Recipes

my old-school baked ziti

The night before I went to the hospital to have this little nugget, in one last burst of frenetic nesting — a tornado of focused, effective energy I sorely miss in these early months — I decided to do something so practical, I’m still patting myself on the back for it: I made a big volume of lazy baked ziti and divide it into three dishes, two that went into the freezer. I have not been this productive or effective since.


making the gravy
add some greens

I’ve said this before, but there’s honestly very little reason you need to cook in New York City. You can get everything and anything you want, even healthier fare, delivered hot, often at a reasonable price with no advanced planning. So, if you’re going to be crazy like me and cook, you’ve got to have another reason to do it. Previously, I’d made the argument that a really great reason to do so is out of inherent persnicketiness; to pick the dish nobody else makes the way you like it and set out to master it at home, so you can eat what you want most of all. But upon coming home from the hospital with this easily-reheated, unequivocally comforting and loved by the whole family dish in the freezer, I found a new reason: normalcy. Sure, we’d upended my son’s life with an invader, sure, nothing would ever be exactly the same again, but there we were, sitting at the same table with the same people at 6 p.m. a few days after she was born, eating the same food we had a few days before she was born, and it kind of felt like we might just pull this whole thing off. (And we did again! Like, two months later, oof.)

half in
cheese, then more cheese

For someone with a lot of opinions about baked ziti — down with baked ricotta! down with jarred sauce! — it’s rather rude that I’ve never shared the version I make when I actually make it. It’s spectacularly simple and lazy, just like me most nights, and it makes what always feels like a truckload, if a truckload = definitely three dinners for three nights for three people, and then some. It’s not hideously rich, nor is it abstemious. It’s quite flexible, should you choose to opt out of meat and add more vegetables. And while I still have not come around to the idea of baking ricotta into a pasta dish — the texture, it gets weird, I just can’t — I absolutely adore having a great big dollop on the side, cold, fresh and slightly rich, the way it was always meant to be.*

old-school baked ziti
old-school baked ziti

But enough about the practicality, the texture, the greens and all the feels, let’s talk about what really matters: how are the corners? Tell me about the edges! And the answer is: I will not. I do not share them, so don’t even ask.

old-school baked ziti

* Psst: Go ahead and buy the big tub because when I had no choice but to, I found a fun way to use the rest, coming up next.

One year ago: Better Chicken Pot Pies
Two years ago: Frico Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Three years ago: Spaghetti with Broccoli Cream Pesto and Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
Four years ago: Apple Pie Cookies
Five years ago: Mushroom Lasagna
Six years ago: Quiche Lorraine
Seven years ago: Black and White Cookies, Summer’s Last Hurrah Panzanella
Eight years ago: Peanut Butter Brownies and Arroz Con Pollo
Nine years ago: Lemon Cake

My Old-School Baked Ziti

A few notes: To make this without meat, as I’m not personally into meat substitutes, I would use a pound or so of sliced mushrooms instead to make this vegetarian. To freeze, you can freeze this unbaked and once defrosted, bake it in the oven as directed. You could also freeze it after baking, and just defrost and rewarm it, but that leads to softer noodles because they get warmed/cooked an extra time. Finally, if you really really like those crispy edges (I do!), I find if you use a round or oval dish and ziti noodles (with straight ends) vs. penne noodles (which usually have angled ends), it especially leaves jagged edges, more prone to crisping. It also helps to just pour the pasta mix into the dish, not press it into the corners.

Glug of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground beef or Italian sausage, casings removed
28-ounce can whole tomatoes with juices, chopped by you, or crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Red pepper flakes, to taste
1 pound pasta, cooked al dente and drained
3/4 pound mozzarella, coarsely grated
2/3 cup finely grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
1/4 pound (4 ounces) baby spinach or a few handfuls of another green, cut into thin ribbons
To serve: Dollops of your favorite ricotta and slivers of basil leaves, if desired

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cook pasta until quite al dente, or 2 minutes less than the suggested cooking time. (Please. It will keep cooking in the sauce, then in the oven and mushy pasta makes me sad.) Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta.

Heat large sauté pan — if yours is ovenproof, you can even use it as you final baking vessel — over medium heat. Coat with glug of olive oil, and heat oil. Add meat and cook with onion, garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, and salt over medium-high heat for 6 to 8 minutes or until meat is browned; stirring frequently. If you’re using plain ground beef versus sausage meat, you’re going to really want to season this well. Don’t be shy with the salt and pepper.

Add crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. If it’s become quite thick, stir in reserved pasta water. Add spinach and cook until wilted, just another minute. Stir in drained pasta and heat together for one minute.

Pour half of pasta mixture into a 9×13-inch baking dish, lasagna pan, or other 3-quart baking vessel (or divide among smaller ones, if you’d like to freeze some off). Sprinkle with half of each cheese. Pour remaining pasta and sauce over, and finish with remaining cheese. Bake in heated oven for 30 minutes.

If you wish, you can run the dish under your broiler for a minute or two for an extra-bronzed lid right before serving.

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151 comments on my old-school baked ziti

  1. nzle

    Speaking of ricotta, do you ever get the full-fat ricotta at Trader Joe’s. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s TJs-branded Calabro — it’s SO good.

  2. Samantha

    Suggestions on making this meat-less? I have been experimenting with lentils as a replacement for ground beef but any thoughts you have are welcome!

  3. Maybe your dislike of baked ricotta stems from the fact that most supermarket-available versions are utter garbage. If you can find it, Polly-O’s Original New York Ricotta, with a white band on the tub, is the best ever. There’s no cheater thickeners like most brands, and it doesn’t get chalky or crumbly when baked. In a pinch, Trader Joe’s whole milk ricotta is also wonderful — no thickeners, as well! :)

  4. Tara Tubb

    Looks like one more freezer meal to prep before the baby comes in a couple of weeks (don’t worry, we’ve already got the Dijon beef stew, baked pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe, broccoli cheddar soup, the squash pasta bake, and, for shame, some non-SK meals, in the deep freeze).

  5. Jennifer Z

    This looks delicious! I’ll be going meatless, too! Beyond Meat has some frozen imitation ground beef that’s excellent, so I’ll either substitute that or try lentils, as someone mentioned, above.

  6. Penny

    You mention freezing portions, but I’m not certain how to do this. Do you freeze it before or after you cook it? Do you partially cook it?

    Sorry, I’ve never tried freezing stuff, but if this sounds like a good one to have prepped and frozen for those days when you don’t wanna cook.

  7. deb

    Without meat — I’m not personally into meat substitutes, but I would use a pound or so of sliced mushrooms instead to make this vegetarian.

    To freeze — You can freeze this unbaked and once defrosted, bake it in the oven as directed. You could also freeze it first and just defrost and rewarm it, but that leads to softer noodles because they get warmed/cooked an extra time.

  8. Liz F

    Yum! I love having dinner ready to go in the freezer. Can you update with specific freezing instructions? Do you freeze before baking, or after? Thaw in the fridge the night before or can it go right from freezer to oven? Bake at 350 for how long? Best tips for freezing? Sorry to pester… I never know the best way to freeze and reheat things!

  9. Cheryl

    This dish is pretty much perfection… I usually use 1 lb gr beef + 1/4 lb sausage.. but my real intention here is to kiss that beautiful baby. You are sooooo lucky! God bless.

  10. Brianne

    I often do this very same thing, but with sauteed mushrooms and zucchini for more veg. Its such a great go-to lasagna-ish dish.

  11. Sarah M.

    Is it just the shadows from your dark baking dish, or did you not push the noodles all the way to the edges to allow for more crispy bits?! And, if one were theoretically interested in that, would that work??

  12. Nicolette

    Looks yummy! However my husband has this thing against cheese. This is quite incredible of course (and even more so because we are Dutch) but I am learning to live with it… Are there maybe any possible cheese substitutions you can recommend? Not only in this dish but for pasta bakes in general?

  13. Libby

    How did you know I’m feeding my son’s soccer team next week? I’ve been looking for exactly this! 3 batches should feed 15-20 teenage boys, right?

  14. TerryB

    Libby, I remember those days! High School soccer team would eat about 75-100 meat balls 4 pounds of pasta about a gallon of sauce and about 8 loaves of garlic bread!

  15. Natalie

    Okay, the pasta looks great and all, but omg… that baby! She is SO pretty! Congratulations on making it past the first two months which, for me, were the hardest. After that, I started to feel like a normal human again.

  16. Sms

    Just put this in the oven for an early dinner tonight. Used hot Italian sausage and no spinach as I didn’t have any. Smells wonderful!

  17. Leah

    You might really love pastitsio, which is like Greek baked ziti. The beef (often with a combo of lamb, though I omit it because I’m just not a lamb gal) is seasoned with lots of oregano and cinnamon, which sounds like a strange mix until you taste it. Topped with bechamel (and Parmesan if you’re Ina, which we should all be). It freezes beautifully and makes enough to divide into two meals – one for now, one for later. I didn’t get as much done before my little nugget arrived as I would have liked, but I was mighty glad to have that in the freezer in those first sleepless weeks (er…months).

  18. Laura

    I made something like this the other month, without realizing it was close to ziti (which amazingly I seem to have never eaten before). I used fire roasted tomatoes (canned) as part of my sauce, which seemed to boost the flavours. I have a perpetual problem where my sauces lack flavour. Unfortunately, in this instance, the noodles went very soft when frozen.

  19. Patricia

    Deb,I a new to freezing. I had 4 kids at home at one point and food was simply eaten. Would I put half of this recipe into the pan I which I would bake it, cover with foil and freeze? Or into a tightly fitting container?

    I am looking this up, as well, but I wanted to ask you also. Thanks.

  20. I love baked ziti and although I do like meat in my ziti the mushroom substitute sounds really good…or meat and mushrooms – yum. I also like to use italian sausage with fennel in my ziti – so good!

  21. Betty Laferte

    So, if you are not into cheese, why wouldn’t a ritz cracker topping, such as you use for macaroni and cheese, work nearly as well?

  22. Lisa

    So the other 3 members of my household don’t like baked ziti (???) but if I swap out the ziti for elbows & call the whole thing goulash they gobble it up. Go figure!! This is perfect timing as I wanted to make it for dinner tonight but realized I have no ricotta in the house for my usual recipe. Can’t wait to try it!!!

  23. Anna

    Thank you for all the dinner inspiration! I am SO impressed that you continue to post so much so soon after giving birth (to such a beautiful girl!!). Made your challah yesterday and have your broccoli soup on tap for this week. Thank you for making the daily grind more interesting!!

  24. Peg

    I think all of the questions about freezing may be because of an error in your freezing directions. You wrote “You can freeze this unbaked and once defrosted, bake it in the oven as directed. You could also freeze it first and just defrost and rewarm it, but that leads to softer noodles because they get warmed/cooked an extra time.” I think the second sentence is supposed to be, You could also bake it first, and just defrost and rewarm it…leading to twice baked noodles. Am I correct? This sounds terrific and I am going to make it to put in the freezer for hubby while I take off to see my baby grandson for a week! Thanks Deb and kiss those two gorgeous kiddos for me!!

  25. Tanya

    Already excited to try it. I have to say, you and your website are absolutely incredible! My mother in law and I love love all of your recipes. We think you are a wonderful writer, and have a great personality.

  26. I feel like I almost forget about baked pasta these days, what with everyone talking so much about the evils of carbs and gluten. It feels like something from a bygone era (I recently watched the Sopranos and was surprised at how much baked ziti they eat and how little any evils of wheat are discussed). And yet I love a good, simple baked pasta like this so much. Thanks for the reminder.

  27. This looks perfectly delicious! I’m definitely going to be giving this one a try soon! I love finding a good recipe for classic and delicious meals!

  28. JohnnySeattle

    If you’ve never made your own ricotta, this would be the perfect time for a first attempt – I’m betting it would make this amazing. I’ll try it soon and get back to you. :)

  29. Jenny

    I’m with you on baked ricotta, the texture is horrible. This pasta bake is similar to something my boyfriend and I used to get at a restaurant and reverse engineered at home. He was insistent they stirred globs of mascarpone into it before baking and even although I know it was mozzarella, I didn’t argue as I’m not keen on the rubbery texture of melted mozzarella either. The mascarpone is lovely however (creme fraiche might work as well?), if you’re looking for the creaminess of the ricotta inside the dish without the weird texture.

  30. Joselle

    I think black lentils would be a great vegetarian modification. They don’t turn to mush and I use them in sauces all the time for meatiness.

  31. Kathleen

    Read this at 6:15 pm and had it in the oven by 7:15 pm (and that includes the time it took my husband to go to the store). While we were making it, my husband said, “Well, it’s smitten kitchen, so you know it’s going to be good.”

    Just what I wanted– quick, easy, comforting, and delicious. I divided it into two 9″ round pans (one for us and one for a sick friend.) I used ground bison rather than beef, and pureed the tomatoes (I was going for as old-school as possible). Weeknight perfection. You are marvelous.

  32. Ann

    Hi Deb, could you please tell me the same recipe, but for 11×17? Also, could you tell me how to go about converting recipes from 9×13 & 8×8 To 11×17? Thanks Deb!

  33. ro

    Oh, thank goodness someone understands my baked ricotta aversion! So gritty and blech. D: This is going on the list to try soon–I expect it will be yet another success! By the by–everything I’ve made from your website and cookbook has been incredibly delicious. :)

  34. So good! Perfect recipe for the fall– loved it, and it works great with a little extra spinach (I used 8oz instead of 4 oz) and slightly less cheese (I didn’t have quite as much as the recipe called for). I added a bit of wine too as I was cooking down the onion/sausage/garlic mixture and that really seemed to add something to the flavor of the sauce.

  35. Julie

    I was looking for something just like this to make for my husband and son for the week following my chemo treatment next week, when I’m all nauseated and don’t want to even see or smell food. This will be perfect! And if I’m lucky, there will still be some in the freezer when the nausea is over, and then I can enjoy it too!

  36. Lauren

    This looks so good, and so easy, and I just bought a box of ziti last week- it must be fate. That delicious little white fluffball in the hat is astonishing too. Those eyelashes! That perfect little peach complexion! A stunner, even with the dazzling hair covered!

  37. Mary

    This received eight thumbs up tonight! I used “fresh” mozzerella (okay, it expired last week!) and Romano, as there wasn’t Parmesan in the house. I probably doubled the spinach to finish up the last of the CSA greens. Wonderful!

  38. Have made a similar recipe in quite a few diiferent versions over the last years, but I was never completely happy with the outcome, it was always tasty but not more and for me that’s not enough. So I will definitely try your delicious recipe and I am sure it will be a winner!

  39. Kelsey

    Your abundance of freezer meals right now is hitting the spot! I’m starting up my second year of grad school (while still working and being the sole cook in the house) and trying to pack my freezer with meals. THANK YOU!!!!! We just made and then finished off two pans of the cheesy, rice and zucchini gratin. So good! Can’t wait to make this next!

  40. Jane M

    Instead of ricotta, I make a bechemel and spread that between the layers. YUMMY – it makes the casserole so very creamy and delicious.

  41. melissa

    Please check your recipe: I think you might have meant to write “cook pasta until NOT quite al dente” instead of “quite ad dente.” Love Smitten Kitchen

  42. Annalisse

    My due date is in just one month, the three-year-old keeps asking to cook, and I’ve been looking for things to stock the freezer with. Three birds, one stone. Your timing is brilliant! : )

  43. Sms

    Had this last night….. wonderful !! Funny, we are watching the Sopranos For the first time, this fits in perfectly !! I really enjoy your blog. Thanks!

  44. Heather

    I was wracking my brain trying to sort out what to make for dinner that would please my foodie daughter who loves light vegetarian meals and my processed food loving son who prefers Campbells to my homemade chicken noodle soup. Well, this recipe fit the bill for neither child, and yet they both ate it heartily! Thanks!

  45. Hmmm… making versions of this in smaller containers would provide more edges to enjoy… :) :)

    This looks and sounds absolutely amazing! Love all that cheese on top. Thanks for the tip on freezing it – this would be such a nice go-to, freezer-ready meal.

  46. Mrs. Fifi LaSinge

    Gotta have the ricotta. It’s too dry without it. But ricotta has to be doctored before you put it in – and I don’t mean just egg but a lot of either milk or cream, so you end up with a ricotta custard, rather than dry clumps of cheese.

    Make some. It’s easy as sin, too easy. Simmer milk. When it’s is just about to boil, add lemon juice or vinegar, stir very gently so you don’t break up the cheese – strain through cheesecloth. Woot. Recipes all over the internets. SO SO SO DELICIOUS AND ADDICTIVE AND PERFECT AND GOOD FOR LITTLE LEMONY POUND CAKE COOKIES TOO.

    PS. You end up with a lot of whey but if you have dogs, they love it and it’s good for them. (some people put the whey in smoothies. I’ve no doubt you and your creative cookie skillset could find other – more fabulous uses for it.)

  47. Laura J

    This looks delicious & easy! In the recipe, you write that the spinach should be sliced into ribbons but it appears that you put the spinach in whole. Do you have a preference? Notice how closely we look at your photos & study your every word!!! The baby, oh the baby. May I come snuggle her?

  48. kat

    It looks great. Don’t worry about being productive enough. Being with your baby and creating that bond and security is quite productive, just not easily measured. God bless you and your family. Thank you for all the wonderful recipes you share. You are very inspirational.

  49. Deb, this baked ziti is just the way it should be– OLD SCHOOL. I’ve been craving all kinds of casseroles lately, and yours is a recipe I can definitely trust. Can’t wait to try it!! Thank you.

  50. Breanna

    Looks amazing! I am pregnant now, and starting to think about packing the freezer, especially since I live in the middle of nowhere, with no takeout options nearby – so jealous of your options! Equipment question: what pans do you use to freeze this in? the ones you show? Or do you freeze it in something else and transfer before baking? Thanks!

  51. sharilyn unthank

    I made this tonight. It was easy and delicious and I froze half for when my kids are home for holidays. I used swiss chard as that is what i had and it worked great. Can always count on your recipes!

  52. Just made this for dinner tonight (your posts so often line up with the day I plan the week’s menu), and it was fantastic and so quick and easy. I did add about an extra ounce of spinach, so I could use up the whole package in one go. Also, 1/4 lb extra mozzarella, also in order to use up the whole package in one go. Was worried that it would be too cheesy, but it was fine!

  53. Dianne

    This might seem like a silly question, but what do you put this delicious ziti in when it’s headed for the freezer? Do you really freeze the entire enamel casserole dish? Or do you use foil pans? I always want to freeze dishes like this one, but I don’t have a lot of cookware and I never want to sacrifice a favorite pan to sit in the freezer. Thanks for all you do!

  54. deb

    To freeze — I use disposable tins. You can use regular dishes, but then they’re out of rotation until you defrost it.

    Laura — Good point. Larger leaves, I slice into ribbons. Baby spinach, I don’t bother.

    Jane M — Me too! However, it works better with a thicker tomato sauce or the dish gets too loose. (I made a roasted garlic parmesan bechamel one time for this in the last year when I was fiddling around. Delicious, but too wet in the end.)

    Julie — You are amazing. Good luck.

    Ann — For 8×8 and 9×9, you can almost always safely halve a recipe for a 9×13 or quarter-sheet pan. For 11×17, you’ll want to 1.5x a 9×13 recipe.

    JohnnySeattle — We’re on it!

    Peg — Yes, thanks, now fixed.

    Symona — You are correct; now fixed.

    Hannah — No, the tomatoes are not drained.

  55. bambi

    Made this in a veggie version tonight with diced, sauteed eggplant instead of mushrooms. Winner ! PS : I am in the ricotta fan club…but always add a full head of roasted garlic to the cheese when making a veggie ziti or lasagne.

  56. Linsey

    Deb, for the record: you have kept two small humans alive and managed to make cupcakes. I’d say seriously efficient and effective!

  57. heather

    Beautiful! We are due in a few weeks and trying to stock up the freezer so will add this to the list. Do you have other favorites to recommend for stocking up ahead??

  58. I think every family has the big comfortable dish like this (my family’s was always a big pot full of spaghetti and meatballs!), so thank you for sharing yours. This seems like a lovely recipe!

  59. Linda

    This was delicious. Made it last night after stopping at Whole Foods down the street from my office to pick up baby spinach and ricotta. Made it exactly as written. My husband loved it, and he is a hard one to please. Getting raves from him made my night. I hope my raves for your recipe make your day!

  60. Megan

    Just in time for a visit from the picky branch of the family–you saved me! Do you use good mozzarella, or just the regular part skim, part plastic stuff?

  61. Jay

    I doubled the recipe and used a pound each of ground beef and mild Italian sausage. I wouldn’t add any pasta water to the sauce until after you add the spinach, that stuff adds a bunch of water on its own… I might just dunk the spinach in the pasta water, then wring it out before I add it next time. I ended up filling three 9×9’s.

  62. Denise

    So we have an exchange student from Spain staying with us for a month and feeding her has been a very fun challenge. She has been great about trying new things but her palate is different not only from my family’s specifics but even from the general background palate most Americans share. Along comes this recipe, which sounds like something my kids will love, but while our student talks about eating sausage at home she did not care for the Italian sausage I used in dinner one night . I decided it might be forgiving enough to accommodate a different sausage if carefully chosen. I came home with andouille sausage thinking the cajun spices described on the label would work. Ends up it is smoked sausage so it doesn’t crumble when cut open but I cut it into small bite sized pieces and went for it. Both my family and our guest loved it. Thank you Deb for helping me to break out of my shell and use recipes as places to start rather than to end!

  63. george barnard

    Great recipe! If you are using just ground beef, then I would add ground fennel to the mix.

    Not many of us guys here, are there? ;-)

  64. deb

    Megan — I go halfway in-between. I use the fresh stuff that’s dry-packed, i.e. a wrapped ball. I find the wet stuff is better for fresh uses, the water doesn’t lead to a good baked texture. And the Polly-O-ish stuff, well, it’s fine in a pinch but we’re a little spoiled around here and can get decent fresh stuff so it’s not needed.

    george — Great suggestion. And there are, but I suspect they comment less. :)

    Smum — Frozen spinach will work just fine.

  65. I’ve only made baked ziti with egg in it before, so I love that there isn’t one in this recipe. The spinach along with the meatless mushroom version sounds like THE perfect cozy dinner…can’t wait to try your version!

  66. Sarah

    Could you clarify the seasonings in ‘italian sausage’ so I can have an idea of what to add to sausage meat in the UK. I would expect rosemary, thyme, oregano…anything else? Thanks.

  67. Marisa

    I made this tonight for my in-laws. This is not boring old dry baked ziti! I puréed the tomatoes for the sake of my kids (“Mom, there’re CHUNKS!”) and used local, legendarily-delicious Italian sausage that is teeming with fennel seeds and fresh oregano. I broke a sweat grating all that cheese, but just considered that a reason to eat more ziti later. Although I have never thought about eating ricotta on the side, I trust your judgment and went with it. I felt like I was eating a ziti sundae! Cold, tangy, creamy ricotta contrasted with the hot, zesty ziti–yep. (I also made your cream cheese pounds cake, which I’ve been making for years.) Thank you for helping me be a food goddess.

  68. Rachel K

    For the future, I’ve found that lentils make an excellent ground beef substitute. Plain old brown lentils are fine, pre-cooked or canned – but if you can find the tiny black lentils they’re absolutely perfect! Two cans drained has substituted evenly for a little over a lb of ground beef in all my recipes (since I married a vegan).

  69. Liz

    Deb, another home run recipe! I doubled this for a crowd of 12 at a vacation home this weekend, and it was a perfect make-ahead meal along with a green salad and garlic bread. I did manage to complicate it a bit by mixing in about 2 cups of bechamel sauce with Parmesan–my mom’s baked pasta recipe uses two sauces, tomato and bechamel, and it’s a bit richer. I agree with your approach, baking it without the ricotta, as it gets grainy instead of creamy. I would definitely follow your recipe just making it at home for a weeknight. Thanks for bringing “old school” baked ziti back into my orbit!

  70. Katheryn

    My husband and I fully endorse and support this recipe. Although I admittedly burned my hand while getting it from the oven, it was worth it!! So, so yummy.

  71. Lizzy

    This was fantastic! We had stopped making the Cooks Illustrated baked ziti because it was tasty but was just sort of blank food. I don’t know a better way to describe it. Anyway, we thought we’d try this, and this is our new official baked ziti recipe! I think I’d increase the spinach (because I like spinach) and use all hot Italian sausage. We are definitely making this again!

  72. Gigi1717

    Hi there, love your recipes. Looked through the comments, and tried googling – can you clarify what you mean by a pound of pasta? I’m guessing you mean pre-cooked, so do you mean a 16 oz box of pasta? Thank you so much!!!

    1. deb

      Gigi1717 — I don’t know where you live, but in the US, pasta comes in 16-ounce/1-pound packages. You’re going to need a full package, dried. THEN you cook it.

  73. Lauren

    Love the idea of throwing spinach in it! I’m always looking for ways to add more veggies to pasta dishes. But more importantly, it’s really easy to make your own ricotta: 1 gallon of milk, 3/4 cup white vinegar, combine in a big pot until it’s just shy of boiling and the curds are separated from the whey (resist the urge to stir), take off heat and let it sit for 10 minutes, then ladle the curds into cheesecloth draped over a colander and drain 5-30 minutes according to your desired thickness. I found this in “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter” 2 years ago and never bought gross grainy ricotta again. :)

  74. Thanks so much for posting this! It was ridiculously easy to make and, hands-down, the absolute best ziti my family’s ever eaten. Deb’s ziti for the win!

  75. Dianne

    Made this tonight and it was wonderful! I baked the whole thing right in my skillet and used Daiya (vegan) mozzarella on top because I’m lactose intolerant. Will definitely be making this again!

  76. Christine

    I made this tonight for company. Out of 8 people, it included two 4 year olds and two 1 year olds. It went down without a single complaint, which is an achievement with that crowd. Thank you!

  77. Derek

    Up until a week ago I was not a fan of baked ricotta, especially within lasagna, almost any place I got it. I mean, it is grainy and liquid-ey and the sauce and the flavors…bleh. But on a fluke last week, while traveling to Harrisburg, PA, I tried a veggie lasagna with ricotta…and…it..was…amazing. The ricotta soared like it was meant to, creamy, slightly sweet, warm…ahh. And I think I know how they did it (in case you want to attempt)…fresh noodles pre-cooked, pre-cooked veggies, pre-made sauce, single serving plate, and baked only long enough to heat through and melt the cheese on top. BTW- I second the homemade ricotta comment though using lemon juice (provided you have a babysitter or a young sous chef at hand).

  78. NancyJ

    Made this tonight for our neighborhood Trunk or Treat. Followed the recipe but added the 5th link from the Costco sausage pack and all of the pound of mozzarella. Half Romano, in the middle, half Parmesan on top. A healthy, maybe full teaspoon, of red pepper flakes. A hit! People wiped it out and demanded the recipe. I could not ask for more from a recipe than that! Thank you. It was delicious.

  79. Judy

    Just took it out of the oven and it looks fantastic! I had to add can of tomato paste to get “gravy”. All I had was ground beef, chopped tomatoes and juice and it didn’t look anything like yours. Turned out just right. I didn’t have mozzarella, so I used Provolone slices…like the flavor of it better anyway. Can’t wait to eat!!

    Thank you for another wonderful recipe.

    1. deb

      Judy — I can’t be sure, but I’d blame the diced (if that’s what you used) tomatoes. I find they really don’t disperse well into sauces; when someone has used them in a recipe, even many hours of simmering later, I always see tomato cubes.

  80. Judy

    I also love homemade ricotta! So much better than out of a container.

    Make your own Farmer’s cheese,too. Just drain cottage cheese in a cheesecloth lined strainer in the fridge overnight. I like it better than ricotta in lasagna and stuffed shells….has more flavor.

  81. Michaelynn

    I made this meatless by crushing the tomatoes and cooking almost a pound of fresh spinach. I used a pinch of nutmeg, I just added the spinach to the sauteed onion and garlic. Our local co-op gas goat cheese mozzarella, that made this truly awesome in my book! I didn’t read your note about mushrooms until after dinner!

  82. LisaG

    Absolute perfection! I skipped the meat and added about 8-10 ounces of mushrooms instead. I love all the different textures – crunchy and chewy on top, gooey and softer underneath. I think I’ll try to convince my parents that THIS is what we need to eat on Christmas Eve this year.

  83. KelBer

    I made this last week as-is, with the exception of rounding up to 5 oz of spinach instead of 4, and this instantly became our new go-to baked ziti recipe. I used hot Italian bulk sausage and already-crushed tomatoes (because I’m lazy). I wouldn’t change a thing! The spinach makes it seem a smidge healthy, and ricotta on the side instead of baked in makes SO much sense — why isn’t that the norm? Thank you for sharing this awesome recipe!

  84. mks

    This was delicious and so easy, thanks! Used half ground beef and half sweet Italian sausage, plus about 4 leaves of chard minced up into confetti. Big hit in our house! Also thanks to the commenter who mentioned TJ’s ricotta – I hadn’t tried it before and it was great.

  85. Maya

    I just made this for my family and my uncle’s family who is camped out at the hospital (my uncle is undergoing open heart surgery). And it was just the perfect thing to bring. I changed a few things – I substituted turkey for beef, and used ziti pasta made partly from tomato. Thanks so much for sharing this delicious recipe!

  86. Gretchen

    We made this tonight and it was amazing. Just the right amount of cheese to make it rich but not overly fatty, tomato sauce was just dry enough to adhere well to the noodles. The noodle and cheese got crispy. So good!

    We used 1 lb of broccoli instead of the hamburger/sausage. It gave it the bulky consistency of ground meat- I didn’t think mushrooms would be up for the job in this dish. I used a little extra spices to make up for the lack of sausage spices. My fiancee and I liked it enough to discuss placing it in our routine rotation! Certainly, it was better than the other baked ziti dishes we have tried in the past. Thank you1

  87. Christine

    This was really good. It is a great suggestion to keep the ricotta out of the dish. In other recipes they put it in, but the ziti bakes up too dry and the ricotta takes up too much of the moisture. Just small scoop on the side was perfect.

  88. Susan

    All I can say is Yum Yum Yum! Have made this several times, using hot Italian sausage, and it is excellent! My go to recipe for a gathering! Thank you!

  89. Erica

    I love this recipe and want to give it to a friend as a freezer meal. How long should she defrost it in the fridge before baking?

  90. Janice Topf Shankman

    Just made this tonight and YUM YUM YUM!! Followed the recipe exactly and my family scraped the pan clean. Goodbye to my old recipe…way too many ingredients and pots and pans involved. This was clean and easy with minimal and uncomplicated ingredients that can individually shine through, while still coming together as an incredible dinner!!

  91. eclaire

    I made this with ground beef, and it was perfect. It’s definitely indulgent, though the spinach in it made me feel less guilty about all the glorious cheese. My boyfriend loved it!

  92. Ryann

    Can you put this in the frozen directly from the freezer? If so, at what temp and how long should it bake? I forgot to defrost! Oops!

    1. deb

      If something is frozen solid, I try to give it a long time in the oven covered at a lower temperate, maybe 300. You want it to warm, not bake again. Once defrosted and warmed through, you can crank it up to get more texture on the lid. It will go much faster if you cut the frozen casserole in thirds or quarters and put them in a larger dish with space between them, so it takes less time for the heat to reach the center.

    1. deb

      I use something in-between, i.e. not as firm as a block of Poll-O but not fresh either. I almost never use a water-packed one here. It’s great for slicing fresh in sandwiches or salads but adds, IMHO, unnecessary water to recipes where it’s baked.

  93. eclaire

    Absolutely perfect. So simple to put together, so delicious to eat. The spinach makes me feel a bit less guilty about all the cheese, especially since a dollop of ricotta is the perfect accompaniment for this crowdpleaser.

  94. Anna

    I’ve made this several times and it’s the first thing I turned to for post-election comfort food. The house is a mess, we all have colds, but friends are coming over and I want to feed them well. This is perfect. Thank you!

  95. Made this tonight, using mushrooms instead of meat and a few extra ounces of spinach. We’ve needed comfort food in our house this week and this was perfect – simple and delicious. And next time multiple deadlines, scary-crazy world events, and a sick and cranky baby converge, I’ll be very glad that half the batch is in our freezer.

  96. Sophia F.

    Deb, you’re so going to judge me, but… I make this vegetarian, and I actually make it with *gasp* tofu. Freezing a block of tofu in the container with its water and then defrosting it turns it into a sponge that, when crumbled, is almost exactly the texture of cooked ground meat. You wouldn’t want to make a hamburger out of it, but I heavily season it with what I think of as ‘sausage seasonings’ (fennel, sage, some rosemary, etc) and brown it in olive oil and it works splendidly. I’ve served this to non-vegetarians as well, and no one has guessed that it’s tofu, so it must be working! My family of four likes this so much that I double it and freeze in dinner-sized portions for the best freezer stash ever.

  97. sistersuffragette

    If using mushrooms instead of meat, how/when do you cook those? Do you saute them the same way that the instructions say to saute the meat? Thank you!

  98. Lisa

    This is one of my favorite go-to recipes. I usually mix in some shredded mild Cheddar with the mozzarella. I think it gives it a little something extra. And I ALWAYS put it under the broiler for a minute or two. Oh yum!!!!!!!

  99. Kristen

    I made this last night for some friends. It was totally delicious- everyone loved it. I used a combo of mild and hot Italian sausage, which was great. The ricotta on the side gives it decadence without overwhelming richness. Definitely a keeper!!

  100. Karen T

    Your ziti looks delicious. I found my go to ziti recipe which ends up being that dish that goes to new parents, newly grieving, or just to someone who needs a dish. Interestingly enough, this recipe uses sour cream and provolone for layering. I love ricotta cheese, but many do not. Thank you for sharing your version which looks amazing. Bonus: feeds a crowd and freezer safe!

  101. Ten Broeck

    I’ve died and gone to baked ziti heaven! Did this in a big old cast iron skillet which enabled a little extra crunch on the rigatoni noodles. Dolloped ricotta on top before sliding into oven….so amazing! My husband and pregnant belly thank you, Deb!