Classic Cheesy Baked Ziti Recipe

From recipe developer Milena Manolova, this classic cheesy baked ziti is the perfect family dinner to unite adventurous and picky eaters alike. The creaminess of the ricotta and heartiness of the ground Italian sausage — combined with a tangy yet sweet tomato sauce and a crispy, gooey cheese layer on top — result in a comforting meal that you can make quickly (and even ahead of time).

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Pasta bakes are always a good meal solution because they are easy to make and can satisfy a crowd. Plus, leftovers are even better the next day once the pasta absorbs all the flavors of the sauce and mix-ins. Just stir in a bit of water or marinara to revive the sauciness of the dish, and you have yourself a lunch or dinner you can look forward to.

Whether you want to make this recipe for a weeknight meal or a weekend gathering, this dish is easily adaptable, so you can switch the ingredients depending on what you have on hand. Feel free to use different kinds of pasta or ground meat or add in additional veggies — it will still be delicious and satisfying.

Gather the ingredients for classic cheesy baked ziti

This baked ziti starts with, of course, ziti, rigatoni, or any similar-shaped pasta of your choice. The sauce comes together with vegetable oil, yellow onion, garlic, salt, black pepper, dried oregano, ground Italian sausage, marinara sauce, fresh parsley, fresh basil, and paprika. To make things extra rich and creamy, you'll add ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses. 

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Step 1: Turn on the oven

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Step 2: Cook the pasta

Cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, about 8-10 minutes or according to package instructions.

Step 3: Drain and rinse the pasta

Once cooked, drain pasta and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

Step 4: Heat oil in a skillet

Add vegetable oil to a large skillet and place over medium heat.

Step 5: Saute the onion

Add onion and cook until slightly golden, about 7-8 minutes.

Step 6: Season the onion

Add garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano and cook for 1-2 more minutes.

Step 7: Add the sausage

Add sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes.

Step 8: Stir in the marinara sauce and more seasonings

Stir in the marinara sauce, parsley, basil, and paprika. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then remove from heat.

Step 9: Transfer pasta, sauce, and ricotta to a casserole

Add pasta, meat sauce, and ricotta to a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Step 10: Stir to combine

Mix well until combined.

Step 11: Top with the other cheeses

Sprinkle mozzarella and Parmesan on top.

Step 12: Bake

Bake on the middle rack for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

Step 13: Enjoy while it's hot

Serve hot.

How can I serve and store cheesy baked ziti?

No doubt, you can serve this as a main course on its own, but you can also add a simple side salad and some crusty bread for sopping up the sauce. Plus, a glass of red wine will be the perfect way to fancy up your lunch or dinner. 

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To store this dish for later, once the baked ziti has cooled to room temperature, cover it tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and store it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. If you want to store the baked ziti for longer, you can freeze it. Portion it into individual or family-sized servings, wrap each portion tightly in plastic wrap, and then store them in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months.

When you're ready to enjoy your leftover baked ziti, you can reheat it in the oven or microwave. To use the oven, cover the ziti with foil and bake at 350 F until heated through, about 20-30 minutes. For the microwave, place individual portions on a microwave-safe plate and heat for 1-2 minutes, or until heated through. Whichever method you choose, it's important to note that the pasta may become softer after absorbing more of the sauce, and the cheese may not be as gooey after being stored and reheated — but it will still be delicious.

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Can you make classic cheesy baked ziti in advance?

While many baked pasta dishes can be made ahead, classic cheesy baked ziti is not the best dish to prep entirely in advance due to the way the pasta absorbs moisture. What you can do instead is prep some of the components of the dish ahead of time. First, you can make the sauce early and store it in the fridge for up to 3 days. You can instead freeze it for longer — just thaw it before assembling pasta. Next, shred the cheese beforehand and store it in the fridge for up to 2 days, or buy some pre-shredded cheese. Fully cooking the pasta in advance isn't ideal, but you can save a few minutes by parboiling it (cooking it for about half the time) and toss it with a bit of oil to prevent sticking. From there, assemble the dish with the parboiled pasta and bake as usual.

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If you're short on time, you can assemble the entire pasta bake and store it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. However, the pasta will continue to absorb moisture, potentially resulting in a slightly mushy and less saucy texture.

Classic Cheesy Baked Ziti Recipe

4.9 (21 ratings)

With hearty Italian sausage, creamy ricotta, and a tangy tomato sauce, this crowd-pleasing pasta bake is cheesy, comforting, and makes perfect leftovers.

Prep Time
10
minutes
Cook Time
55
minutes
servings
6
servings
Casserole baked pasta with two portions on plates
Total time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound rigatoni pasta
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 ½ pounds ground Italian sausage
  • 1 (28-ounce jar) marinara sauce
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 cups (16 ounces) ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, about 8-10 minutes or according to package instructions.
  3. Once cooked, drain pasta and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
  4. Add vegetable oil to a large skillet and place over medium heat.
  5. Add onion and cook until slightly golden, about 7-8 minutes.
  6. Add garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano and cook for 1-2 more minutes.
  7. Add sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes.
  8. Stir in the marinara sauce, parsley, basil, and paprika. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then remove from heat.
  9. Add pasta, meat sauce, and ricotta to a 9x13-inch baking dish.
  10. Mix well until combined.
  11. Sprinkle mozzarella and Parmesan on top.
  12. Bake on the middle rack for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
  13. Serve hot.

Nutrition

Calories per Serving 1,003
Total Fat 54.4 g
Saturated Fat 23.9 g
Trans Fat 0.4 g
Cholesterol 164.5 mg
Total Carbohydrates 79.0 g
Dietary Fiber 5.3 g
Total Sugars 10.8 g
Sodium 1,678.3 mg
Protein 47.3 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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