Easy Baked Ziti with Sausage
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!
If You Like This Baked Ziti Recipe, Try These:
One year ago: No Bake Funfetti Lush Dessert
Four years ago: DIY: Homemade Ranch Seasoning Mix
Five years ago: Thai Peanut Cabbage Slaw
Six years ago: DIY: Homemade Yellow Cake Batter Mix
Easy Baked Ziti with Sausage
- 1 pound (453.59 g) ziti pasta
- 1 pound (453.59 g) sweet Italian sausage
- 3 cups (735 ml) your favorite spaghetti sauce
- 1 cup (100 g) grated Romano cheese, divided
- 8 ounces (226.8 g) mozzarella cheese, diced small (¼-inch)
- 4 ounces (113.4 g) mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
- 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.
Did you make this recipe?
Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!
Update Notes: This recipe was originally published in May 2007. Updated in September 2015 with new photos. Refreshed in August 2018 with more new photos, a video, and extensive recipe tips.
I will make this dish again!
Thank you Michelle!! Next time I will make ahead.
Thank you for a baked ziti recipe without ricotta cheese. 🥰😇
Made this last night. Delicious.
Is there any way that you could use a black ink when posting a recipe…it printed so lightly that I had to copy this (what I know will be delicious ) recipe…thank you
I like to add a package of mini pepperoni to my ziti
I heard good reviews about also using ricotta -do I just add ricotta with no egg & the other cheeses as directions state hurry up please with a response -cooking pasta now lol
cannot wait to try wed soup and baked ziti. thank you so much.
I made this for supper last night but I had to make some substitutions based on what I had on hand and it was still delicious! I used ground beef instead of sausage because I had a pound already cooked in the fridge that needed to be used. Swapped in parm for the pecorino and also added a jar of sun-dried tomato pesto with the pasta sauce. It turned out great! Daughter took some of the leftovers to school today in a thermos jar for her lunch.
I was reading the recipe notes and have two questions.
You mention to make sure you’re not using “fresh mozzarella” to avoid it being watery. What type would not be fresh? I’m not sure what type to buy then.
You recommend not using the grated mozzarella. Why is that? Is it for more flavor?
Hi Renee, Fresh mozzarella is a very specific preparation of mozzarella, it is sold packaged in liquid so it stays fresh. This is much different than the typical block of mozzarella (i.e. Kraft) that you would find in the dairy section of the grocery store. Just don’t buy pre-shredded mozzarella, as it doesn’t melt as well. Buy the block and shred it yourself at home. I hope that helps!
Since my brother is a vegetarian, I usually add roasted vegetables and sometimes use vegetarian meatballs. There’s also Italian style vegetarian sausages that crumble really well and add all the aromatic flavors.
Looks delicious! I started using fresh mozzarella for all my Italian baked dishes and what a difference it makes. If you have a Costco I always get it there as it’s priced the best.
Wow! I started by sautéing an onion with some garlic, and tossing it into the bowl while the sausage cooked. If I’d used loose sausage meat, I’d have left the onion & garlic in with the sausage to cook. Otherwise, followed your instructions. Served with plain or garlic bread, pickles, pepperoncini, and wine. My guests were ecstatic.
Totally easy to do.
do you cook with sausage with the casing on and then slice it? or remove the casing and cook it crumbled?
Hi Betty, I usually buy ground Italian sausage so I don’t have to deal with casings. Sometimes my store has it packaged in the meat case (Johnsonville brand or the store brand), if they don’t, they always have it loose in the butcher case and I get it from there.
This didn’t exactly answer the question
She says she doesn’t have to deal with casings and buys it ground…meaning she cooks it crumbled.
Oh my, I can’t wait to make this. Yummy!
Fantastic recipe and preparation method!
I have Celiac disease and used gluten free rigatoni (it’s what I had on hand), jarred sauce (again, I had it on hand).
Thank you so much for sharing! I’d love to send a photo so you can see how beautiful it turned out!
I’m thinking of making this for Halloween night, but I don’t get home till almost 5 pm, so I’d want to make it Sunday..I’d fridge it, but you say one day, so maybe freeze? My only concern with that, is that the last time I did that with a pasta dish, it was SO frozen still by dinnertime, we ended up nuking portions in the microwave. What do you think? Also – the ricotta/and/or egg – when you would add? I do particularly have concerns about the egg, because I would be serving to little kids..so maybe I would skip that anyway, but the ricotta sounds great…but speaking of little kids, do you think I could/should stuff some veggies in there for them? Thanks!
Hi Debby, I think refrigerating for 2 days before baking would be okay; by the time you freeze you would need to defrost and you’re right – it wouldn’t bake up as well. I’m not sure what you’re referring to with the egg and ricotta though? I never use either in here. You could add veggies if you want, but I would use a small amount and chop them small – this fills up a 9×13 dish pretty full!
Do you do the meat sauce or meatless with this recipe?
Hi Carolyn, I’ve done both!
Thank you! I am going to make the meat sauce and then prep a ziti for xmas eve :-) Have an awesome day!
Do you think this would still taste good if I made it the same minus the Sausage, & would you suggest any tweaks to the recipe if I were to do so? It looks so yummy. Thanks!
Hi Lorraine, I think it would be fine without the sausage! No need to tweak anything.
Man, what a picture! I tried to take a bite from the spoonful you were holding out to me. Stupid screen kept getting in the way! This looks great! All that cheese definitely would make a difference. I’ve had so many zitis where the maker scripts on the cheese. It’s the best part. I’m sure this would be good with seasoned ground beef or shredded chicken too, hey maybe all three.
Me and my daughter have just had this for our tea, she couldn’t stop saying how good it was and that the sausage made it taste awesome!
Yet again Michelle you provide your readers with great, tasty recipes that turn out as excellent as you say and show, thank you : )
P.s. On a seperate note would love to see some more slow-cooker recipes, quite a few of yours are firm favourites in our house.
Just a quick question Michelle, for some reason where I live you can’t buy ziti pasta, just wondering if I can sub it with penne? Sometimes living in the UK is frustrating : )
Hi Faye, Yes, absolutely! Any short tube pasta would work :)
Delicious! Used as a guide last night along with your sauce recipe – subbed Italian chicken sausage and whole wheat pasta. It was the perfect comfort food.
OUTSTANDING!!! I made this for supper tonight with crusty bread and a Caesar salad. It was exquisite! I loved how the casserole got crunchy on the sides and bottom, and the browned and bubbly cheese really put it over the top. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Italian sausage on hand so I had to use ground beef instead. It was still very, very good. I highly recommend this recipe. Brown Eyed Baker is my go-to site now for dinner ideas.
I have been itchin’ to make this ever since it was featured last week. I’m thinking of having it for supper tomorrow night. Can’t wait to dig into this!
Just pulled this out of the oven and YUM! Perfect warm and cheesy dish for a fall Sunday. I used quinoa pasta to keep it gluten free and it was so delish… Next time I’m just adding more cheese ?
Oh, god.. This looks like to die for seriously. I haven’t made pasta for quite some time now because I got sick of it at some point. But these pictures definitely changed my mind – the cheese, the sauce – everything looks perfect. Making this today for dinner!
Made this last night and it was absolutely delicious. DH almost made himself sick by eating too much…LOL!
Do you remove the skin from the sausage when you cook it? Or do you cook it whole and then just mix the slices with the pasta? Definitely want to try this. I’m sure my family will love it. Thanks
Hi Joan, If I use simple marinara sauce, I remove the skins and break up the sausage quite a bit. If I use meat sauce, then I leave the casing on the sausage, cut it into chunks and cook it that way.
Add I lb ricotta cheese and 1 egg for a very creamy delicious baked Zitti!
Tonight I made a “clean the fridge” pasta bake before I sat down to look at your site. Turned out eerily similar your post. Now I feel like a star!
Oh, btw, my family is crazy over your Hummingbird Cake where even picky adults have tasted and liked it.
Thank you so much for all your hard work! Love your recipes.
the cheese look well done on this recipe and thanks for the spagetti link that great too
this is good old fashioned comfort food at its BEST!! looks delicious
Baked pasta dinners are pure comfort food as far as I’m concerned. Yours looks so easy to make, too!
This looks so warm and comforting! I have never thought to use sausage, I usually use hamburger in my version! I’ll have to try this one at the next family gathering… it looks like it could feed an army!
This is the perfect family meal!~Carolyn @ Cabot
Baked pasta is the best! This is so happening for dinner this week!
Mmmmm…yum! Perfect for a warm fall dish.
This looks like total comfort food! yum!
xoxoBella | http://xoxobella.com
Baked Ziti is my claim-to-fame in our family. Next time try adding some Ricotta – it is to die for! Loving your site by the way!
Ziti is my signature dish…I’ve gotten rave reviews every time I made it over the years and its sooooo easy to prepare….I love it and I make it all the time. That’s real comfort food drenched in cheese and sauce. It doesn’t get any better. I use a mixture of hot and mild sausages and at least 3 different kinds of tomato sauces and cheeses…I season it really well and wait for it to get all bubbly.
Think I’ll make some tomorrow…Yummmmm!
My apologies for the omission, here is the link to my spaghetti sauce recipe:
where is the speghetti sauce? i havent seen any link.. :D
i somehow missed this new spaghetti sauce recipe! it looks great. i will have to try it this way the next time i make sauce.
I tried this recipe last night and it was GREAT!!! I followed the link to your blog from a post you did on The Nest. I am going to try several other recipes I saw here. Thanks so much. Keep posting these recipes!!!!