Why you’ll love this recipe:
This easy baked ziti recipe is the epitome of comfort food. Tender penne noodles combine with spicy sausage and a savory sauce, and the mixture is topped with shredded cheese. Cooked in the oven until ooey-gooey, it’s an easy dish that’s loved by children and adults alike!
- Easy – This easy baked ziti recipe only requires 15 minutes of prep time.
- Flavorful – A rich and creamy tomato sauce is combined with spicy Italian sausage and finished with fresh basil leaves.
- Family Favorite – Baked ziti is a nostalgic, tried-and-true dinner recipe. It will certainly be a hit with everyone at your table!
I recommend doubling the recipe so you can serve your family a tray of ziti tonight and store a second batch in the freezer for later!
Key Ingredient Notes:
- Ziti noodles – Ziti noodles are smooth, tubular-shaped noodles and are the traditional pasta choice for baked ziti recipes. However, feel free to use any similarly shaped pasta you prefer, such as penne or rigatoni.
- Hot Italian sausage – I use crumbly (ground) hot Italian sausage, but mild or sweet sausage will also work. Or, you can substitute ground beef or ground turkey.
- Crushed tomatoes – A can of crushed tomatoes is added to the cooked sausage to form the base of the ziti sauce.
- Sour cream – For ultimate creaminess, skip the ricotta cheese and opt for full-fat sour cream instead! I guarantee you won’t find any dried-out noodles in this dish!
- Parmesan cheese – Grated Parmesan cheese is mixed into the sauce along with the sour cream to enhance the creamy texture even more.
- Mozzarella cheese – Shredded Mozzarella cheese is sprinkled on the assembled pasta dish and baked until melted and bubbly.
- Fresh basil – Fresh basil leaves add authentic Italian flavor.
How to make this easy casserole recipe:
This warm and cozy dinner is ready to serve in only one hour. It’s made with common ingredients, and you can double up on recipe steps by cooking the pasta and meat sauce simultaneously.
Before you begin, preheat your oven to 375°F and grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.
- Cook the ziti noodles according to package instructions until al dente. Drain the noodles, and set them aside.
- Brown the sausage in a large skillet. Cook the meat over medium heat until it is browned and cooked through. Add the minced garlic, and cook for an additional minute until fragrant.
- Prepare the sauce. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar, and red pepper flakes to the skillet with the sausage, and stir to combine. Simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together. Then, remove it from the heat.
- Stir the sour cream, grated Parmesan cheese, and chopped basil into the sauce.
- Mix the cooked ziti noodles and the sauce. You can mix the sauce and noodles in a separate bowl or in the pot the noodles were cooked in.
- Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish. Spread the pasta out in an even layer in the bottom of the dish.
- Top with Mozzarella. Sprinkle a generous amount of shredded Mozzarella cheese over top of the ziti.
- Cover and bake. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, and bake the ziti for an additional 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Serve and enjoy! Remove the baked ziti with sausage from the oven, and let it cool slightly before serving.
Tips for Success:
- Salt your pasta water. Add a generous amount of salt once the pasta water has come to a boil. Salt adds flavor to cooked pasta and will enhance the overall taste of your dish.
- Cook pasta al dente. Cooking pasta al dente means you are going to undercook the pasta slightly. The pasta will continue cooking while it bakes. This prevents it from overcooking and becoming mushy.
- Drain off any fat. Italian sausage is usually made with ground pork, which can be high in fat. If your skillet is full of grease after you’ve browned the sausage, go ahead and drain it off before adding any other ingredients.
- Add vegetables. Feel free to customize this recipe by adding other vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, or bell peppers. Vegetables should be chopped into bite-sized pieces and added to the sauce while it simmers.
- Don’t drain the canned tomatoes. Dump the entire can of crushed tomatoes into the sauce, including the juices. You’ll need that extra liquid for the sauce!
Ziti is one of those fantastic dinners that you can fully prepare in advance without compromising the flavor or texture of the final dish!
- Follow the recipe steps until you’re instructed to place it in the oven.
- Tightly cover the dish with foil, and place it in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
- When you’re ready to bake it, continue following the remaining steps in the recipe.
- Plan on adding a few extra minutes of baking time since the ingredients are starting out cold.
- Store leftover baked ziti with sausage in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It can be stored in an airtight container or wrapped tightly in foil in the baking dish.
- Baked ziti is an excellent freezer meal! Let the ziti cool completely, tightly wrap it in foil, and place it in a freezer-safe bag for a second layer of protection. Freeze for up to 3 months.
- To reheat, let frozen ziti thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Then, reheat it in the oven at 350°F until your desired temperature is reached. I recommend keeping the ziti covered in foil while it’s reheating to prevent it from drying out.
Yes, feel free to use whatever Italian sausage you prefer. Hot Italian sausage is made with red pepper flakes, which can add quite a bit of heat! If you’re serving this baked ziti recipe to little ones, you might want to choose a mild or sweet sausage instead.
Baked ziti should be covered the majority of the time it is in the oven to ensure the ingredients cook evenly. Then, you’ll want to uncover it for the last few minutes to allow the cheese to melt and become bubbly.
Yes, although the two dishes are similar in flavor, baked ziti is considered easier to make than lasagna. This is because it requires fewer steps, and there’s no need to worry about properly layering the ingredients. All you have to do is combine them, and bake!
Baked ziti is a versatile pasta dish that can be made with meat, vegetables, and various kinds of cheese.
Easy Baked Ziti with Sausage
- 1 (9×13-inch) baking dish
- 16 ounces ziti noodles Note 2
- 1.5 pounds ground hot Italian sausage Note 2
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes Note 3
- ½ cup sour cream
- ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- 8 ounces Mozzarella cheese shredded (about 2 cups)
- Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.
- Cook the ziti noodles according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain and set aside.16 ounces ziti noodles
- In a large skillet, cook the hot italian sausage over medium heat until browned and cooked through. Add the minced garlic and cook for an additional minute until fragrant.1.5 pounds ground hot Italian sausage, 4 cloves garlic
- Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar, red pepper flakes to the skillet with the sausage. Stir well to combine. Simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together.1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the sour cream, grated parmesan cheese, and chopped fresh basil leaves.½ cup sour cream, ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese, ⅓ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- In a separate bowl or the pot the noodles were cooked in, mix the cooked ziti noodles and sauce together.
- Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly.
- Sprinkle on the shredded mozzarella cheese.8 ounces Mozzarella cheese
- Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly before serving.
- Serve hot and enjoy!
Note 2: You can substitute the hot Italian sausage with mild or sweet sweet, ground beef, or ground turkey, if desired.
Note 3: Customize the recipe by adding other vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, or bell peppers to the sauce.
– Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
– Reheat in the oven at 350° F, or warm individual servings in the microwave.
– Freeze easy baked ziti for up to 3 months. Let it cool completely, cover the dish with aluminum foil, and transfer it to a freezer-safe bag. Let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight, and bake as directed.
* Disclaimer: All nutrition information are estimates only. Read full nutrition disclosure.
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