Let’s learn how to make BAKED ZITI, the perfect family dinner everyone will love! The creaminess of the ricotta, the crispy cheese layer on top, and the tangy but sweet pasta sauce turn this into the most memorable dish ever. It’s super easy to make and even prep ahead of time for those busy days.
If you’ve tried the best spaghetti recipe on blog, the process to making this sauce is super simple and ten times more delicious!
The sauce starts out by browning the ground beef in some olive oil, lots of garlic, salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. After that, marinara sauce is added and my favorite to use is Rao’s. It has the perfect balance of tanginess and sweetness but feel free to use any pasta/marinara sauce you love.
Allow the sauce to simmer to absorb all the flavors. Then add a little heavy cream, tons of fresh basil, and a shower of grated parmesan.
Baked ziti, as the name hints at, is made from ziti which is a tube shaped pasta. It’s absolutely perfect for this recipe as the pasta fills up with sauce! It can be found at most major supermarkets but if you have trouble finding it, the next best substitute would be penne.
The most important tip for the pasta is to not overcook it! Since the dish is baked, the pasta will continue cooking in the oven. Just boil it in salted water a minute or two shy of al dente and then it’ll finish cooking as it bakes.
Once the pasta is done, toss it with the sauce!
The Cheese Layers
In between the layers of pasta and sauce are layers of cheese! It’s very similar to lasagna but deconstructed. Here are the three that you will need:
- Mozzarella: You can use pre-grated mozzarella in this recipe but highly recommend grating it yourself.
- Parmesan: Try to buy the highest quality of parmesan you can find. It truly makes all the difference in flavor when you grate it yourself! Don’t use the powder kind.
- Ricotta: Also buy the highest quality of ricotta you can find. A lot of the cheaper ones tend to be more watery and less creamy.
The best way to assemble the layers is by eyeing it. The measurements don’t have to be exact. For the ricotta, just add some dollops across each layer. For the mozzarella, sprinkle it on top just to barely cover the layer. For the parmesan, just use about 1/4 cup per layer and sprinkle it evenly across.
There will be two layers of mozzarella, parmesan, and ricotta. The first layer is in between the two layers of pasta and the second layer is the top!
How to Bake
After all the layers are ready, it’s time to assemble. Here is how the order of layers go.
Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes and then turn the oven to broil just until the top is crispy and golden! Make sure to watch it closely as it only takes a few minutes and it can burn very quickly.
How to Prep Ahead of Time
To prep very ahead of time, just make the sauce first and leave in the pot until it’s closer to dinner time so all you have to do is boil the pasta, mix it with the sauce, layer, and bake it!
If you don’t have a lot of time before dinner, prepare everything including assembling the layers so that all you have to do is bake it before serving!
Other Pasta Recipes to Try
- Creamy Fettuccine Alfredo
- The Perfect Spaghetti
- Cajun Chicken Pasta
- Cheesecake Factory Copycat Chipotle Chicken Pasta
- Spicy “Vodka” Pasta
PASTA & SAUCE
- 1 pound ziti pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound 90 10 ground beef
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
- 1 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 5 cups marinara sauce add 6 cups to make it extra saucy
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped basil
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
- 1 to 2 cups whole milk ricotta
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
- 2 to 3 cups shredded mozzarella
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- To a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the olive oil, ground beef, salt, black pepper, minced garlic, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. As the meat browns, break it up with a wooden spoon, making sure to leave some big chunks too.
- Once the meat is browned, add in the marinara sauce. Cover and let it simmer on low heat.
- While the sauce simmers, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and make sure to cook about 2 minutes shy of al dente as the pasta will continue baking in the oven. Drain the pasta.
- Uncover the sauce and add the heavy cream, chopped basil, and parmesan. Mix all together and combine with the cooked pasta.
- To a large oven-safe casserole dish, add half of the pasta. Add dollops of ricotta on top. Then sprinkle the mozzarella and parmesan on top. Add the remaining pasta on top and add another layer of dollops of ricotta and cover with mozzarella and parmesan.
- Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Then turn the oven to broil just for a few minutes to crisp up the top. Make sure to watch it closely as it can burn very quickly! Take it out when it's golden and bubbly on top.
- Enjoy warm!