Baked Ziti is so much more than just a Bolognese pasta bake…. It’s juicy, cheesy, and loaded with flavour from a healthy dose of seasonings.
Made from scratch, this is a Baked Ziti recipe that’s easy enough for midweek yet worthy of company. And it’s a super freezer friendly meal option!
There are some American foods I will never understand. Cool whip – a synthetic whipped cream used in desserts. Aerosol cheese spray. I kid you not, it’s like whipped cream from a can except it’s fake cheese. Topping mashed sweet potato with marshmallows and calling it a casserole.
I will never be sad that these things have not made it to our shores.
And Baked Ziti.
Baked Ziti is an American classic pasta bake made with a tomato based meat sauce similar to Bolognese. There’s no definitive way to make it. Some people like to use all beef, others pork, and some use Italian sausages.
People use different cheeses, some make it meatless, and everyone has different seasonings.
ABOUT THIS BAKED ZITI RECIPE
With so many Baked Ziti variations out there, here’s the low down on mine: It’s an Italian sausage flavoured Baked Ziti, except it’s made with plain ground / mince meat which is then seasoned with a healthy dose of spices used to make Italian sausages.
So essentially, we’re making our own Italian sausages for the meat sauce. Use either all beef or all pork, or a combination of both pork and beef.
I HATE DRY PASTA BAKES
I like my pasta bakes to be nice and juicy. There’s nothing sadder than cracking through the cheesy top to find dried out pasta underneath.
The best way to make saucy pasta bakes is to use tomato passata – known as tomato puree in America – as opposed to a can of crushed tomato which is typically used in meat sauces like this.
Tomato passata is pureed tomato and it makes more sauce because crushed tomato is a combination of tomato liquid and chunks of crushed tomato.
HOW TO MAKE BAKED ZITI
If you know how to make Bolognese, you’ll be right at home making Baked Ziti. Then once the sauce is made, some of it is tossed through the pasta, the rest is poured over then topped with a generous sprinkling of both mozzarella or other shredded cheese and parmesan (optional)(.
America has a thing about adding ricotta into Lasagna type things which we here Down Under do not. But out of respect for authenticity, I’ve gone with ricotta in this Baked Ziti and I’m pretty sure I’ll never go back now. It’s like bonus creaminess in amongst all that tomatoey, meaty, cheesy goodness…. 😂
NOT JUST ANOTHER PASTA BAKE
It’s the “homemade sausage mixture” that makes this pasta bake something really special. The heavy Italian seasonings takes this to the next level, rather than being “just another pasta bake”. When the sausage mixture is simmered in the tomato sauce, all that flavour seeps into it making this one of the best damn (midweek*) pasta sauces I’ve ever had.
I see myself on the couch tonight, coddling a bowl of this Baked Ziti and binge watching something brainless on Netflix. Now that is a Friday night worth planning! – Nagi x
WATCH HOW TO MAKE IT
Recipe video above. A big, juicy pasta bake! It’s meaty, cheesy, and loaded with flavour from a healthy dose of seasonings. This great American classic may well be the mother of all pasta bakes....
- 300 g / 10 oz ziti or penne pasta (Note 1)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 small onion (brown, white or yellow), finely chopped
- 1 lb /500g ground beef or pork OR 50/50 combo (Note 2)
- 1.4 lb / 700g tomato passata (pureed tomato, Note 3)
- 1/2 cup / 125 ml water
- 1 tsp EACH dried basil, oregano, sugar
- 1 cup ricotta , optional (Note 4)
- 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (or other melting cheese)
- 1 cup parmesan , freshly grated (optional)
- Finely chopped parsley or basil (optional garnish)
- 2 tsp fennel seeds (optional, Note 5)
- 1 tbsp paprika (plain or sweet)
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper OR 3/4 tsp chilli flakes (adjust to taste)
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp EACH salt and black pepper
Cook ziti for the recommended cooking time on the packet MINUS 2 minutes. (Note 5) Drain, then return to pot.
Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
Make Sauce: Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes or until onion is translucent.
Add meat and cook, breaking it up as you go. When it is just cooked, add Seasonings and cook for 2 minutes.
Add passata, water, basil, oregano and sugar. Bring to simmer, reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste (remember it gets spread across lots of pasta).
Toss Ziti with Sauce: Pour about 2 cups of sauce into the pot with the ziti. Toss.
Assemble: Spread ziti into baking dish. Dollop with ricotta. Pour over remaining sauce. Top with cheese and parmesan.
Bake: Cover loosely with foil. Bake 20 minutes. Remove foil, bake further 10 to 15 minutes until cheese is golden.
Serve: Sprinkle with parsley or basil if desired, then serve!
1. Ziti - Penne and ziti are the same shape, but ziti is smooth whereas penne has ridges. If you can't find Ziti, use penne or other pastas of similar shape such as rigatoni, spirals or even macaroni.
2. Meat - My favourite is 50/50 beef and pork (used in video) but I usually make this with all beef or all pork.
3. Tomato passata is called Tomato Puree in America. It is just plain, pureed tomato. It is NOT tomato paste which is sour, concentrated tomato. It creates a thicker smoother sauce than using crushed canned tomatoes. In Australia it's available in supermarkets in the pasta section and the good value ones are cheaper than canned tomato.
Substitute: Use 800g/28oz can crushed tomato + 2 tbsp tomato paste. Or use a blender to puree canned tomatoes, or you use store bought plain pasta sauce (Marinara) instead or what's called Tomato Sauce in America (which is passata with a small amount of seasonings).
4. Ricotta - optional. For a try Baked Ziti experience the classic American way, include it!Ensure you use a creamy ricotta not dry crumbly one. If crumbly, make it creamier using milk or cream.
5. Fennel is an essential seasoning in real Italian sausages. If you don't like it / have it, this can be skipped.
6. Make ahead / storage: The best way is to cook the pasta, toss in a bit of oil then let it cool. Cook sauce then cool covered. Then assemble per recipe, stop with cheese, refrigerate or freeze. If frozen, defrost for 24 hours in the fridge. Then bake for around 30 - 35 minutes, being 25 minutes covered and 10 minutes uncovered (takes a bit longer when cooked from cold).
7. Nutrition per serving.
Recipe originally published April 2016. Updated with recipe video, a better layering order and added ricotta.
LIFE OF DOZER
What could possibly be so interesting that he’s not heavy breathing on the bowl of pasta?? 🤔
A) A pretty lady-goldie
B) Grocery delivery truck
C) A bird