As you can already tell from the picture, this is not “true” baked ziti. I didn’t have ziti noodles in the pantry. All I had was a garden rotini version and I figured it would suffice. Clearly, I am not Italian. Can you forgive me of this travesty? But if I tell you that this is the cheesiest, meatiest, most decadent Italian meal that can fit in a casserole dish, will you forgive me? It really doesn’t matter what kind of noodles you use in this baked ziti because it comes out amazing every time. And it freezes well too!
Step 1: Make Meat Sauce
Baked ziti is a classic baked pasta dish, and for that you will need an amazing sauce! If you are a vegetarian, you can use your favorite marinara recipe. If you’re a dump and go kind of cook, just pick your favorite jarred sauce and add ground beef or turkey. But for those of you who really want to go the extra mile and make a meat sauce that will melt in your mouth and leave you begging for another bite, I highly recommend my recipe for Crockpot Bolognese Sauce. It is made with merlot, fresh spices, and canned tomatoes. It simmers all day, making your house smell like an Italian restaurant. However, for this baked ziti recipe, you can make it on the stove top and skip the slow cooker. It will still taste grand. Whatever you decide to do, you need about 32 oz (or 4 cups) of sauce.
Just a side note, I usually make a double batch of my Crockpot Bolognese Sauce. I use one portion for spaghetti for dinner and then I freeze the second portion for another night for a recipe such as this. I call them 2-for-1ers. It makes my life so much easier. 🙂
Step 2: Blend the Cheeses
You’ll need a large bowl for mixing together a 15 oz container of ricotta cheese and 2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese. To that, add 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan, 1 egg, and 2 tablespoons of fresh minced parsley. Sprinkle in a teaspoon each of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix it all together so that everything is thoroughly combined.
Step 3: Prepare the Pasta
Like I said before, you don’t have to have ziti noodles to make baked ziti. I had garden rotini noodles on hand and those worked great! However, short noodles work best. This wouldn’t work out so well with spaghetti or linguine noodles, lol! 🙂 Simply prepare a pound of whatever pasta you have according to the package instructions. Drain the noodles and place them in a large bowl with 3 cups of the sauce you prepared in step 1. Mix everything together.
Step 4: Assemble the Baked Ziti
Combine the noodle mixture with the cheese mixture and stir everything together. Don’t worry if there are large chunks of the cheese mixture. Those turn out to be the most decadent bites! Pour the baked ziti into a large casserole dish and flatten the top a bit with a spatula.
Pour your remaining 1 cup of sauce on top of the noodles and sprinkle on the last 1/2 cup of mozzarella. Sprinkle on any remaining parsley for a pretty garnish. At this point, you can put it straight into a 375 degree oven and bake it for 25-30 minutes or you can cover it with foil and label it for the freezer.
Pull out the baked ziti and let it cool for a few minutes before you serve it.
If you are reheating the baked ziti from the freezer, you have 2 options:
- Put the frozen baked ziti (with the foil top) into a 350 degree oven for an hour and forty five minutes. Then remove the foil and bake it 20 minutes more or until the casserole is bubbly.
- Thaw the baked ziti overnight in the refrigerator and bake it at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.
See how easy that was! You could add a green salad with Italian Basil Dressing and have a complete meal. What an awesome dish this would be for a mommy with a new baby, friend recovering from surgery, or new neighbor! Or maybe you want to have a cooking weekend to stock up your freezer for busier times of the month. Either way, baked ziti is a versatile, easy, and scrumptious dish! You won’t be sorry you made it!
If you need some other freezer meal suggestions, I have a bunch on my Recipe Index. But I’ll tell you right now that my favorites are my Spicy Chicken Enchiladas, Spinach Manicotti, and Burrito Lasagna. And if you only have time to make one, go with the enchiladas. Frankly, they’re unbelievable. If this freckled redhead can make them taste nearly authentic, than so can you! There are even more ideas on my Freezer Meals Board on Pinterest. Happy cooking y’all!
Extra Cheesy Baked Ziti
- 4 cups prepared meat sauce try my Bolognese Sauce recipe
- 16 oz ziti or any short pasta cooked according to package instructions
- 15 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
- 24 oz shredded mozzarella divided
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons minced parsley divided
- 1/2 teaspoon each Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Heat oven to 375 degrees.
- Prepare meat sauce and noodles.
- In a large bowl, combine the drained noodles with 3 cups of the meat sauce. Set aside to cool.
- In another bowl, mix the ricotta, 2 cups of the mozzarella, the parmesan, and egg.
- Stir in 2 Tbsps of the parsley and the salt and pepper.
- Stir the cheese mixture into the pasta. Leave big chunks of the cheese in the sauce.
- And the pasta to a large glass dish or foil pan.
- Pour on the remaining meat sauce and spread around.
- Sprinkle on the remaining cheese and parsley.
- Bake at 375, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes or until bubbling.
- Freezing instructions: cover in foil and freeze up to 4 months.
- Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then bake at 375 degrees. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes.
- Or to cook from frozen, place the baked ziti in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 20-30 minutes more or until browned and bubbly.