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Baked Ziti with Sausage

5 from 4 votes
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posted: 11/26/23

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This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy

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!

Photo of Baked Ziti served on a plate with a fork. Wine and salad beside.

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!

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

This Easy Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Recipe from scratch comes together in about 25 minutes! You will want to use it in all of your pasta dishes.
Jar of Spaghetti Sauce on counter

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.

Italian Seasoning

This Italian Seasoning has the perfect balance of flavors. You can make a big batch to keep on hand for all of your favorite recipes!

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.

Cooking Ziti

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.

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Cheese Grater

This is the grater that I have and I love it so much! It has four sizes for grating and comes with a container that attaches for mess free grating.
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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.

Photo of a baking dish of Baked Ziti on a cooling rack. Glasses of wine, side salad, and bread beside.

Sausage Alternatives

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.

Making Ahead

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.

Side view of a spoon scooping out a serving of Baked Ziti from baking dish

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.

Overhead photo of a baking dish of Baked Ziti on a cooling rack. Salad and garlic bread beside.

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.

Photo of a spoon in a baking dish of Baked Ziti

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:

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.

Photo of Baked Ziti served on a plate with a fork. Wine and salad beside.
5 from 4 votes

Baked Ziti

Serves: 8 servings
(tap # to scale)
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Total: 1 hour
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!

Ingredients

  • 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)

Instructions

  • 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.
Serving: 1.75cups Calories: 716kcal (36%) Carbohydrates: 60g (20%) Protein: 42g (84%) Fat: 34g (52%) Saturated Fat: 17g (106%) Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g Monounsaturated Fat: 8g Cholesterol: 120mg (40%) Sodium: 1306mg (57%) Potassium: 195mg (6%) Fiber: 6g (25%) Sugar: 9g (10%) Vitamin A: 46IU (1%) Vitamin C: 4mg (5%) Calcium: 113mg (11%) Iron: 23mg (128%)
Author: Lisa Longley
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Photo of Baked Ziti served on a plate with a fork. Wine and salad beside.

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Baked Ziti

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Hi! I'm Lisa Longley, and I am committed to giving you simple dinner ideas and recipes that are easy to make; recipes that will fill your home with joy. I am the owner and author of SimpleJoy.com and I'm so glad that you are here.

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  1. Rimmy says

    5 stars
    Wow, it looks like a colorful pizza with soft ziti on the inside and a greasy cheese on the outside. I bet my son will gobble this dish too.

    • Lisa Longley says

      Ooo, you are so right, it totally does. Oh the ideas that gives me, lololol!

  2. SHIRLEY MYERS says

    This looks really good. What is the difference between tomatoe sauce and spagetti sauce?

    • Lisa Longley says

      Tomato sauce is just tomatoes. Spaghetti sauce is a prepared recipe with ingredients that has been cooked and infused with flavor. Does that answer your question? If not, let me know.

  3. Sandra says

    5 stars
    This is delicious! I use penne pasta and it’s very nice. Since I am cooking for only my husband and I, I freeze half for a later dinner. Thanks Lisa.

    • Lisa Longley says

      I’m so happy you liked it Sandra!

  4. Debbie Sheets says

    Do you bake before you freeze?

    • Lisa Longley says

      Nope! Freeze it and then when you are ready to bake you can put it right in a preheated oven (350 degrees) and bake it uncovered for 45 minutes.

  5. Willie says

    It was really tasty. Noticed that the amount of mozzarella listed doesn’t allow for any on top (8 oz. and 1 cup is required in the middle). Also I found that the edges were slightly overdone so I would start with foil and then take that off towards the end. Will definitely make it again and since there are just two of us might even just do a half portion. Yummoh!

  6. Susan says

    5 stars
    Great pasta dish!

    • Lisa Longley says

      I’m so glad you liked it, Susan!

  7. Loraine says

    Thank you Lisa for the recipes. Will definitely try some of your pasta dishes when I get back from vacation. Will let you know when I try it. My kids will love it.

    • Lisa Longley says

      I hope you love them all!

  8. AnnaFay says

    What dish,awesome,
    I love the way you added measured ingredients with each step,time saver,thanks

    • Lisa Longley says

      I’m so glad!

  9. Lolo says

    Hi there, I am making it this week but I’m so scared not to drain the sausage, will be too greasy?

    • Lisa Longley says

      The grease from the sausages is what is used to sauté the onions and garlic so you don’t want to drain it. I have never experienced this to be too greasy and I’m pretty sensitive to that. That being said, you could always drain it right at the end of step 3!

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