Baked Ziti is so much more than just a Bolognese pasta bake…. It’s a big, juicy baked pasta that’s loaded with flavour from a healthy dose of seasonings and topped with a generous amount of cheese. Cosy food that’s easy enough for midweek yet worthy of company.
Bonus: perfect freezer friendly meal!
Let’s be clear here – this is not just another pasta bake. This is the mother of all pasta bakes!
While some recipes might be satisfied making Baked Ziti using a basic meat sauce, this one is made with a good amount of seasonings which adds a TON of flavour into the meat itself which then seeps into the tomato sauce as it simmers away….
What is Baked Ziti?
Baked Ziti is an American classic pasta bake made with a tomato based meat sauce similar to Bolognese. “Ziti” is a type of pasta that looks like penne, except it’s got a smooth surface rather than ridges.
While Baked Ziti is an Italian American dish, it has Italian origins – pasta bakes like this have existed in Italy for centuries!
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.
This version I make is a classic one – except I like to use a boost of extra seasonings so the meat sauce is loaded with flavour!
What goes in Baked Ziti
Here’s what goes in my Baked Ziti.
Meat – Use all beef for a classic version, though if you want to make the meat sauce even more amazing, then use 50/50 pork and beef (pork makes the meat sauce richer and adds flavour!).
Tomato Passata – While most recipes will use ordinary crushed tomato for the sauce, I opt to use Tomato Passata* – known as tomato puree in America – because it makes this pasta bake much juicier because it is thick and smooth so it creates a better sauce. There’s nothing sadder than breaking through that golden cheesy top to find dry pasta underneath!
In contrast, crushed or diced tomato has chunks of tomato in a more watery tomato sauce. It will still work, but the sauce won’t be as thick and won’t coat the pasta as well as pictured. To use canned tomato as a substitute, it’s best to add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, to help thicken it up a touch.
And here are the seasonings. Fennel is optional but if you use a combination of pork and beef for the meat sauce, it gives it an extra special touch because pork and fennel are a classic pairing!
How to make it
If you know how to make Bolognese, you’ll be right at home making Baked Ziti! After the meat sauce is made, it’s simply a matter of assembling:
Mix some of the meat sauce through the pasta;
Pour into baking dish;
Top with ricotta; and
Pour over remaining meat sauce then top with cheese.
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…. 😂
Can I make Baked Ziti ahead of time? Absolutely! Cook the ziti and sauce, then let them cool before assembling the Baked Ziti. Top with cheese then refrigerate or freeze, then bake when you want to serve it!
Should I cover Baked Ziti while it’s baking? Yes. Cover loosely with foil so it doesn’t stick to the cheese, then bake for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil so the cheese can go bubbly and golden!
How long to leave Baked Ziti in the oven? 20 minutes covered then a further 10 to 15 minutes uncovered art 350F / 180C.
What can I use instead of ziti? Penne is a perfect substitute – it’s basically ziti but with ridges on the surface instead of being smooth. Spirals, macaroni and small shells would also be ideal here.
What can I use instead of tomato passata / tomato puree? Canned crushed tomato + 2 tablespoons of tomato paste is a suitable substitute. The pasta sauce won’t be quite as thick because canned tomato is a more watery sauce with chunks of tomato in it. The other (actually, better) substitute is what is called “tomato sauce” in America which is basically passata with a bit of seasonings in it. While readily available in US grocery stores, it’s not available here in Australia.
What goes with Baked Ziti
Here’s a few suggestions for things to serve on the side. Obviously nobody is going to complain if you bring some Garlic Bread to the table, but to get some greens into your meal, add a quick side salad! A classic pairing would be a Arugula/Rocket Salad with Balsamic Dressing and Shaved Parmesan.
Side salad suggestions to serve with Baked Ziti
Ahh, the weekend is here. 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
- 300g / 10oz ziti or penne pasta (Note 1)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 small onion (brown, white or yellow), finely chopped
- 500g / 1 lb ground beef or pork OR 50/50 combo (Note 2)
- 700g / 24 oz tomato passata (pureed tomato, Note 3)
- 1/2 cup 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)
- 1/4 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 (23x33cm / 9×13"). 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!
Originally published April 2016, modified October 2018 to include ricotta, and updated March 2020 with a new video!
More ways to get your pasta fix!
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