Baked ziti is hearty, satisfying, and chock full of authentic Italian flavor. This mouthwatering dish is a combination of tender noodles, spicy Italian sausage, and tangy marinara layered with herbs, spices, and loads of melted cheese.
If you’re a fan of pasta bakes, this parmesan-crusted baked ziti recipe is going to rock your world. Tender pasta, rich marinara sauce, and spicy meat are baked in layers of rich cheese to create this comforting meal. It is a zesty, savory, and cheesy masterpiece!
Although it will be tempting to gobble the baked ziti right out of the oven, I highly recommend waiting. Bake the dish the night before, let it cool, and don’t skip out on the parmesan crust. That added layer of crispy, golden brown richness takes any baked ziti recipe from ordinary to extraordinary.
Table of Contents
- Ziti – Smooth, tube-shaped noodles are the classic choice for this pasta bake. Penne or rigatoni are the closest substitutes.
- Marinara Sauce – Try my DIY version or use your favorite store-bought brand. We add meat to transform our marinara into a simple bolognese sauce.
- Italian Sausage – Adds protein and a zesty savoriness. Ground beef works as well.
- Cheese – With ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan, this sumptuous dish features 4 different types of cheese.
- Herbs and Seasoning – Fresh garlic adds pungency while Italian herbs infuse the recipe with bright, earthy, and aromatic tones. Freshly chopped parsley is added at the end for a complimentary dash of freshness and color.
- Eggs – Serve as a binding agent. Be sure to beat the eggs thoroughly and distribute the mixture evenly.
Simple Trick to Prevent Burning
For bubbly, golden brown cheese, bake your casserole uncovered. However, if you notice the cheese is getting too browned before the inside of your ziti is cooked, take the dish out of the oven and cover it with foil. Then, you can return it to the oven to finish baking without the risk of burnt cheese.
- Prepare the Oven. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a meatloaf baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
- Prepare the Pasta. Follow the package instructions to cook the ziti. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the cooking liquid, and set both aside.
- Brown the Meat. Saute the garlic in olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add in the sausage, breaking it up into crumbles as it browns. You want the crumbles to be small and somewhat uniform. If too chunky after browning, pulse a few times in the food processor, return to the pan, and proceed as usual.
- Simmer Sauce. Stir in the marinara sauce and reserved cooking liquid, then sprinkle in the herbs. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes.
- Beat the Eggs. Crack the two eggs into a small bowl, whisk, and set aside.
- Toss the Ziti. Use a large mixing bowl to toss the cooked ziti with 2 cups of sauce and ½ cup of parmesan cheese. Reserve the remainder of the sauce for serving.
- Build the Layers. Transfer half of the ziti and sauce mixture to the prepared meatloaf pan. Sprinkle on a layer of mozzarella cheese, then top with the rest of the ziti. Pour the beaten eggs over the dish, distributing as evenly as possible. Give the dish a light tap on the counter to help everything settle. Then, add 4 slices of provolone cheese and another sprinkling of mozzarella cheese to cover the top.
- Bake. Place the dish in the oven to bake for 35 minutes. You want the cheese to be bubbly and a light golden brown color.
- Cool & Slice. Allow the casserole to cool completely, preferably overnight in the fridge. Then, slice the dish into 6 slabs with a large kitchen knife.
- Make the Cheese Crust. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat with a little bit of oil. Gently press the finely grated parmesan onto the sides of each ziti slab before placing it in the hot skillet. Carefully cook on each side until the cheese starts to melt and you get a nice layer of crunchy golden cheese.
- Plate & Serve. Serve baked ziti hot off the skillet, on a plate, with more marinara sauce, a spoonful of ricotta cheese, and a handful of freshly chopped parsley.
Baked ziti is made from cooked pasta tossed with marinara sauce, ricotta, and parmesan cheese. Extra cheese is added in between the layers of saucy noodles, and beaten egg is added to hold everything together. It usually contains meat and is a little bit easier to assemble than lasagna.
Lasagna, on the other hand, is made from layers of sauce, ricotta cheese, and flat lasagna noodles. It may or may not contain meat and can be a tad more labor-intensive to put together.
When tossing the cooked pasta with sauce, be sure all the noodles are thoroughly and evenly coated before transferring them to the casserole dish.
Another trick to keep noodles from drying out is to add an extra layer of sauce to the top, just under the final layers of cheese. Don’t go overboard — just add enough to cover any noodles that are sticking out. This will keep them soft, moist, and tender through the baking process.
Yes! In fact, this baked ziti recipe is BETTER when made ahead of time!
You can assemble, cover, and keep it in the refrigerator for 2 days prior to baking, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Once baked, the ziti will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
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Cheese Crusted Baked Ziti
- 8 oz ziti pasta
- 3 cups marinara sauce separated
- 1 lb hot Italian sausage or sub ground beef
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 tbsp Italian herbs
- 1/2 lb fresh mozzarella grated
- 2 medium eggs beaten
- 4 slices provolone cheese
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese finely grated, separated
- 1 cup ricotta cheese whipped
- parsley for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a meatloaf baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
- Cook ziti pasta per package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat add the oil and sauté the garlic. Add the sausage meat and brown, breaking it up with spoon to crumble. Sprinkle in the herbs, marinara sauce and reserved cooking liquid. Cook for 10 minutes on low. (See Note 1).
- In a small bowl whisk the two eggs. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, toss the cooked ziti with 2 cups of bolognese sauce and 1/2 cup of Parmesan. Save remaining bolognese sauce for plating.
- Place half the ziti in a prepared meatloaf baking dish. Add a layer of the mozzarella cheese. Top with the rest of the ziti. Pour the beaten eggs over all and gently tap meatloaf pan on counter to distribute egg and help ziti to settle. Layer 4 slices of provolone on top and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake for 35 minutes, cheese should be golden brown.
- Let baked ziti cool in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. Using a kitchen knife, slice the baked ziti into 6 slab-sized servings.
- Gently press remaining finely grated parmesan cheese on each side of the the ziti slab. Heat oil in a skillet on medium high and carefully place the cheese encrusted ziti slab into the hot skillet. Cook it on each side, the cheese will start to melt and form a beautiful golden crunchy crust.
- Serve on a plate with remaining bolognese or marinara sauce topped with a spoonful of ricotta and fresh chopped Italian parsley.
- If sausage meat is too chunky, pulse the sauce and sausage several times in a food processor after cooking and then use with cooked ziti pasta.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.