This easy Baked Ziti recipe includes sausage and tons of cheese! It’s perfect for feeding a crowd and can easily be prepared ahead of time. Omit the sausage for a fantastic vegetarian meal. This is, hands down, the BEST baked ziti recipe and it’s guaranteed to become a staple at your family dinners! [Recipe video included below.]
I have been making this baked ziti recipe for well over 10 years now and it has become one of my favorite go-to pasta dishes. Not only do I make it throughout the year, but it’s also a staple at our family’s Christmas Eve dinner each year. I’ve always adored baked pasta, and this is by far my favorite version… it’s full of Italian sausage and mozzarella and Romano cheeses.
If you love pasta and comfort food, this baked ziti recipe will be right up your alley.
How Do You Make Baked Ziti?
This is one of my favorite standby recipes for nearly any occasion because it’s so incredibly easy to throw together, especially if you have a habit of keeping some sauce in the freezer or a jar of your favorite store-bought sauce in the pantry. There are only a few steps:
Boil a pound of ziti pasta.
While the pasta is boiling, cook the sausage.
Put both in a large bowl with sauce, cubed mozzarella cheese, and Romano cheese.
Pour it all into a casserole dish and top with shredded mozzarella and more Romano cheese.
Cover and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake until the top is browned and bubbling.
I top the baked ziti with shredded mozzarella (always shredded off the block, never pre-shredded cheese!), but the key to the super cheesiness of this baked ziti isn’t just the cheese on top, but I cut a block of mozzarella cheese into very small cubes and mix it into the pasta, which creates little pockets of gooey cheese throughout the pasta.
Can You Prepare Baked Ziti Ahead of Time? Can it Be Frozen?
Yes and yes! I do this ALL the time.
You can assemble the baked ziti the day before you plan to bake it, just be sure to cover it with plastic wrap or foil (if you use plastic wrap, take that off and replace with foil before you bake!). I typically take it out of the refrigerator when I start to preheat the oven so some of the chill comes off of it, but you may find that you need to add an extra 10 minutes or so to the covered bake time to account for it being refrigerated.
To freeze it, I recommend covering the pan with plastic wrap AND aluminum foil to keep it as fresh as possible (again, just be sure to remove the plastic wrap before eventually baking). You can freeze it for up to 3 months, then thaw in the refrigerator overnight and bake as directed.
More Baked Ziti FAQ
Is penne the same as ziti? Does it matter what type of noodles I use? Penne and ziti are super similar tube shaped pastas, but penne has little ridges, while ziti is smooth. Penne is a little bit of a denser, heavier pasta. You can substitute your favorite tube-shaped pasta in this recipe.
What kind of sauce should I use? I typically use my favorite meat sauce recipe, a batch of which is always in the freezer. You can omit the meat from that recipe if you’d like, or use your favorite store-bought sauce (I’ve done that in a pinch, too!). The type doesn’t matter, totally personal preference – marinara, meat sauce, roasted garlic, vodka sauce, arrabbiata, etc… choose your favorite!
I don’t like Romano cheese, can I use Parmesan instead? Yes, absolutely!
Can I add vegetables? Of course! I would recommend cooking them prior to adding them to the ziti mixture so that they don’t release too much moisture and make the dish watery.
Why is my baked ziti dry? This is a case of not enough sauce. If you use a very thin sauce, like marinara, you may find that you need to add more to ensure that all of the ingredients are coated. Also, if you plan to freeze the baked ziti, you should add an extra ½ cup of sauce, as I’ve found that baked ziti made after being frozen can be a little on the dry side, so now I add more sauce initially if I know I’m going to freeze it.
Why is my baked ziti watery? There could be a couple of culprits. Be certain that you drain your pasta well before mixing it with the other ingredients. Make sure you are not using fresh mozzarella, as it has a very high water content and will release a ton of moisture into your dish. Also, if you added vegetables, see my note above about cooking the vegetables prior to adding to the dish.
This baked ziti recipe is the perfect dish for cozy fall dinners, holidays with lots of family, or for stashing away in the freezer if you (or someone you know) is expecting a little bundle of joy.
Throw in a salad and either crusty bread or garlic bread and you have a fantastic meal!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish; set aside.
Cook pasta to al dente according to the package directions. Drain and put into a large bowl.
While the pasta is boiling, cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat until cooked through.
Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and add to the bowl with the pasta.
Toss the pasta and sausage with the sauce, sausage, ½ cup of the Romano cheese, and the diced mozzarella.
Pour the mixture into the baking dish, sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup Romano cheese and the shredded mozzarella. (Make-Ahead Note: At this point, you can tightly cover the pan with foil and refrigerate for up to one day or freeze for up to 3 months. If frozen, place in the refrigerator the day before you plan to bake and then bake according to the directions below.)
Bake, covered, for 45 minutes, until heated through and the cheese is melted. Uncover, increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees F, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes until sauce and cheese are bubbling.