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….
It’s one of the best pasta sauces you’ll ever make without simmering for hours like we do for Ragu. You may never make Bolognese again – just make spaghetti with THIS meat sauce instead!
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. There’s nothing sadder than breaking through that golden cheesy top to find dry pasta underneath!
* See recipe for subs
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….
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.
Sides 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 (1.4 lb) 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 (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!
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).
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
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