This Baked Ziti with sausage is amazing comfort food. Your whole family will love this delicious baked pasta, and you will love that it can be made in advance!
Baked pasta is pretty much one of the world’s best inventions. Layers of carbs with cheese and spaghetti sauce combine with seasonings and spices to make the best comfort food ever. Even better, you can make these delicious casseroles ahead of time or even freeze them.
This Baked Ziti recipe checks all of those boxes. This is a comforting and delicious dinner recipe that your family will love! Or making it for a loved one who needs a little extra care and attention. This one is a winner.
The Sauce is the Key
The sauce is what ties this whole recipe for baked ziti together. In addition to spaghetti sauce, we also use tomato sauce, which is just tomatoes that have been cooked and pureed. Alternatively, spaghetti sauce is a prepared recipe that has been cooked and infused with flavor and ingredients like herbs and other vegetables. By using both, we get the perfect flavor and amount of sauce needed to pull the baked ziti together.
Since one of the primary flavors of this easy baked ziti recipe is spaghetti sauce, make sure that you use one that you truly love. It’s just like using wine in cooking: the flavor intensifies, so you have to absolutely love it. My Homemade Spaghetti Sauce has the best flavor and comes together quickly. I love it in this recipe!
Using Italian Seasoning
Italian seasoning is a blend of spices and herbs commonly used in Italian dishes. This baked ziti recipe calls for oregano, basil, and parsley, which are all included in my Italian Seasoning Recipe. If you have some Italian seasoning on hand or want to make some to have on hand, you can replace those three herbs with two tablespoons of Italian seasoning.
Making seasoning blends from scratch has many benefits. Not only can you get the flavor exactly how you want it, but you control exactly what goes into the blend, eliminating extra sweeteners and preservatives that may be in store-bought seasonings. You can make a little bit for a recipe as needed, or a big batch to keep on hand in your pantry.
How to Make Baked Ziti with Sausage
Here is a brief overview of how this easy baked ziti recipe comes together. For the full recipe including all ingredients and measurements, please see the recipe card at the bottom of the post.
- Cook the ziti. Bring your pot of water to a roaring boil and add your ziti. Set the time for two minutes less than the instructions on the package say.
- Cook the sausage. While your pasta is cooking, cook your sausage in a large skillet, breaking it up. Add in the onion, garlic, and seasonings and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Combine the meat, noodles, and sauces. Drain your pasta, then add the cooked meat with the spices and pan drippings, spaghetti sauce, and tomato sauce to the pot of cooked pasta.
- Put it all together. Pour half of the pasta and meat mixture into the bottom of your prepared pan. Add the ricotta cheese on top, in small scoops over the pasta. Don’t worry about making it completely smooth. Then add some of the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Add the remaining pasta mixture.
- Bake the casserole. Top with the remaining cheese and bake until bubbly.
While cooking pasta may seem like the easiest step in a recipe, a few simple tips are helpful. If you have a hard time finding ziti, you can also use penne.
- Use plenty of water. Pasta expands while it cooks, so it is important to make sure you have plenty of water in your pot. One pound of pasta will need four to six quarts of water.
- Bring your water to a roaring boil. Make sure you see large, constant bubbles before you add your pasta.
- Salt your water. You don’t need to measure, but add about a teaspoon of kosher salt to your water before adding your noodles (1/2 teaspoon if you are using table salt).
- Set a timer. You want to cook the ziti for two minutes less than what the package recommends. It will cook more when baking, so this helps to make sure the pasta doesn’t get overdone and mushy.
Cheese in Baked Ziti
I said it recently in my Cheesy Potatoes recipe, there is such a huge difference when it comes to block cheese and pre-shredded cheese. Cheese that has been shredded from a block just melts so much faster and tastes so much better because it isn’t covered with preservatives. If you want to make this recipe easier, that is not a shortcut I would take. Take the extra few minutes to grate your own cheese from a block.
Baked Ziti with Ricotta or Cottage Cheese
There are plenty of people who use cottage cheese as a swap out for ricotta. I am not one of them. Growing up eating my grandmother’s traditional Italian food, I just can’t. The flavor is really different. The consistency and the way they melt is different as well.
That said, I’m a whatever-floats-your-boat person. If cottage cheese as a substitution for ricotta in this baked ziti with sausage sounds good to you, go for it.
If your family doesn’t eat pork or you prefer to cut back on fat in this recipe, you can use Italian turkey sausage in place of pork sausage. While you could use ground beef or ground turkey, it won’t have the flavor that Italian sausage provides. My family often uses ground turkey sausage in place of pork sausage and loves the flavor it adds while also being a slightly healthier option.
This is a great recipe because you can make it and pop it right in the oven, or you can wrap it up and put it in the refrigerator for tomorrow night. To make it a day in advance, prepare the casserole following the recipe steps but rather than putting it in the oven, wrap it tightly with foil and place it in the refrigerator. When you are ready to bake it, you can take it from the fridge, remove the foil, and put it right into a preheated oven.
Freezing Baked Ziti
This is a great recipe to make ahead and freeze for later, or make a double batch to freeze one for later. Be sure to put the casserole in a disposable or aluminum baking dish to avoid it shattering when you bake it. We will be taking it right from the freezer and popping it into the preheated oven, so you want to make sure to use a disposable baking dish.
After you put that final layer of cheese on it (before you put it in the oven), wrap it very well with foil. Wrapping with two layers will keep it safe from freezer burn. Store in the freezer for up to three months. Note, you will have to add additional baking time when baking it from frozen. See more on this below.
How to Bake Frozen Baked Ziti
When you are ready to eat this, you can take it out of the freezer the day before and put it in the refrigerator to thaw overnight.
Or, if you have it in a disposable or aluminum baking dish, you can bake frozen baked ziti at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until the middle of the dish is melty and warm.
Making Baked Ziti Gluten Free
There was a very very brief time in our life when we went gluten-free for a number of reasons that no longer apply. Anyway! During that time we tried several gluten-free noodles and there are a LOT that are great options on the market. This baked ziti recipe is a great dish to make gluten-free because you simply need to swap out traditional noodles for gluten-free noodles.
That said, make sure you read your labels carefully on the other ingredients.
What to Serve with Baked Ziti
Round out your meal of baked ziti with ricotta with any of my great side dish recipes. Here are a few that we love to serve with this great dish:
- Chopped Salad: This is a great recipe to make any night of the week. My kiddos love it, and it is the perfect way to get more vegetables into their day.
- Garlic Bread: We love this recipe. It is so simple to make and perfect on the side of so many pasta recipes.
- Zucchini Soup: If we don’t count salt, pepper, and oil, this is a five ingredient recipe! Easy and so delicious!
Storing and Reheating Leftovers
This baked ziti with sausage makes a large batch, so you may have leftovers. (Though no judgment if you don’t.) In that case, make sure they are stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator for no longer than four days.
To reheat your leftovers, put them in a shallow oven-safe dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Alternatively, place in a microwave-safe container, make a hole in the middle of your serving of baked ziti, and cover. Microwave at half power for about two minutes, then stir, re-cover, and add additional time as needed.
Once you reheat leftovers, toss any remaining reheated food that you do not eat. Do not put it back in the refrigerator and warm it up again. ALways use discretion with leftovers.
Other Amazing Baked Pasta Dishes
Since baked pasta is the ultimate in comfort food, you are going to want to try these other dishes too:
- Marsala Chicken Noodle Casserole: This has all the great flavors of Chicken Marsala but in a baked noodle casserole, and it is 100% amazing.
- Chicken Noodle Casserole: When you just need a classic recipe, this one should be your go-to.
- Taco Stuffed Shells: These are a taco spin on stuffed shells and make such a great weeknight dinner!
If you make these or any of my other recipes please leave me a comment and let me know. It makes my day to hear you loved something I made.
- 1 pound ziti pasta (or penne pasta) (453.592 grams)
- 1 pound Italian sausage (casings removed) (453.592 grams)
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 24 ounces spaghetti sauce (709.765 ml)
- 8 ounces tomato sauce (236.588 ml)
- 15 ounces full fat ricotta cheese (425.243 grams)
- 16 ounces shredded mozzarella shredded (453.592 grams)
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (50 grams)
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9 by 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
- Boil water to cook your ziti. Once at a roaring boil, pour in the dry pasta and add a teaspoon of kosher salt. No need to measure the salt, just eyeball it. Set the time for 2 minutes less than the instructions on the package say.1 pound ziti pasta
- While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and break it up. Once browned, add in the onion, garlic, and seasonings and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat.1 pound Italian sausage, 1 medium yellow onion, 2 cloves garlic, 2 teaspoons dried parsley, 2 teaspoons dried basil, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Drain the pasta when done and return to the pot you cooked it in. Add in the cooked meat with the spices and pan drippings. Add in the spaghetti sauce and tomato sauce.24 ounces spaghetti sauce, 8 ounces tomato sauce
- Pour half of the pasta and meat mixture into the bottom of the pan. Add the ricotta cheese on top, in small scoops over the pasta. Then add 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese.15 ounces full fat ricotta cheese, 16 ounces shredded mozzarella, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- Add the remaining pasta mixture. Top with the remaining parmesan cheese and the remaining mozarealla cheese.
- Bake, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling.