Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Sausage
Ricotta Baked Ziti
See all that gooey cheese mixed with pasta and meat sauce? So much love goes into this dish!
That’s truly what a baked ziti recipe is. Love.
From its decadent appearance and rich rustic aroma, to the hearty layers of flavors from pancetta, sausage, tomato, herbs and cheese…
Ricotta Baked Ziti makes you feel things. Warmth. Security. Comfort. And most definitely love.
That’s why it’s a brilliant dish to serve at casual dinner parties and family gatherings.
You will make the people you serve feel loved.
Easy Baked Ziti
So often, when we’re hosting people for dinner, we think we have to come up with something really elegant or impressive.
Especially, around the holidays.
However, most people don’t care about fussy meals. They would rather have a relaxed down-home dinner that tastes fabulous, than a pretentious meal that makes them feel like they have to sit up straight in order to deserve it.
That’s why over the years we’ve moved away from making fancy restaurant-style meals for the holidays, and focused on comforting dishes that feed a crowd and make them feel loved.
This Easy Baked Ziti Recipe, with loads of ricotta filling and chunky meat sauce, is the kind of meal we love to make for tailgating, holiday neighborhood gatherings, or a festive family dinner.
It’s a dish we don’t enjoy all the time, because we’re usually trying to eat healthily. Therefore, it feels special to pull a big pan of bubbling pasta and cheese from the oven.
Instead of stressing yourself out over elaborate dishes with hard-to-find ingredients… This year, make something simple and comforting for the holidays. Your family will thank you!
Baked Ziti Recipe Ingredients
For the Meat Sauce:
- Ground Italian Sausage – The base of the meat sauce.
- Pancetta – Diced. Or bacon would work as well.
- Onion and Garlic – For deep zesty flavor.
- Marinara – Homemade or jarred tomato sauce.
- Basil – Preferrably fresh.
- Parsley – Fresh is best.
- Crushed red pepper – Add a little or a lot.
For the Baked Ziti:
- Ziti – Or dried penne.
- Ricotta cheese – You can use full-fat or low-fat.
- Mozzarella cheese – Shredded.
- Parmesan cheese – Shaved.
- Eggs – To bind the cheeses together.
How To Make Baked Ziti
- Soak the Ziti: Place the dried ziti in a large bowl. Add a generous spoonful of salt and fill the bowl with very hot tap water. Stir well, then allow the pasta to soak. (This eliminates the need for boiling.)
- Make the Meat Sauce: Brown the pancetta and sausage. Stir and break the sausage into small pieces. Then add the onions and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes to soften. Stir in the marinara, basil, parsley, and crushed red pepper.
- Mix the Ricotta Filling: Combine the ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and eggs. Mix well.
- Dump the Stir: Pour the drained ziti into the meat sauce and stir to coat.
- Layer: Scoop half the ziti and sauce into the baking dish. Spread into an even layer. Spoon the ricotta mixture over the ziti. Then top the ricotta with the remaining ziti and sauce. Sprinkle the top of the ziti
with more mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
Bake: Cover the dish with foil and bake.
Get The Full (Printable) Easy Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Sausage Recipe Below!
No-Boil Baked Ziti
The #1 question with baked pasta dishes…
Do you have to boil the pasta before baking it? Or can it just cook in the sauce??
Technically, you can add additional water to a baking dish and let the pasta cook in the sauce as its baking. However, sometimes this method disturbs the overall texture of both the pasta and sauce.
It can be a little tricky to get uniformly cooked pasta, because the ziti on top might not be well submerged in liquid.
However, you can get away without boiling it!
Instead of turning on another burner, and filling the kitchen with steam, simply soak the pasta before baking.
Pour the pasta in a bowl of very hot (salted) tap water and let it soak while the meat sauce is simmering. When it’s time to assemble the dish, the pasta will be primed to cook to perfect al dente while it’s baking!
Baked Ziti In The Slow Cooker
The idea of making “Baked Ziti” in a crockpot may seem a little foreign. It’s technically no longer baked!
However, slow cooker ziti is still delicious and super handy when you have errands to run before dinner.
You do still need to prepare the meat sauce on the stovetop. However, there’s no need to boil or soak the ziti beforehand.
Simply make the recipe below, adding 3/4 cup water to the meat sauce when you stir in the dried ziti. This ensures there is ample moisture for the pasta to absorb.
Then assemble as directed in a large slow cooker (instead of a baking dish.) Cover, and cook on low for 3-5 hours.
Sausage Baked Ziti with Ricotta Recipe Swaps
Can I Use Ground Beef Instead of Sausage?
Absolutely. You can swap ground beef in equal proportion. Then taste the sauce after simmering to see if you need more salt and pepper.
Can I Use a Different Shape of Pasta?
Of course! You can use any small pasta shape you like.
Can I Use Gluten-Free Pasta?
Yes. However, gluten-free pasta tends to break down faster than regular pasta. Therefore, do not boil or soak the pasta before baking. Instead, assemble the dish adding 3/4 cup water to the meat sauce. Then serve immediately.
Can I Use Different Cheese?
Sure! Cream Cheese, Chevre, or Cottage Cheese could be used in place of the ricotta.
Cheddar, Colby, Muenster, or Gouda are good choices to take the place of the Mozzarella.
Pecorino or Asiago cheese can easily take the place of the Parmesan.
Can I Leave Out the Cheese Filling?
Yes. If you are looking to cut the fat or dairy, you can omit the cheesy layer.
Can I Freeze Baked Ziti for Make-Ahead Meals?
Definitely! Make a double or triple batch. Then wrap the top of the pan with foil, and wrap the entire pan with plastic. Freeze for up to 6 months.
When you’re ready to use them, take off the plastic, place the frozen pan of ziti in the oven and bake for 55-65 minutes.
Vegetarian Baked Ziti
For Meatless Baked Ziti, simply make the sauce without the sausage and pancetta. The tomato sauce with extra veggies and herbs tastes delicious even without the sausage.
We also love Ricotta Stuffed Shells as a vegetarian option!
Serve Ricotta Baked Ziti With
- Zesty Homemade Caesar Salad or Caprese Panzanella
- Creamy Chicken Tortellini Soup
- Cheesy Garlic Bread
- Affogato al Cafe
More Baked Pasta Recipes
- Best Ever Mac and Cheese
- Baked Spaghetti Pie
- Supreme Pizza Lasagna
- Supreme Pizza Baked Ziti
- Pesto Chicken Baked Tortellini
- Cheesy Southwest Chicken Lasagna Rolls
- One-Pot Chicken Noodle Casserole
Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Sausage (No-Boil)
- 1 pound dried ziti (or penne)
- 1 pound ground Italian sausage
- 4 ounces pancetta, diced
- 1 large sweet onion, peeled and diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 48 ounces marinara, homemade or jarred
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil (or 1 TB dried basil)
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 pound ricotta cheese (full-fat or low-fat)
- 1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
- 5 ounces shaved parmesan cheese
- 2 large eggs
- No-Boil Method: Place the dried ziti in a large bowl. Add a generous spoonful of salt and fill the bowl with very hot tap water. Stir well, then allow the pasta to soak for 20-25 minutes. (You can also boil the pasta according to package instructions.)
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Set out a 9 X 13 inch (3 quart) baking dish. Set a large sauté pan over medium heat.
- Add the diced pancetta to the sauté pan. Move it around the pan to brown for 3 minutes. Then add the sausage. Stir and break the sausage into small pieces, cooking another 3 minutes. Finally, add the onions and garlic. Sauté for another 3-5 minutes to soften.
- Once the onions are soft, stir in the marinara, basil, parsley, and crushed red pepper. Turn the stovetop to low and allow the sauce to simmer for 5-10 minutes, while you make the ricotta filling.
- In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, half the mozzarella, half the parmesan, eggs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Mix well.
- Once the ziti has soaked for at least 20 minutes, drain off the water and pour the drained ziti into the simmering meat sauce. Mix well and turn off the heat.
- Scoop half the ziti and sauce into the baking dish. Spread into an even layer. Then spoon the ricotta mixture over the ziti. Spread the ricotta to cover the ziti. Then top the ricotta with the remaining ziti and sauce. Sprinkle the top of the ziti with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
- Cover the dish with foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Then take the foil off the top and bake uncovered for another 10 minutes. Serve warm.
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