Baked Ziti. This classic comfort food is loaded up with Italian sausage, marinara sauce and three types of cheese. Perfect for a weeknight dinner for the family or for feeding a crowd!

Spoon dishing into a baking dish filled with baked ziti, topped with melted cheese and basil leaves.

This baked ziti is the perfect low key, non fussy pasta dish. It’s flavorful thanks to using Italian sausage. Grab a jar of your favorite Marinara sauce (mine is Rao’s!) to save time. Plus it’s cheesy and melty thanks to using THREE different types of cheese. Prep ahead of time and be ready to pop this into the oven when needed, or double up (or more..) to feed a crowd.

Serve this Baked Ziti with a side of salad drizzled with Homemade Italian Dressing, or go all out with this Italian Chop Salad. Or serve up some Baked Zucchini Fries for a fun side dish.

Ingredients Needed for Baked Ziti:

Ingredients needed for making Baked Ziti laid out on the counter.

Notes on Ingredients:

  • Sausage: grab a mild sausage to make this family friendly. If you are looking for more spice feel free to grab the spicy sausage. Other substitutions would include ground turkey or chicken, but you will want to season those with some Italian seasoning to get more flavor.
  • Marinara: you of course can make your own sauce for this recipe. Or simply grab a jar of your favorite brand. We will be doctoring it up slightly to add a bit more flavoring to the entire dish.
  • Ziti Noodles: this dish can be made with any other short noodle variety. Penne or Rigatoni are great options to substitute with.
  • Cheese: this is a cheesy dish, and I don’t recommend making this dish while omitting the cheese.

How to Make Baked Ziti (Step By Step Photos)

  • Cook the Pasta: bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a generous amount of salt. Cook the noodles until they are al dente, they should still have a firm bite to them. Drain and set aside.
  • Prepare the Sauce: Cook the sausage, breaking it up while it cooks. Add the onion and garlic. Pour in the marinara sauce (homemade or store bought) and season with basil, salt, and black pepper. Taste and adjust as needed.

Add a small amount of sauce to the noodles to ensure they are coated in the sauce, this gives more flavor to the finished dish!

Step by step photos making meat sauce for baked ziti, cooking ground sausage and adding marinara sauce.
  • Prepare the Cheese Mixture: in a bowl combine the ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and black pepper. Stir to combine this together.
Ingredients needed for a cheese mixture for pasta dish being prepared.
  • Layer the Pasta: prepare the dish by spreading a layer of sauce in the bottom of the dish. Just enough to coat the dish. Then add half of the noodle mixture. Top the noodles with half of the cheese mixture. Then repeat the layers: sauce, noodles, ricotta cheese mixture.
  • Top with Shredded Cheese: top the entire dish with some extra shredded cheese.
Step by step Baked Ziti Photos, showing spreading sauce and meat mixture in bottom of dish and layering noodles coated with sauce.
Step by Step how to make baked ziti photos showing spreading cheese mixture over noodles and then topping with shredded cheese.
  • Bake: cover the dish with foil, tent it slightly so that the cheese doesn’t stick and pull away when removed.
  • Remove foil: after baking for 20 minutes, remove the foil and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes. Broil if desired for 5 minutes to get more browned spots of cheese on top.
Up close view of baked ziti fresh from the oven after being baked and cheese is melted.

Storage and Make Ahead Directions:

  • Make Ahead: prepare the dish according to directions, but instead of baking, cover with foil and store in the refrigerator. This can be stored for 1 day before baking. Remove to room temperature and allow the dish to warm while preheating the oven.
  • Freezing: after baking, allow the dish to cool, then cover with foil, or store in a sealed freezer safe container. Can be frozen for 2-3 months. Remove to refrigerator to allow thawing overnight. Reheat in the oven by baking at 350℉ for 20-30 minutes until cheese is melted and dish is warmed through.
  • Leftovers: store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. Reheat in the oven by covering with foil and baking at 350℉ until warmed through. Time can vary depending on amount being reheated.
Spoon dishing up pasta and melted cheese.

More Pasta Recipes:

Spoon dishing into a baking dish filled with baked ziti, topped with melted cheese and basil leaves.

Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti. This classic comfort food is loaded up with Italian sausage, marinara sauce and three types of cheese. Perfect for a weeknight dinner for the family or for feeding a crowd!
5 from 3 votes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ziti pasta noodles
  • 1 lb Italian sausage, mild
  • ½ cup onion, dicedd
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp dried basil
  • 1 (32 oz jar) marinara sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 cup mozarella cheese, shredded

Cheese Mixture

  • 1 cup mozarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 (15 oz) ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350℉.
  • Cook the Pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt and stir to combine. 
  • Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook until al dente (still have a firm bite). Drain the noodles, add back into the pot and set aside. 
  • Prepare Sauce: In a large skillet cook the sausage over medium heat, breaking it up while it cooks. When the meat is mostly browned add the onion and cook until the meat is fully browned and the onion is softened and translucent. 
  • Add the garlic to the meat mixture and cook an additional 30 seconds. 
  • Pour in the marinara sauce, basil, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.  Bring to a simmer. 
  • Coat Noodles: Spoon about 1 cup of sauce into the noodles to coat. 
  • Prepare Cheese Mixture: in a medium size bowl combine the ricotta, mozarella, parmesan, and black pepper 
  • Prepare Dish: In a 9×13 baking dish spread a layer of sauce over the bottom of the dish. 
  • Layer in half of the pasta mixture. Spoon half of the cheese mixture on top of the noodles
  • Spoon half of the red sauce over the noodles and cheese. 
  • Continue layering with the remaining halves of the noodles, cheese and sauce. 
  • Top the dish with 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese. 
  • Cover with foil, tenting to ensure the foil isn’t stuck to the cheese as it melts. 
  • Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, or broil for 5 minutes. Until top layer of cheese is nicely browned and bubbling. 
  • Top with fresh parsley (or basil) and fresh grated parmesan if desired. 

Notes

  • Sausage: substitute with spicy, or even ground chicken or turkey if desired. If not using an Italian seasoned sausage, add some Italian seasoning to the ground meat being used. 
  • Pasta Noodles: can substitute the ziti with another type of short noodle like Rigatoni or Penne.
  • Marinara Sauce: use a homemade sauce or a store-bought sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed in the sauce.  
  • Make Ahead: prepare the dish according to directions, but instead of baking, cover with foil and store in the refrigerator. This can be stored for 1 day before baking. Remove to room temperature and allow the dish to warm while preheating the oven.
  • Freezing: after baking, allow the dish to cool, then cover with foil, or store in a sealed freezer safe container. Can be frozen for 2-3 months. Remove to refrigerator to allow thawing overnight. Reheat in the oven by baking at 350℉ for 20-30 minutes until cheese is melted and dish is warmed through.
  • Leftovers: store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. Reheat in the oven by covering with foil and baking at 350℉ until warmed through. Time can vary depending on amount being reheated.

Nutrition

Calories: 364kcal, Carbohydrates: 36g, Protein: 15g, Fat: 17g, Saturated Fat: 7g, Cholesterol: 43mg, Sodium: 638mg, Potassium: 243mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 77IU, Vitamin C: 2mg, Calcium: 79mg, Iron: 1mg
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Recipe first published November 5, 2014. Updated March 5, 2021 with new images and information.

Photography done by @KJandCompany