Easy Baked Ziti
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Dairy MAX, your local dairy council. All opinions are 100% mine.
This Easy Baked Ziti meal includes all of the essentials for a dinner the whole family will love. The menu starts with baked ziti, a pasta casserole made with pasta, Italian sausage, marinara that gets covered with cheese, then baked to gooey perfection. The baked ziti is served with a simple, fresh Italian salad and we finish the meal with creamy, luscious cheesecake bars. A delicious dinner option that’s a total crowd pleaser!
An Italian pasta meal just always seems to hit the spot, don’t you think? This Easy Baked Ziti dinner is total comfort food that’s quick and easy to make with familiar flavors that both kids and adults love.
During the winter season, I’m always craving a hot, cheesy pasta meal. And this classic baked ziti recipe is my favorite! A combination of pasta, an easy flavorful meat sauce, and plenty of melted cheese, you just can’t go wrong. This entire Italian dinner is my go-to meal to serve for parties, potlucks, and family gatherings. And everyone always comes back for seconds!
Cooking With Dairy
This meal is filled with one of my favorite superfood nutrients – dairy! Dairy not only helps make every dish delicious, it’s great for your body too. You can feel great about cooking with dairy:
- Leading nutrition authorities, such as MyPlate, recommend that all Americans over 9 years of age enjoy 3 daily servings of dairy (children ages 4 to 8 should aim for 2.5 cups of dairy products per day while children ages 2 to 3 should aim for 2 cups per day). In general, a serving of dairy is equivalent to 1 cup of milk or yogurt, and 1.5-2 ounces of cheese.
- Enjoying three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt is a delicious way to help build stronger bones and healthier bodies with a powerful package of nutrients. Milk contains nine essential nutrients including protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamins A and D, and four B vitamins: B2, B3, B5 and B12 (riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid and cyanocobalamin).
- Studies show that dairy foods, when eaten as part of a healthy eating pattern, improve overall diet quality and may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
- Whether you love it for its nutrient richness and simple ingredient list, or its taste and versatility, dairy offers something for everyone to enjoy.
Find more recipes at DairyDiscoveryZone.com.
How To Make Easy Baked Ziti
To make baked ziti, you need pasta, cheese and a marinara meat sauce. Start by cooking the pasta and while that’s cooking, you can get the Italian sausage browning in a skillet. Once the pasta and the meat have been cooked and drained, stir them together with 1 cup mozzarella, 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese and marinara sauce.
Tips For Baked Pasta
This baked pasta recipe really could not be more simple, but here are a few suggestions to make it extra easy.
- I like to use Italian sausage for the most flavor, but feel free to use seasoned ground beef or pork.
- For a make ahead option, assemble this dish up to 8 hours before you plan to bake it. Store the pasta in a covered dish in the fridge until you’re ready to put it in the oven.
- Baked ziti keeps in the freezer well. To freeze the entire casserole in one piece, line the dish with aluminum foil before assembling and baking, then, once it is completely cooled, freeze for a bit in the pan and then remove the casserole and wrap in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil, label and place back in the freezer. You can also portion into smaller pieces and put in freezer bags, label and freeze.
Baked Ziti Variations
This dish is very versatile! Feel free to customize the ziti recipe with your favorite ingredients.
- Meat: You can swap the Italian sausage for ground beef or pork or use a combination of beef (or pork) and sausage. You could even use ground turkey for the meat.
- Pasta: Other pasta varieties will work. I would recommend using tube shapes, though, like penne pasta or rigatoni.
- Cheese: Try mixing the mozzarella and parmesan with other cheeses that melt well such as Gruyère or provolone.
- Veggies: Sauté your favorite vegetables with the meat, such as mushrooms, bell pepper, zucchini, spinach, or onion.
Make Ahead Options
Assemble this baked pasta dish ahead of time. Prepare the pasta dish up to 8 hours before you plan to serve it, then bake it right before it’s time to eat. You may need to add an extra 5-10 minutes bake time if your recipe is cold from the fridge. When I’m preparing for a really busy day, I will prepare my pasta in the morning, stick it in the fridge, then pull it out at dinnertime for a no fuss, tasty meal.
To Reheat Baked Ziti use either the microwave or heat it in the oven on low heat. Try adding an extra layer of shredded cheese to the top to freshen it up!
What To Serve With Baked Ziti
I highly recommend serving your cheesy baked ziti with a fresh Italian salad. Below, you’ll find the recipe for my go-to salad recipe that pairs well with a ton of different meals. You’ve got crisp romaine lettuce, juicy tomatoes, olives, zesty pepperoncinis, a homemade vinaigrette and don’t forget the parmesan cheese!
Nothing completes this amazing dinner like my famous cherry cheesecake bars. They are definitely a MUST try! This no-fail recipe is so much easier than making a regular cheesecake and it’s the perfect way to serve cheesecake to a crowd. A major party favorite for any kind of celebration!
This cheesy baked pasta served with an Italian salad and yummy cheesecake bars is Italian comfort food at its finest. Give this dinner idea a try, it’s sure to become a family favorite! Watch the video, below, to see just how easy this whole meal is to make!
Other Easy Italian Recipes To Try:
If you try this dinner idea, let me know! Leave a comment and if your family loves it as much as mine does, be sure to give it a five star ⭐️ rating! Also, tag @kimscravings on Instagram with a picture of your creation. It’s so fun to see what you’re cooking! Be sure to subscribe to our mailing list to receive more healthy delicious recipes straight to your inbox.
Easy Baked Ziti
- 1 (12-16 ounce) package ziti, (can sub penne, bowtie or Mostaciolli pasta)
- 1 pound Italian sausage or ground beef or pork
- 1 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese,, divided
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese,, divided
- 1 (32 ounce) jar marinara sauce
- Fresh minced parsley, optional for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375ºF. Prepare a 9x13" baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
- Cook pasta in boiling, salted water, uncovered, until pasta is just under al dente. It will continue to cook in the oven. Drain the pasta and return to pot. Toss with a small amount of olive oil so the pasta does not stick together.
- Meanwhile, season beef (or other meat) with garlic salt and pepper and brown in a large skillet over medium-high heat. If using Italian sausage, you will not need extra seasoning. Drain and add to the pasta.
- Add 1 cup mozzarella, 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese and marinara sauce to the pasta and meat. Stir to combine.
- Transfer mixture to baking dish and top with remaining cheeses. Bake for 20 minutes and until bubbly and golden brown on top. Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve.
FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
FOR THE SALAD:
- 1 large head romaine lettuce,, chopped
- 1/2 red onion,, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes,, halved
- 1/3 cup pitted black olives,, halved
- 1/3 cup sliced or whole pepperoncini peppers
- 2 cups croutons,, more or less depending on preference
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese,, plus extra for serving
FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:
- Add all ingredients to a jar with a lid. I use a mason jar. Shake vigorously to combine all ingredients. Use immediately or store in the fridge for about a week.
FOR THE SALAD:
- Add all salad ingredients to a large salad serving bowl. Toss to combine, drizzle with the vinaigrette and toss again to coat the salad. Serve with more Parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top.
FOR THE CRUST:
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup butter melted
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
FOR THE CHEESECAKE:
- 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 eggs,, room temperature
- 1/4 cup sour cream,, room temperature
- 1 can cherry pie filling or fresh fruit, (optional for topping cheesecake bars when serving)
- Preheat oven to 350°F, and if you will want to remove bars from dish before slicing, line an 8x8" square baking pan with foil or parchment so the sides hang over the edges of the dish. If using foil, spray with nonstick cooking spray.
FOR THE CRUST:
- In a medium mixing bowl, add all crust ingredients and stir together until completely combined.
- Press the crust mixture into the bottom of the baking pan. Bake crust for 5 minutes, then remove and lower oven heat to 325ºF. Let crust cool on a cooling rack.
FOR THE CHEESECAKE FILLING:
- Add cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice to a large mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth. Scrap the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add sour cream and beat until incorporated. Scrap the sides of the bowl between each addition.
- Pour the cheesecake filling into the crust and smooth the surface. Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the edges are set, the top is just starting to turn golden brown and the center is just about set and only has a bit of a wobble. Cool completely at room temperature and then once cool, refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours, or overnight, before cutting into bars.
- To serve, use a large, sharp knife to cut into squares. I recommend wiping the knife clean with a damp cloth between slices. Serve with a dollop of cherry pie filling or fresh fruit and enjoy!