Homey, cheesy, hearty, comforting – family food at its finest
Baked Ziti (aka baked pasta or pasta al forno) can be made with any tubular pasta. No matter what shape we use, though, we always call it baked ziti. Because that’s the name we’ve always known it by.
This dish is easy to put together. Its flavor and character resemble lasagna, but it’s a much simpler dish to assemble. Kind of a poor man’s lasagna, we suppose.
But the flavor couldn’t be richer.
This is a baked casserole dish that uses cooked pasta, Italian-style meat or tomato sauce, and three different kinds of cheese. You can use whatever pasta shape you prefer, though we recommend a rugged tubular shape like ziti, rigatoni, penne, or mostaccioli.
We usually make this dish with our Italian Meat Sauce. Another good choice would be our Italian Sausage and Tomato Sauce. Or our Italian Pork Ragu for Pasta or Polenta.
If you want a lighter dish, try our Basic Italian Tomato Sauce (Marinara). You could even substitute commercial jarred sauce. Whatever you use, you’ll want 2 to 3 cups of sauce for 8 ounces of dried pasta.
Assuming you have tomato sauce on hand (we always make big batches and freeze it just for dishes like this), prep time for this dish is about 15 minutes (that includes cooking the pasta). Baking time adds 20 to 30 minutes.
This recipe yields 4 hearty servings. Leftovers keep for a day or two if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 2 to 3 cups Italian meat or tomato sauce (see headnote)
- 8 ounces tubular pasta of choice (we vote for ziti or mostaccioli)
- salt to season the pasta cooking water (~1 tablespoon kosher salt; see Notes)
- 1 to 1½ ounces shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese (to taste)
- ~¾ cup ricotta cheese (or more to taste; we often use about a cup)
- ~5 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (see Notes)
- parsley for garnish (very optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Add the meat or tomato sauce to a medium-sized cooking pot and bring it to a simmer on the stovetop. Let it simmer while you’re cooking the pasta.
- Add water (about 2 quarts) to a large cooking pot and bring it to a boil on the stovetop. Add salt to taste, then add the pasta. Simmer until the pasta is done (see package directions, but this will take about 7 minutes or so). It’s OK if the pasta is still a bit firmer than you like – it’ll cook more in the oven. When the pasta is done, drain it and return the pasta to the cooking pot.
- Meanwhile, shred the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Mix about half of it into the ricotta and set aside. Shred the mozzarella and set aside.
- When the sauce is hot and the pasta is cooked, assemble the dish: First, add about half the sauce to the pot containing the cooked pasta and mix it all together. Then add the ricotta mixture and stir it in (no need to be overly thorough about this step).
- Next, spread a very thin layer of the remaining sauce on the bottom of a 2-quart baking or casserole dish (we sometimes skip this step). Add about half the pasta/cheese mixture and spread it out in a layer. Sprinkle half the shredded mozzarella over it. Then add the remaining pasta/cheese mixture and spread it out in the dish.
- Layer on the rest of the sauce to cover the pasta. Then sprinkle on the rest of the mozzarella and the rest of the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- Bake the pasta for 20 to 30 minutes, or until it’s hot and bubbly and the cheese on top is nicely browned (start testing after 20 minutes). Let the dish sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
- Add a sprinkling of chopped parsley for garnish if you wish, then serve and enjoy.
- Quantities are somewhat flexible for this dish. In particular, you might want to add more or less cheese than we specify – depending on how rich you want the dish to be.
- We like to use more rather than less sauce in this dish, but adjust to your own preference.
- This dish is better if you make your own sauce (no surprise). If you use a commercial sauce, we recommend increasing the amount of cheese to give the dish more depth of flavor. Because many commercial sauces are a bit one dimensional.
- If using very fresh mozzarella, it's sometimes easier to cut it into thin slices rather than trying to shred it.
- This dish is easy to double if you’re serving a crowd. Baking time might be a touch longer if you’re baking a larger quantity. And of course you’ll want to use a larger casserole dish.
- We find that a serving of this dish is plenty for dinner. But you can also add a salad and maybe some garlic bread if you want more.
- Oh, and don’t forget a glass of wine!
- You can assemble this dish an hour or two ahead of time, if you wish, then refrigerate it and bake shortly before serving. If you bake the dish right after you pull it out of the refrigerator, you’ll need to increase the baking time by about 10 to 15 minutes (but start testing after about 25 minutes).
- We use kosher salt for cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If you’re using table salt, start with about half the amount we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
“Squisito!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Love all the cheese in this dish.”
“Yup, this is so good it’s pre-pasta-rous,” I said.
“Well, that pun was tortellini uncalled for,” said Mrs K R.
“Hey, that’s life in the big ziti,” I said.
“I’ve got enough cheese on my plate already,” said Mrs K R. “You don’t need to add more.”
This too shall pasta.
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Hahahahaha the banter this week is perfect!
Baked ziti is one of our favorite comfort foods. Will have to try yours when the weather cools!
Hi Anne, we enjoy writing those endings. And LOVE making -- and eating!! -- this dish. Such good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Why are baked pastas so damn good?!! Love this. Whatever it’s called.
Hi Mimi, baked pasta is one of the best comfort foods, ever. :-) Thanks for the comment.
My kind of comfort food!
Hi Pam, definitely ours, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Oh, yum! I love pasta and this baked ziti looks perfect!
Hi Pat, pasta is one of our food groups. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Definitely a classic!
best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com
Hi Mae, yup, and good reason this is a classic. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Baked ziti is an ultimate comfort food and a family favorite. Yours looks super delicious, John. A great meal for company.
Comfort food at its finest, John. Wish I could join you for this wonderful meal! Lucky Mrs. KRS :-))
Hi Holly, we love this stuff! And yes, it's a great company meal. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Angie, this is SO good! We haven't made this for ages, but will be making it again soon. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Serious comfort food right there! All I'd need is an extra dollop of fresh ricotta right on top to be set. So good, John, so good.
Oh yeah, now you're speaking my language! Yes to more sauce and yes to more cheese!!
John, I like the idea of poor man's lasagna, but with its simplicity, maybe lazy man's lasagna might be a good name. With autumnal weather settling in here in Chicago, this looks like a delicious excuse to heat up the oven—and the kitchen. Thanks!
Hi Judy, the extra dollop of ricotta sounds mighty enticing. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Laura, we're always up for more. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Terry, you're right -- lazy man's lasagna is definitely more descriptive. And here's to a warm kitchen! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Sounds very appetizing for a wet and stormy Long Weekend just ahead. The pork ragu, homemade tomato sauce and a light touch with the cheeses for a balance twixt taste and that 'h'-word :)! A light green salad for me too . . .
Hi Eha, yeah, it's way too easy to go overboard with the cheese. But the cheese is so good! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Classic and super delicious cold-weather comfort food! This looks so good.
Hi Amy, we love dishes like this during fall and winter. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Terrific comfort food. It is definitely better with homemade sauce but the jars are great when you're in a pinch
It looks delicious! I'm currently making a cheese and tomato pasta gratin :)
As the temperatures are plummeting, these hearty dishes are always most welcome. I love the little crispy little bits that only happen when you bake pasta, so delicious.
I wish I had a big bowl of this right now ... and it's only 6:00 in the morning! Looks delicious John.
Love the addition of creamy ricotta to this baked pasta dish. This is one of those cozy meals that is even tastier the the next day. I am hoping you had leftovers.
Hi Dahn, we love this! Real homey. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi FT, we love gratins! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Eva, yeah, those crispy bits are great -- love the texture, and of course the concentrated flavor. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lea Ann, breakfast of champions! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bobbi, we did indeed have leftovers. Lunch the next day. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Mmm! I've haven't had baked ziti in quite some time, and I've never made it at home. And definitely yes to the glass of wine!
Hi Jeff, time to make it at home! :-) Thanks for the comment.
John, this looks amazing! I have never made baked ziti (or pasta al forno) - maybe I was just waiting for your recipe to come along! Using homemade sauce would make this so incredible.
Hi David, assuming you have sauce on hand -- and homemade is by far the best, particularly if you want a meat sauce -- this is a pretty easy dish to assemble and make. Tastes like it took a lot of effort, though. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I'm a huge fan of baked pasta, and this dish is right up my alley - looks and sounds terrific. I mean, pasta, tomato sauce, and lots of cheese - what not to love about it?!
Hi Ben, it's impossible to resist. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This looks like the perfect comfort food, just right.
Hi Gerlinde, it's definitely perfectly comforting. :-) Thanks for the comment.
OK, now you have me craving baked Ziti. I used to make it all of the time, but it's been a couple of decades. What a fabulous dish to provide comfort in colder weather. I think we skipped fall here and went right from summer to winter, so this is perfect.
Hi MJ, sorry about that craving thing -- we know how that works. :-) It's been almost a couple of decades since we last made this. Can't imagine why it's taken so long to make it again -- it's really good stuff. Thanks for the comment.
Hi R, it really is. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Baked pasta dishes have come to the rescue in my kitchen on more than a few occasions! What's not to love? GREG
Hi Greg, baked pasta is marvelous stuff, isn't it? We love it too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
i probably shouldn't really comment here cos i am not a pasta fan or a tomato sauce fan or even a cheese fan. Sorry!:-) but i'm sure it's delicious...
Now this is what I call comfort food at its finest. As you say, you get the flavors of lasagna but so much less work involved. Yum!
Hi Sherry, it is delicious. :-) Hope you're feeling better, and thanks for the comment.
Hi Frank, not having to make the layers that you do in lasagna really is a time saver. Not as fancy looking, but really, really good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Ah, the perfect dish to enjoy while watching the new "Sopranos'' prequel. ;)
Hi Carolyn, you're right -- perfect pairing. :-) Thanks for the comment.
The best kind of dish!
Hi David, so true! :-)
I have made pasta so many times but never baked it. Won't it get dry or gummy? It doesn't look like in your pictures but just curious about the texture.
Hi Balvinder, it dries out a little, but you're really heating it only long enough for everything to get warm and the cheese to melt -- everything else is already cooked. And if you use more rather than less sauce, that helps things, too. Thanks for your comment.
Ooh, this would be a hit with the whole family!! Who can resist cheesy pasta???!
Hi Liz, we sure can't resist! Maybe because we're so cheesy? :-) Thanks for the comment.
An absolutely perfect dish for this time of year, and into winter too. So comforting and full of delicious fresh flavors. :-) ~Valentina
Hi Valentina, we love warming dishes like that at this time of the year. Or anytime, really. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I have no idea why my mother rarely made a stuffed pasta dish. Probably because her family was so poor, that they ate the most minimal foods. Me? I LOOOOOOOOVVVVVEEE baked ziti and really just about any recipe that is smothered with cheese and baked to perfection. Thank you for this recipe!!! Timed so well with temps lowering!
Hi Roz, we really love baked ziti, too. Although I think you may love it more. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Such a delicious and cozy dinner the whole family will love!
Hi Kelly, have yet to meet someone who doesn't like this dish. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This is such a gorgeous dish, hearty, delicious and comforting. Your addition of ricotta is brilliant and lifts this to an all time high for a tomato pasta bake. Just lovely thanks John 🙂
Hi Merryn, baked pasta is wonderful, isn't it? And great to share with friends. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Comfort food at its best! This type of pasta is by far my favorite, and I love it even more the next day, reheated... I know, don't tell anyone please.
Hi Paula, we love to reheat this, too. Leftover are great, aren't they? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Simple and satisfying meal :) what else we need!
Hi Priya, we love easy but tasty dishes like this. SO good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Comfort food at its best. This is another great seasonal recipe!
Hi Debra,perfect for Columbus Day. :-) Thanks for the comment.
We love pasta dishes and I would love to try this one sometime soon. Thank you for sharing.
Hi Taruna, this is so homey and comforting. :-) Thanks for the comment.
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