If you’re looking for a warm, cozy pasta dish to make right now, this piping hot, ooey-gooey (easy) baked ziti recipe is the one. With its beefy Italian ragù, perfectly chewy pasta, fresh mozzarella, and Parmigiano cheese it’s pasta al forno the whole family will love. This is a great make-ahead pasta bake that’s perfect for busy weeknights or lazy weekends.
A Grownup Version of Childhood Baked Ziti
Growing up in the South, it’s not surprising that my first experience with baked ziti was from Sbarro’s at the mall. My younger self loved this pasta, but there’s nothing better than making your own baked ziti from scratch. Mostly because you get to load it up with whatever you want and leave out the stuff you don’t. If you want it to make vegetarian baked ziti, just leave out the meat in the tomato sauce and if you want spicy baked ziti just add chili peppers. This baked ziti recipe is healthier than my childhood version and better tasting too.
Homemade Baked Ziti Ingredients
For this baked ziti recipe, I wanted to make something a little more nourishing and less “heavy”. So, I’ve used just a handful of good ingredients to make this a pasta dish that busy working parents can easily pull off for fuss-free dinners weeknight dinners. Be sure to check out all the ways you can customize this dish below.
- 1 recipe Simple Italian Beef Ragù or your favorite pasta sauce
- 14 ounces ziti (or rigatoni or maccheroni) (400g)*
- 3 balls fresh mozzarella or regular mozzarella (12 ounces)(300g)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or more to taste (50g)
- torn fresh basil leaves or chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
How to Make Baked Ziti (From Scratch)
For this baked ziti recipe, I made a slightly more nourishing and less “heavy” version. I’ve used just a handful of really good ingredients that are easy to find in most grocery stores and the sauce is made from scratch. It’s a versatile pasta that’s easy to customize and perfect for busy working parents (who need a quick fuss-free dinner that the whole family will enjoy). And every bite feels like a big warm (gooey) hug.
- Cook the pasta. In lightly salted boiling water, cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions and reserve 1/2 cup starchy cooking water to add to the beef ragù as needed.
- Heat up the sauce. If you’ve made the beef ragù ahead of time, reheat it in a saucepan on medium until warmed through. Just before the noodles are finished cooking, ladle in about 1/4 to 1/2 cup starchy pasta water to the ragù and stir to combine, taste, and adjust the seasoning if needed. This will help emulsify the sauce and allow it to better stick to the noodles. *If you’re using ricotta or cream cheese, add it to the beef ragù and stir to combine before mixing it in with the cooked pasta.
- Combine the sauce and cooked pasta. Add the sauce to the strained pasta noodles and stir well to ensure full coverage of the noodles.
- Assemble the baked ziti. Pour half of the pasta into a lightly oiled 9×11 inch casserole dish and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmigiano. Add the remaining pasta to the dish and top with the remaining mozzarella and Parmigiano.
- Bake the pasta. Cover the casserole dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes at 375°F/190°C until hot and bubbling. Remove aluminum foil, turn on the broiler, and bake uncovered directly under the broiler until golden brown and the pasta on top is a little crispy. Sprinkle it with chopped parsley and serve it with your favorite garlic bread, Enjoy!
The Best Baked Ziti Pasta step-by-step recipe photos
Ways to Customize Baked Ziti
This baked ziti recipe is lighter than many out there that use ricotta or cream cheese in the sauce. It leaves you totally satisfied without feeling like you need to pile on the couch for a nap afterward. But sometimes warm pasta and a lazy day on the couch are all we’re craving, so I’ve included a few ways to make you can customize it.
- substitute the beef ragù for your favorite jar of premade pasta sauce like Rao’s, etc. for an even quicker weeknight pasta dinner
- substitute the beef ragù with this quick and delicious 4-ingredient pork sauce
- substitute the beef ragù with Amatriciana sauce for a spicy porky tomato baked ziti
- replace the beef in the ragù recipe with regular ground pork, Italian sausage, or even ground turkey, or chicken (for a healthier version)
- add a porky smokey flavor by adding 1 to 2 ounces of pancetta to the beef while it’s cooking
- make it spicy by adding crushed red peppers to the beef sauce
- make it vegetarian by replacing the beef ragù with a simple tomato sauce instead
- add extra veggies one cup of chopped fresh spinach leaves or a cup of diced pan-seared zucchini
- add 1/2 to 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese for a slightly sweeter, creamier, and lighter-colored baked ziti
- add 4 to 8 ounces cream cheese to give the sauce a zippy tang, creamier texture and lighten the color
- add 2 to 3 tablespoons (or more) of Mozzarella Parm Butter to add a creaminess to the final dish
- use a different pasta noodle such as penne, ziti, rigatoni, rigatoni mezza, etc. (*for this recipe I’ve used a combination of La Molisana Maccheroni #37 and La Molisana Mezze Rigatoni)
How to Reheat Leftover Baked Ziti
If you have any leftover baked ziti, remove it from the fridge and allow the pasta to sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes to allow the chill to come off. If desired, add a little more chopped mozzarella and grated cheese (even sauce if you have it). Place uncovered pasta into a preheated 375°F/190°C oven for about 10 minutes, or until warmed through. Turn the broiler function on and place the casserole directly under it for 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown, remove and serve hot. See below photos.
Baked Ziti Pasta tips & tricks
- How long to cook baked ziti/How long to bake baked ziti? Bake assembled ziti in a preheated 375°F/190°C oven, covered with aluminum foil for 30 minutes, or until bubbling and hot. Remove the foil, turn the broiler to high, and bake for approximately 5 more minutes or until golden brown and the tips of the pasta are crispy.
- How to reheat baked ziti? If you have any leftover baked ziti, remove it from the fridge and allow the pasta to sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes for the chill to come off. If desired, add a little more chopped mozzarella and grated cheese at this point ( this is optional). Place uncovered pasta into a preheated 375°F/190°C oven for about 10 minutes, or until warmed through. Turn the broiler function on and place the ziti directly under it for 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown, remove and serve.
- Make ahead and freeze, or make ahead and bake on a busy weeknight. Follow the recipe as is, but don’t bake it. Instead, cover the assembled casserole and refrigerate it until ready to bake and serve. It can be made up to 2 days in advance of when you need to bake it. When you’re ready to bake, pull the casserole out of the fridge and let rest at room temperature while you preheat the oven and follow the baking instructions.
- How to store baked ziti leftovers. Baked ziti leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. You may also freeze and reheat leftovers later on.
- Substitute shredded mozzarella for fresh. A more budget-friendly option is to substitute shredded mozzarella for the fresh balls. It’s not going to taste the same, but I promise it’s still going to be delicious!
- How to make baked ziti that’s more like Sbarro’s. Leave out the beef from the ragù recipe and add 4 to 8 ounces of cream cheese to the sauce and mix well. Then add the sauce to the cooked noodles and proceed with the remaining instructions.
- Can I substitute Parmigiano cheese with Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese in baked ziti? Yes, you can and it tastes great.
Let’s get started!