Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage is classic comfort food! With layers of pasta, homemade meat sauce, and melty cheese, this baked pasta casserole is the perfect solution for weeknight dinners. Tips for making it ahead of time and without meat are in the recipe card below!
Love the flavors of lasagna, but hate the hassle? This easy baked ziti recipe is for you! This casserole combines all of your favorite lasagna ingredients and flavors into a simple meal that’s ready in under an hour.
This is delicious with a piece of fresh garlic bread and a fresh garden salad. This recipe is great for families as you can easily customize it to your personal preference – use spicier sausage, make it vegetarian, add bell peppers, extra cheese…you can customize to your heart’s content!
Easy Baked Ziti Recipe
What is baked ziti? It’s a layered “casserole” of tubular noodles, cheese, and meat sauce.
This recipe is so easy and feeds a lot of hungry people! You can even make this ahead the night before and bake it when you get home from work. It’s easy, simple, delicious, and the kids love it, too.
In fact, this recipe is a great meal to prepare at the beginning of the week for plenty of leftovers later. You can even freeze the cooked dish for another time.
How is baked ziti different from lasagna?
Baked ziti is the perfect solution for lasagna cravings, especially during the week. Instead of long, flat lasagna noodles, this baked pasta dish uses short, tubular noodles.
Ziti noodles are like pockets, holding cheesy goodness and bursts of savory tomato sauce.
Baked Ziti Ingredients
(See the recipe card for complete details)
Meat Sauce: The meat sauce is made with mild, Italian sausage and jarred marinara sauce. Feel free to use spicy sausage or ground beef if desired. Alternatively, omit the meat for a vegetarian option.
You can even make your own tomato sauce with crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and a few seasonings. Leftover spaghetti sauce works well for this recipe, too
Alternatively, omit the meat for a vegetarian option. Leftover spaghetti sauce works well for this recipe, too.
Pasta: Ziti is the pasta of choice for this recipe, but Penne or another tubular noodle would also work. You can learn more about the types of pasta here.
Cheese: Instead of ricotta cheese, this recipe uses cottage cheese mixed with parmesan and mozzarella. The cottage cheese makes this casserole even more delicious and creamy. Plus, it keeps it from drying out during cooking and reheating.
Seasoning: In addition to the sausage, oregano, garlic, and onion give this recipe tons of great flavor. If you choose to omit the meat, you may need to add additional seasonings to taste. Alternatively, feel free to add additional seasonings as desired, like Italian seasoning (in place of the oregano), red pepper flakes, extra garlic, and even fresh basil.
How to Make Baked Ziti
(See the recipe card below for full instructions and notes.)
Prepare the ziti.
In a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta according to the package directions – just until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Make the meat sauce.
Brown the sausage over medium-high heat in a large dutch oven, heavy-bottomed pot or large sauté pan. When the sausage is almost done cooking, add in the diced onion. Then, add in the garlic and stir well.
If needed, drain the grease from the cooked sausage. Return the meat to the pot and add in the marinara sauce. Feel free to use any flavor of marinara sauce you like most. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
Make the cheese filling (no ricotta).
Mix together the cottage cheese, egg, oregano, garlic, parmesan cheese, and half of the mozzarella cheese. Stir until well combined.
Assemble the pasta casserole.
Spoon a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish. This prevents the noodles from burning and sticking to the dish.
Layers are as follows: pasta, cheese, sauce, pasta, sauce, more cheese!
Start by adding half of the cooked pasta and all of the cottage cheese mixture.
When you add the cottage cheese mixture, do so in dollops in each of the corners so it’s easier to distribute on top of the noodles.
Then, spoon half of the sauce, the remaining pasta, and then the rest of the sauce on top. Finish the final layer with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
Bake this uncovered for about 25-30 minutes or until the dish begins to bubble and the cheese begins to turn golden.
Tips for the Best Baked Ziti Recipe
Using Different Noodles
Instead of ziti pasta, you can use any short tubular noodle, like penne, rigatoni, bow ties, etc.
Reheating Baked Ziti
To reheat baked ziti, add a portion to an oven-safe dish, cover with aluminum foil, and reheat at 325F for 15-20 minutes, or until warm. You may want to add extra sauce to keep it from drying out.
Alternatively, reheat in a microwave-safe dish at 1-minute increments, until warmed through. Add additional sauce and cheese as desired.
What can I use instead of ricotta in baked ziti?
This recipe calls for cottage cheese instead of ricotta. Cottage cheese has more moisture content than ricotta and will prevent the casserole from drying out.
During cooking, the curds of the cottage cheese melt and mix with the other cheeses to create a smooth, creamy filling.
Can baked ziti be made ahead of time?
Assemble the casserole, then cover with foil and refrigerate until you are ready to bake. *Make sure you bring the dish to room temp (sit out about 30 minutes) to avoid a shattered casserole dish.
Storing Uncooked Ziti
How long can uncooked baked ziti stay in the fridge? Uncooked ziti can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before cooking. Before baking, remove the casserole dish from the fridge and allow it to rest on the counter before placing it in the oven. This will prevent your dish from shattering.
Storing Leftover Baked Ziti
This can be stored for up to 3 days in an airtight container or in the casserole dish it was cooked in.
If freezing, portion into freezer-safe containers and freeze for up to 3 months. Allow the baked pasta to defrost in the refrigerator before reheating.
Vegetarian Baked Ziti
To make this ziti casserole vegetarian, omit the Italian sausage, and prepare the recipe according to the instructions.
What to Serve with Baked Ziti
Consider these options as the side dish:
- Fresh garden salad
- French bread
- Caesar salad
Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage
- olive oil
- 1 pound ground Italian sausage (mild, hot, or sweet (I prefer mild))
- 1 cup yellow onion (diced)
- 24 ounces marinara sauce (leftover spaghetti sauce, or tomato sauce)
- 4 cloves garlic (minced)
- 16 ounces ziti pasta (uncooked)
- 12 ounces cottage cheese
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 egg
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese (shredded)
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese (grated)
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9×13-inch casserole dish and set aside.
Prepare Sausage & Pasta Sauce
- Brown the sausage over medium high heat in a large dutch oven or large sauté pan.
- Add the diced onion to the pot of sausage. Sauté until onion softens, about 3-5 minutes.
- Drain excess fat from the sausage as needed.
- Reduce the heat to medium. Return the sausage to the dutch oven and add the garlic and stir quickly.
- To the same pot, add the marinara sauce (leftover spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce may also be used). Stir and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Make Cheese "Filling"
- While the sauce is warming, make the cheese filling by combining the cottage cheese, egg, oregano, parmesan cheese, and 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Stir until well-combined.
Layer Casserole & Bake
- Add about 1/4 cup of the meat sauce to the bottom of the greased casserole dish to prevent the noodles from burning or sticking.
- Layer as follows: half of the ziti noodles, all of the cottage cheese mixture, half of the sauce, remaining ziti, and remaining sauce. Top with the remaining cup of mozzarella cheese.
- Bake the casserole uncovered for 25-30 minutes or until cheese turns golden on top.
- Leftover meat sauce can be used in place of marinara.
- Canned tomato sauce can be used as a substitute. Season as desired.