziti

Baked Bree
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Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 2
Calories 682 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 1/2 cups ziti pasta
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Italian sausage crumbled
  • ½ onion chopped
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • ¼ tsp red chili flakes
  • 1 cup marinara or crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup mozzarella shredded
  • ¼ cup Parmesan grated
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • fresh basil leaves for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Cook pasta according to the package instructions. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium high heat and sauté the chopped onions for 2 minutes. Add the sausage and sprig of rosemary to the pan and brown the meat well.
  • Once the meat is browned add minced garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the marinara sauce and half of the ricotta cheese. Combine well, then add the cooked pasta and season with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and red chili flakes. Stir until the pasta is coated with the sauce and remove the sprig of rosemary.
  • Transfer half of the pasta mixture into a casserole pan, then top with the remaining ricotta cheese. Add the other half of the pasta mixture and sprinkle on top the mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
  • Bake the ziti pasta in the oven until the cheese is melted and browned, about 20 minutes. Let the pasta cool down before serving. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and enjoy!

Nutrition

Calories: 682kcalCarbohydrates: 42gProtein: 33gFat: 42gSaturated Fat: 18gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4gMonounsaturated Fat: 18gCholesterol: 101mgSodium: 868mgPotassium: 421mgFiber: 2gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 636IUVitamin C: 4mgCalcium: 520mgIron: 2mg
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