Cheesy, beefy, and saucy baked ziti. An Italian American classic that feeds a crowd and is perfect for an easy family dinner.
Comfort foods are my favorite types of foods and baked ziti is definitely one of them! This is on our regular meal rotation, it's so good you won't get tired of it.
It's the perfect meal for any day of the week and can be made ahead to bring to large gatherings. Plus, it's freezer friendly!
Baked ziti is similar to lasagna but deconstructed. The flavors and ingredients are similar but baked ziti is way easier to make.
This recipe has lots of cheese, meat, and carbs...you can't go wrong.
To make it vegetarian, feel free to omit the meat or try a plant based substitute.
There are so many ways to make baked ziti and this might not be traditional, but it's my way and it's yummy.
I have a little bit of a secret ingredient that takes this to the next level to make it BEYOND GOOD!
Can you guess what it is?
A little splash of red wine gives this dish a whole new dimension. And by a splash I mean half a cup of liquid gold. It's subtle and gives this dish an OOMPH.
I used cabernet sauvignon but merlot also works. Feel free to use whatever red wine you think would go well with this because I'm not a sommelier. I'm allergic to alcohol so I try to incorporate as much alcohol into my food as possible! Feel free to omit the wine if it's not your thang.
- Ziti pasta- the name of the dish! Feel free to use penne or rigatoni since they both work well to hold onto the meat sauce and cheeses. Rigatoni is one of my favorite shapes so I often use it for this recipe.
- Olive oil- to sauté the onions and brown the beef.
- Onion- base for flavor.
- Ground beef- Italian sausage, ground pork, or a mix of these would also be delicious.
- Cabernet sauvignon- or any cheap red wine that pairs well like Merlot. Beef broth can be substituted.
- Marinara sauce- to make this recipe easy and cut down on time, we are using jarred marinara sauce. Even better, make my homemade version for the dish! Marinara sauce already has spices and garlic so we don't need to add more to the recipe.
- Italian seasoning (optional)- I don't usually add Italian seasoning because the marinara sauce that I use has a lot of spices and flavor already. Depending on the sauce used and your taste, add 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning or more.
- Ricotta, mozzarella & parmesan cheese- the trio for a great baked ziti. Substitute some of the mozzarella for provolone, romano, or asiago for a yummy blend.
- Pecorino romano cheese (optional)- extra cheese is always a good idea. Sprinkle some on just before serving.
How to Make Baked Ziti
- Cook the pasta 2 minutes shy of al dente. It's going to cook more in the oven so we want to make sure the pasta still has some bite to it.
- While the pasta is cooking, make the meat sauce. In a skillet on medium high heat, add olive oil and onion and sauté for 3 minutes. Move the onions to one side of the pan and brown the beef. Mix the onions and beef together and sauté for another couple minutes. I use 85-90% lean ground beef and like to keep the fat in the pan for flavor.
- Add red wine and simmer for 1 minute. Then, add marinara sauce and bring it to a simmer for 5 minutes.
- Mix ricotta and 1 cup of meat sauce with the ziti.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a baking dish, layer half of each in order: ziti mixture, meat sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
- Bake for 20 minutes until the cheese is melted. Broil on high for a few minutes to brown the cheese if desired. Serve with more parmesan or pecorino cheese.
Can I use canned tomatoes?
If you don't have a jar of marinara sauce or don't have time to make some, use canned crushed tomatoes to make the sauce. Sauté a few cloves of chopped garlic with the onions then add 1 tb of Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, some salt and pepper, and a dash of sugar if needed.
Instead of Italian seasoning, you can use a mix of dried basil, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, sage, and oregano. The world is your oyster my friend.
How do I store leftover baked ziti?
Store in the refrigerator for up to five days or freeze.
Can I freeze baked ziti?
Freeze cooked baked ziti and thaw in the refrigerator. Reheat in the oven or microwave. I have not tried freezing unbaked baked ziti because I feel like it would change the texture of the cheeses. If you try this, let me know how it turns out!
For individual servings, let the ziti completely cool then portion into servings. Wrap them in foil and thaw in the fridge overnight. Remove the foil and microwave. This is perfect for last minute or lazy meals!
Can I make baked ziti ahead of time?
Assemble the baked ziti and refrigerate until it's ready to bake up to 3 days in advance. You can also bake and freeze in an aluminum pan, thaw in the fridge and reheat in the oven covered with foil.
What can I serve with baked ziti?
We usually eat baked ziti by itself but should probably balance it with some greens. Try a salad or these side dishes!
- 1 lb ziti pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup onion finely diced
- 1 lb ground beef
- ½ cup cabernet sauvignon or merlot
- 2 (24 oz) jars marinara sauce, or homemade see notes for homemade recipe
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning optional
- 3 cups mozzarella cheese shredded
- ½ cup parmesan cheese grated
- 16 oz ricotta cheese
- pecorino romano optional
- Cook the ziti in salted boiling water 2 minutes shy of al dente. Drain and set aside.
- While the pasta is cooking, make the meat sauce. In a large skillet on medium high heat, add olive oil and onion and sauté for 3 minutes. Move the onions to one side of the pan and add the ground beef. Brown the meat and break up any large chunks, about 5 minutes. Mix the onions and beef together and sauté for another couple minutes.
- Add the red wine and simmer for 1 minute. Add marinara sauce and Italian seasoning and bring it to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Mix ricotta and 1 cup of meat sauce with the ziti.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a baking dish, layer half of each as follows: ziti mixture, meat sauce, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
- Bake for 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and the ziti is heated through. Broil on high for a few minutes to brown the cheese if desired. Serve with more parmesan or pecorino cheese.
- Substitute ziti with rigatoni or penne.
- Make your own marinara sauce.
- If using canned crushed tomatoes, sauté a few cloves of chopped garlic with the onions. Add 1 tb of Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to taste. Add a pinch of sugar if needed.
- Substitute ground beef with Italian sausage or a mix of both.
- Garnish with fresh basil, parsley or oregano for some flavor and color.