An ooey-gooey pan of baked ziti is the perfect homemade comfort food when a piping-hot pasta bake sounds enticing. My baked ziti recipe features a rich, flavorful meat sauce brimming with a combo of ground beef and Italian sausage, plus a touch of creamy ricotta cheese, parmesan, and a sprinkle of gooey mozzarella to make this dish extra mouthwatering!
The Ultimate Comfort Food
Some days simply call for genuine comfort food, the kind that is homemade, ultra cozy, and soul-warming.
And when that comfort food is easy to whip up, and lasts for several days, that's even better!
For me, that kind of scrumptious meal usually means a hot and bubbly pasta bake of some sort, one in which all of the saucy, cheesy, slightly creamy ingredients are gently combined and spooned into a baking dish, then baked to hot and bubbly perfection.
I absolutely love to cook up a pasta bake, and find it an absolute pleasure to dig into!
One of my favorite pasta bakes to prepare is baked ziti, a delicious and easy dish that wonderfully combines the little tube-shaped pasta with the savory flavors of a rich tomato sauce, some ricotta cheese, a sprinkle of parmesan, and a generous topping of mozzarella.
For me, it's the perfect dish to prepare as a hearty mid-week dinner, or any time a cozy Italian-American classic is what we're craving!
My Recipe for Baked Ziti
I love baked ziti because of its simplicity, and since it really only requires three main components—the pasta, the sauce and the cheese—I like to prepare those components with a bit of extra TLC sprinkled in to make sure that every bite of my recipe is extra tasty...
I love a nice, rich meat sauce, so for my baked ziti recipe I use a combination of ground beef and either spicy or sweet Italian sausage. I also add in lots of garlic and dried herbs, and even a little splash of red wine.
This creates a sauce with lots of depth and flavor that is also a bit heartier.
I also fold into my recipe some whole milk ricotta cheese that has been combined with a touch of parmesan, and sprinkle in some whole milk mozzarella in the middle as well as on top to make it extra gooey and bubbly.
I finish off my baked ziti recipe with some fresh herbs such as basil and parsley, perhaps even a little touch of red pepper flakes for kick, and this offers a little pop of extra flavor and makes this cozy pasta dish even more delicious looking and ready to be tucked into!
Here's a sneak peek at my baked ziti recipe: (or just jump to the full recipe...)
- To get started, I preparer my meat sauce and reserve about 1 cup to spread on the bottom of my baking dish.
- I gently stir together the cooked ziti pasta with the rest of the meat sauce, then fold in my ricotta cheese.
- Next, I spoon half of the pasta mixture into my baking dish, and sprinkle over half of my grated mozzarella cheese.
- Then, I spoon the rest of the pasta mixture into the dish, and top with a bit more parmesan and the remainder of the mozzarella cheese.
- I bake for about 25-30 minutes until hot and bubbly, and finish by topping with fresh basil and parsley (perhaps even a touch of red pepper flakes) before serving.
by Ingrid Beer
This baked ziti is brimming with a rich meat sauce prepared with ground beef and Italian sausage, plus creamy ricotta and gooey mozzarella cheeses!
Yield: Serves 8
Nutrition Info: 481 calories per serving
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour (includes 30 minute baking time)
Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
- Olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 small onion, diced
- ¼ cup minced roasted red bell pepper (from a jar)
- ½ pound lean ground beef
- ¼ pound spicy or sweet Italian sausage, casing removed and crumbled into chunks
- Black pepper
- 6 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
- 1 ½ teaspoons Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ¼ cup red wine
- 1 (28 ounce) can plus 1 (15 ounce) can organic crushed tomatoes
- 12 ounces (¾ pound) uncooked ziti pasta
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish
- 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese, divided use
- 2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella
- Basil leaves, for garnish
- Begin by gathering and prepping all of your ingredients according to the ingredient list above to have ready and organized for use.
- Preheat the oven to 350°, and have a medium-size baking dish ready (about 3 quart size).
- To prepare the meat sauce, place a large skillet over medium-high heat, and drizzle in the olive oil. Once hot, add in the diced onion and minced roasted red bell pepper and saute for a several minutes until softened. Add the ground beef and sausage in, along with a pinch or two of salt and pepper, and cook the meat, breaking it up, until browned and cooked through.
- Add the garlic, Italian seasoning, dried oregano and pinch of red pepper flakes, and stir to combine. Once fragrant, add in the tomato paste and stir to combine, followed by the red wine. Allow the wine to bubble up and reduce for a moment.
- Next, add in the canned tomatoes, plus another pinch of salt and pepper, then allow the sauce to simmer gently for about 20 minutes.
- While the sauce simmers, cook your ziti pasta according to package instructions, and keep warm.
- To finish the sauce, stir in the 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley, and check to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed. Reserve 2 cups of the sauce, one to spread on the bottom of your baking dish, and one to spoon over top of the last layer of pasta before topping with the cheese and baking.
- In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with ¼ cup of the grated parmesan, and set aside for a moment.
- Add the cooked ziti pasta to the remaining meat sauce, and stir gently to combine. Add the ricotta/parmesan mixture, and gently fold that in until mostly combined, leaving some streaks.
- Spread 1 cup of the reserved meat sauce on the bottom of your baking dish, and spoon half of the ziti mixture into the dish. Sprinkle over half of the remaining grated parmesan cheese, and about ½ cup of the mozzarella cheese.
- Add the remainder of the ziti mixture into the baking dish, spoon over the remaining 1 cup of reserved sauce, and sprinkle over the rest of the parmesan cheese and the remaining 1 ½ cups of the mozzarella cheese.
- Bake the ziti for 25-30 minutes, until hot, bubbly and gooey. To serve, sprinkle the top with fresh basil and parsley, and serve.
Tips & Tidbits for Baked Ziti recipe:
- Hearty meat sauce: For my sauce, I use lean ground beef in combination with a touch of spicy (or sweet) Italian sausage, but you can use all ground beef, all sausage, or even substitute ground turkey or pork.
- Whole milk cheeses: Using whole milk ricotta and mozzarella will make a creamier baked ziti, and add a little more richness to balance out the tomato sauce. It also helps create that “stringy” cheese topping!
- Fold in the ricotta: To help reduce the graininess of the ricotta cheese, it works best to fold it directly into the pasta and sauce mixture, leaving a couple of clumps or streaks instead. This way it is mostly blended in and creates creamy, more even texture.
- Make ahead for easy baked ziti: You can prep this recipe ahead by simply allowing the components to cool before combining them. You would then proceed with spooning everything into the baking dish, topping with cheese, and simply wrapping with plastic wrap and keeping it in the fridge until ready to bake.
- Make vegetarian baked ziti: To make this recipe vegetarian, simply leave out the meat. If you're looking for a substitution for the meat, you can use ground soy or tempeh, or even add in mushrooms or white beans.
Hungry for more cozy pasta recipes? Check out this Vegetable Pasta with Mozzarella, this Pasta Puttanesca, these Ricotta Stuffed Shells with Spinach and Artichoke, this Bistro Sausage Pasta, this Spinach Lasagna, or these Lasagna Roll Ups!
Cook's Note: This recipe was originally published in 2018, and has been updated with even more love!
How long would you bake it if you prepared it ahead of time (colder ingredients)? Sounds great!
The Cozy Apron
Hi Andrea, if you prep things ahead of time and keep the assembled dish in the fridge, then I would suggest that you take it out a few hours ahead of time to help it come to room temp (or close to), and bake it the same amount of time.
It's always better to allow something to come to room temp to ensure everything in the center gets nice and hot rather than going straight from the fridge to the oven.
Hope you enjoy it!
This sounds like a great dish to come home to after a day of shopping! It makes me think of those days when my kids were home and would have dived right into this and seconds too. Good, comforting memories and food go together! Delish!!
Thanks for sharing.
Wishes for tasty dishes,
The Cozy Apron
Yes, so comforting after a long day, indeed, Linda!
This dish is definitely one that the kiddos would love to tuck into...and the adults!
Hope you enjoy it!
Is the amount for parmesan cheese correct? The ingredients indicate a quarter cup, but that's used up in the ricotta mixture. Then we're told to sprinkle half the remaining over each layer. I estimated an amount but wanted to see what you suggested. I
It was so good! I divided between two dishes and will freeze one for late. Thank you!
The Cozy Apron
Hi Susan, thank you for catching my boo-boo!
I corrected the recipe, as it should be 3/4 cup (total) parmesan cheese: 1/4 cup mixed in with the ricotta, and the remaining 1/2 cup divided between the two layers.
Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention! So glad you enjoyed. 🙂
I am going to have to try another of your delicious recipes this busy holiday season. It is very close to my lasagna recipe. Only ingredients missing are Romano and Swiss cheese. Thank you once again.
The Cozy Apron
Hi Karen, hope you do try this! I really think you’ll enjoy.
And may you and yours have a wonderful holiday season!
Could I make this a day before ?
The Cozy Apron
Hi Mary, you certainly can! If you scroll to the section in the post that's titled "Tips & Tidbits", you'll see some advice on how to do that. You can prep the sauce and other components ahead, and then simply assemble when ready to bake.
Hope you enjoy!
This dish is amazing!!! Talk about comfort food, I will definitely be making this again. I added a bay leaf to the sauce and a little sugar but other than that I followed the recipe. Ingrid do you use freshly grated parmesan in your recipes?
Your recipes never disappoint. Thank you!
The Cozy Apron
Hi Edie, I'm thrilled to read that you gave this recipe a try and enjoyed it so much—such a warming and comforting pasta bake, perfect for the cold weather. Thanks for sharing your experience, and also for your kind words!
As far as parmesan cheese is concerned, I'll always opt for the fresh-grated variety. I typically shop at Whole Foods Market or Trader Joes, and I purchase the parmesan that is kept in the refrigerated cheese section, typically in a round plastic container. Sometimes, if I happen to have an actual wedge of parmesan cheese, I'll grate that myself.
Has more flavor than the kind that's kept on the shelf near the pasta ingredients. 😉
Just made this for a friend who had a baby and another for my family and it was soooooo yummy! Thank you for the recipe!
The Cozy Apron
Katie, that is so touching! How kind of you to prepare and share this recipe with not only your family, but with your friend who recently had a baby.
I'm so very happy to read that the recipe was enjoyed by all, and a success. Thanks for sharing! And I hope you find many more recipes to enjoy. 😉
OMG and HOLY COW on this recipe, Ingrid. It is fantastic. No changes whatsoever. The sauce is so good, I am going to make it for spaghetti night. Thank you for sharing your creation. ❤
The Cozy Apron
Hi Linda, I'm so happy you made this recipe! 🙂 Thrilled to read it was a hit for you all, and that it will be made for your spaghetti night...I'm honored!
Thanks so much for sharing your experience with me, sending hugs and kisses you way. Happy cooking!