What do you get when you combine pepperoni, Italian sausage, ziti pasta, and lots of tasty pasta sauce with melted mozzarella cheese? My easy baked ziti recipe is the ultimate Italian-American comfort food.
I make a lot of different dishes at my house. There are the regulars, the ones we love and want to have over and over, and then the new recipes that I whip up from time to time and try out on the family to see if it sticks. I know the folks in my house pretty well so it’s a very rare thing for them to not like something I come up with. But every now and then I happen upon a dish that has everyone taking one bite and then asking if we can have it again the next day. This easy baked ziti recipe has been requested every single supper since the first time I made it.
My goal was to have an incredibly flavorful and saucy ziti that went a little beyond the norm and I am really thrilled with how this one turned out. The family agreed this should be called Killer Ziti and I have to admit that I’ve been wanting it again myself, so I’m making it again tonight. They won out… or maybe I did. I guess in the end, we’d really have to lay the blame on the baked ziti.
Fortunately, I don’t mind because as the name suggests, this is such an easy recipe to make. We just have to brown our Italian sausage with the onion and garlic, then add in the remaining ingredients. This includes ziti pasta, pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, and pepperoni.
Now, don’t be alarmed by the large amount of sauce. Because we only partially cook the pasta, it’s going to fully cook in the oven and soak up all that sauce. Place this delectable combination in a baking dish (layered with lots of mozzarella cheese and the aforementioned extra sauce), and bake! It’ll be ready in no time at all, which will please everyone in the household.
The flavorful sauce, ooey-gooey melted cheese, and meat combine to make a stand-out dinner. Like a classic lasagna casserole but easier to make, I hope you give this easy baked ziti a go today!
- Shredded mozzarella cheese
- Pepperoni (FYI, this particular brand of pepperoni seems to have less grease than others)
- Spaghetti sauce
- Pizza sauce
- Minced garlic
- Ziti pasta
- Italian sausage
How to Make My Easy Baked Ziti Recipe
Cook ziti according to package directions, but only cook it for half of the recommended time.
Drain in a colander and run cold water over it to stop the cooking process.
Remove sausage from the casings. To do this, just cut a line down one side with a knife and it will come open and slip off.
Place sausages in a large skillet and add onion and garlic. Saute that over medium-high heat until sausage is nicely brown and has no pink in the middle.
This is my little handy dandy meat chopper thingie. I got mine on Amazon but they are available in a bunch of places. I get a lot of questions whenever I show it and yes, you really do need one!
Pour that into a large bowl (that can handle the heat of it) and add chopped pepperoni.
Add partially cooked pasta, an entire jar of pizza sauce, and half the jar of spaghetti sauce.
Stir until it is all mixed up really well.
Did I mention that this is a large bowl? Oh yes, I did. If you overlooked that at this point you may be looking for another bowl…
Now put half of the remaining spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 3.5 to 4-quart baking dish (a 9×13 will work great) and place half of your pasta mixture on top of that, spread about a bit.
Sprinkle about a cup or cup and a half of shredded cheese over it.
Add the rest of your mixture, spread the remaining spaghetti sauce on top, and sprinkle with about another cup and a half of cheese.
Place this in a 350 oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until the top is just very lightly brown.
But it doesn’t have to be brown, good and melty after 30 minutes is fine, too.
Now go eat your saucy, flavorful, easy baked ziti.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days and simply reheat in the microwave.
- You can also freeze leftovers for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating in the microwave.
- You can easily substitute the sausage for ground beef, ground pork, or ground turkey.
- For more flavor, add some seasonings while cooking the meat, like 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning and/or 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs: basil, rosemary, thyme, or oregano work best.
- While I’m just using mozzarella, many baked ziti recipes use a combination of different types of cheese, like an Italian cheese blend or parmesan cheese/mozzarella/ricotta cheese. The ricotta cheese definitely makes the dish creamier, if that’s what you’re looking for. I’d only add the ricotta to the middle layer though and just top with the parmesan and mozzarella.
- For heat, add 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes.
- Serve with a garnish of fresh basil or fresh parsley.
Are spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce the same thing?
Spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce are similar with slightly different seasonings. Spaghetti sauce also comes with lots of options, like the ragu sauce I’m using or simply a marinara sauce. I recommend using both as the delicious taste speaks for itself, but if you only want to use spaghetti sauce, I’m not going to stop you! And if you want to use my homemade recipes for spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce, I’m also not going to stop you.
Should I cover my baked ziti?
No, you want to cook the baked ziti uncovered to allow the cheese to brown.
Can I substitute ziti for penne pasta?
Yes, you can use penne instead of ziti. However, if you want to do as Italians do, use ziti for baking and penne for creamy pasta dishes. Other kinds of pasta that work are rotini, bowtie, or shell pasta.
What do you serve with baked ziti?
Here are some side dishes to accompany homemade baked ziti, although it’s a hearty and filling main dish as is:
- Homemade Dinner Rolls
- Zesty Garlic Bread
- Fresh Green Beans
- A simple side salad like Italian Cucumber Salad
- Grilled Asparagus
Check out these other pasta dishes:
Slow Cooker Angel Chicken Pasta
Cheese Stuffed Shells (3 Cheeses Included)
- 1 16-ounce box ziti noodles
- 1/2 package pepperoni about 1 cup
- 1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 14-ounce jar pizza sauce
- 1 45-ounce jar spaghetti sauce of your choice
- 3 cups mozzarella cheese
- Cook ziti according to package directions, cutting cooking time in half. Once half cooked, drain in a colander and pour cold water over to stop the cooking process. Set aside and allow to drain fully.1 16-ounce box ziti noodles
- In a large skillet, place sausage, onion, and garlic. Chop and stir often over medium heat until fully brown and no longer pink in the center. Remove to a large bowl. If there is grease, drain first.1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed, 1 medium onion, chopped, 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- Coarsely chop pepperoni and add to sausage. Add the entire jar of pizza sauce and 1/2 of the spaghetti sauce along with partially baked pasta. Stir until mixture is well combined.1/2 package pepperoni, 1 14-ounce jar pizza sauce, 1 45-ounce jar spaghetti sauce of your choice
- Spread half of the remaining spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 3.5 or 4-quart baking dish (a 9x13 dish works well too). Top this with 1/2 of the pasta mixture, sprinkle half of the cheese on top, top that with the remaining mixture, and spread the top with the remaining spaghetti sauce. Finish with the remaining cheese.3 cups mozzarella cheese
- Bake at 350, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
This recipe is featured in Weekend Potluck
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~unknown wise person
Can’t wait to make this! Christy, if you like Hormel pepperoni for its lack of grease, you REALLY need to try Hormel’s Turkey Pepperoni. You will find it right next to the regular Hormel pepperoni; its package looks very similar but it will indicate that it is turkey instead of regular. I swear to you it tastes EXACTLY like regular, but MUCH less fat. Try it!!
oh thank you! I may pick some of that up today!
The turkey pepperoni is amazing it’s all I use.
Making this tonight. I hope it is as good as the picture but everything I have made so far from here has been wonderful so I am not worried. 🙂
I taste tested that on my kids years ago when they were picky teenagers and they could not tell a difference. =D
So true with my family, too! Now we all prefer the turkey pepperoni and regular just tastes greasy to us. What I like is it gets a bit crisper than regular pepperoni, plus….no blotting!
If you have an Aldi by you, Aldi has turkey pepperoni too. It’s the preferred pepperoni here. (now if Aldi would just carry pizza sauce by the jar… this is almost an “aldi recipe” 😉
The Hormel Mini pepperoni is not as greasy & this is what I used. You don’t have to chop those either. I have this in the oven now & can’t wait to try it.
I almost always u see e turkey pepperoni. Tastes the same as regular but much l less greasy. You have great low cost good tasting recipes.th T you share. Almost everyone can afford your recipes. We really appreciate you lady.
This sounds so good! Do you think this could work in a slow cooker? We’re in our camper for a month in Florida and we don’t have an oven! What do you think?
Hey! Just cook the pasta on the stovetop and then you can just stir it all in there together and cook it until it is warm though, I’d say an hour or so on high is what I’d likely do, or low for two hours. You can also do this same thing on the stovetop and just use one big pot. Cook and drain your pasta and then put it all in there and heat it up good 🙂
This sounds incredible but my husband HATES tomato sauce. I think I will make this and put it into individual size foil baking pans and freeze them. This will allow me to pull one out and bake it whenever the urge hits. Thank you so much for the idea Christie!
Carla, if your hubby doesn’t have a problem with MSG, I wonder if you could make this but substitute your favorite cream of (whatever you like best) canned soup diluted to the consistency of the two tomato-y sauces instead? If MSG is a problem, the jarred Classico Alfredo sauce works for us in that regard. Because the Alfredo is thinner than the canned soups, though, it wouldn’t need to be diluted as much. Maybe use evaporated milk for more richness as your diluting choice.
What a great idea. I love anything with pasta but my husband does not. I’m going to mix this up tomorrow and put in 6 foil containers so I get pop one out when I want. THANKS! I love Christy and all her recipes and writings.
What are your thoughts on replacing the sausage with ground beef? 3 out of the 4 of us are anti sausage! Thanks!
Works for me! 😀 3 out of 4 in my family are against veggies on pizza and coconut in anything. Unfortunately, the one out of four on both counts is me 🙂
I’m really glad to know that you can substitute the sausage meat for ground beef because I really don’t like using meat that I don’t know ‘what’ it is. With the exception of pepperoni, occasionally. Cuz pizza without pepperoni is just wrong. 😉 But, two unknown meats in one dish is just too much for me to even consider. But, making this substitute means I can make this ~ and it looks so yummy! Thanks, Christy, you have the best recipes and I’ve made tons of them. 🙂
Did anybody ever try replacing the sausage with hamburger? I wondered how it turned out. Two out of four at our house are not huge sausage fans. 🙂
This sounds fabulous!! How do you think it would do if I left it in the refrigerator overnight and baked it in the morning to bring to work? Thank you for the help and all of the great recipes!!!
I think this dish would work beautifully for that.
Great, thank you!!!!
This reminds me of Jenn’s pizza casserole – which I made last night and my family LOVES!!! I will try this next time and see if they like it as much!
I just know it will be a new favorite!
Thanks for the note on the less greasy type of pepperoni! This sounds great and I just randomly bought a jar of pizza sauce, so it will be used in making this this weekend. I’m gonna put mine in 2 dishes and either gift one or freeze it since there are jut two of us. Thanks for all your hard work posting these for us and your creativity in coming up with everything you make. I also love the quote at the end.
Barbara, you have just been a complete blessing to me from the first time you happened upon SouthernPlate. Thank you for all of your encouragement and the wonderful light you add to my life!
Read your blog and laughed out loud! My son said I would love some ziti for dinner. He said it had sausage in it…I told him I dont remember making that. I usually dont eat much pasta or sausage. Too greasy for me, but finally a suggestion for dinner.
Your description of your handy dandy meat chopper thingy was exactly what i call mine. I instantly subscribed. Cant wait to read more. Thank you!
Welcome to Southern Plate! I am glad to hear that you enjoyed your visit and I look forward to seeing you more often!!!