Easy Baked Ziti

I turn to this easy baked ziti recipe anytime I'm serving a crowd. Filled with creamy ricotta, tomato sauce, and fresh spinach, it's comfort food at its best.

Baked ziti

Baked ziti is a dish that has a special place in both Jack’s heart and mine. Growing up, I ate it at all sorts of gatherings – graduation parties, holidays, and more – and Jack’s mom makes it every year on Christmas Eve. With the holidays right around the corner, I thought now would be the perfect time to share my baked ziti recipe.

Easy to make and perfect for serving a crowd, it’s the recipe I turn to whenever we’re hosting family or friends, one we’ve made and loved time and time again. Whether you serve it at a holiday feast or on a regular weeknight, I hope you enjoy it too.

Ziti pasta with marinara sauce

My Baked Ziti Recipe

My baked ziti recipe is a fresher take on the versions I ate growing up, which were often filled with ground beef or Italian sausage. I swap homemade marinara sauce for the meat sauce, and then, I amp it up with these three key components:

  • Fresh spinach – I sauté a full pound of spinach to make this recipe extra fresh. I love the way it mingles with the noodles, and it adds such a gorgeous pop of green.
  • Lemony ricotta – In between the layers of noodles and spinach, I dollop big spoonfuls of lemony ricotta cheese. It gives this baked ziti an incredible creamy richness and a burst of bright flavor. Note: for the best creamy texture, be sure to use whole milk ricotta in this recipe!
  • Smoked mozzarella – If it’s what you have on hand, regular mozzarella cheese will work here, but using smoked mozzarella really takes it over the top. It adds a delicious savory flavor to the pasta’s Italian seasoning. You won’t be able to get enough!

Of course, I always finish the whole thing with a big handful of fresh basil and parsley!

Baked ziti recipe

How to Make Baked Ziti

Making this baked ziti recipe is easy! Here’s what you need to do:

First, cook the pasta! Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta until it becomes al dente. Be careful not to overcook it! It will soften more while it bakes.

While the pasta cooks, make the lemony ricotta. Mix the ricotta cheese with lemon zest, oregano, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes for a touch of heat.

Next, sauté the spinach. Drain the pasta, and heat a glug of olive oil in the same pot. Sauté the spinach until it’s just wilted. I work in batches here, cooking 1/2 pound of spinach at a time, so that I can take it all off the heat while it’s still vibrant green. Remove the sautéed spinach from the pot, roughly chop it, and set it aside.

Easy baked ziti

Then, mix everything together! Return most of the spinach and all the pasta to the pot, along with all but 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce. Stir until everything is well combined.

Finally, layer it up. Spread the remaining sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish, and spread half of the pasta mixture over it. Dollop in the ricotta and the reserved spinach, and scoop the rest of the pasta on top. Cover it all with a layer of grated smoked mozzarella and a bit of grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, and bake until the cheese is golden brown and bubbling.

Serve hot, and enjoy!

This baked ziti also freezes well, see this post for tips.

How to make baked ziti

Baked Ziti Serving Suggestions

Serve this baked ziti with crusty bread or homemade focaccia and a big salad like my Caesar salad, broccoli salad, kale salad, or any of these salad recipes.

Alternatively, skip the salad and serve it alongside a simple veggie side dish like roasted cauliflower, roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted butternut squash, or lemony green beans!

Baked ziti

If you love this baked ziti recipe…

Check out this post for more easy dinner ideas or try one of these delicious pasta recipes next!

Easy Baked Ziti

rate this recipe:
4.97 from 55 votes
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
Total Time: 35 mins
Serves 6 to 8
Made with plenty of marinara sauce, creamy ricotta, and bubbly, golden brown mozzarella cheese, this baked ziti recipe is a guaranteed hit!

Ingredients

  • 4 cups (32 ounces) marinara sauce
  • 2 cups (16 ounces) ricotta cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt, more for the pasta water
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ziti pasta
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • 1 pound fresh spinach
  • cups smoked mozzarella cheese
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • Chopped fresh parsley and/or torn basil leaves, for garnish

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F. Spread ½ cup marinara in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, garlic, lemon zest, oregano, red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon salt, and several grinds of fresh pepper.
  • In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain.
  • Return the pot back to the stove. Over low heat, drizzle the bottom of the pot with a little olive oil and add the spinach. Toss and sauté 1 to 2 minutes until just wilted, working in batches if necessary. Turn off the heat, remove the spinach from the pot, and gently squeeze out some of the excess water. Coarsely chop it and set aside.
  • Add the pasta back to the pot along with the remaining marinara, most of the chopped spinach, ¼ teaspoon sea salt, and more fresh pepper and toss until combined.
  • Add half the pasta to the baking dish, top with dollops of the ricotta, the remaining spinach, and scoop the remaining pasta on top. Top with the mozzarella and pecorino cheese. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until the cheese is browned, 16 to 22 minutes.
  • Garnish with fresh basil or parsley and serve hot.

 

80 comments

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rate this recipe (after making it)




  1. Rita
    09.12.2021

    My hubby had a heart attack recently and we are adjusting to a new way of eating. Nutrition info would be helpful to us and others with dietary restructions

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      09.13.2021

      Hi Rita, I’m sorry, we don’t post nutrition facts but you can plug the ingredients into a site like My Fitness Pal for the info.

  2. stella
    06.03.2021

    5 stars
    heheh the recipy format didnt work on phone see it now in my computer 🙂

    • Mary
      08.25.2021

      How can I make this a day ahead?

  3. Jeanine Donofrio
    06.03.2021

    The baked pasta goes into the oven.

  4. Devon
    05.25.2021

    5 stars
    This is such a great dish to bring to new parents. Perfect with some garlic bread and/or a salad. A nice twist on a traditional baked ziti recipe. Will definitely be making again soon.

  5. Alenzia
    05.06.2021

    5 stars
    Absolutely delicious!!! Made it using whole wheat noodles and it was a big hit!! Will definitely be making this again!!!

  6. Laurie
    05.03.2021

    5 stars
    I made this for my husband and I tonight and it was so delicious! Since he’s a meat Lovin guy, I added some shredded chicken. We definitely think it is company worthy. Thank you for sharing!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      05.04.2021

      I’m so glad you both enjoyed it!

  7. Sheerz
    04.07.2021

    5 stars
    Amazing. The lemony ricotta takes this to the next level. If you’re tired after a long work day like me, just throwing the pasta in a bowl with the loveandlemons marinara auce and a spoonful of lemon-zested ricotta is going to hit the spot.

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.07.2021

      Hi Sheerz, I’m so glad you loved it!

  8. Stephanie C Calabrese
    01.26.2021

    5 stars
    This was amazing. My whole family LOVED it

  9. Aimee Loudenslager
    12.31.2020

    5 stars
    I’ve made this twice now. It’s cheesy, and the second time I added extra veggies. The lemony ricotta is dreamy.

  10. Rachel Ryan
    12.30.2020

    Making this for December cooking club was the second time I’ve made the ziti, and it was even better this time! And I love how well it freezes!

  11. Rebecca Ryan
    12.30.2020

    Delicious! The prep takes me longer than the recipe suggests it might, but it’s well worth the time.

  12. Jessica Belluomini
    12.30.2020

    Amazing recipe and easy to convert to vegan. We add eggplant and cauliflower to the dish, and we use Kite Hill ricotta with Meyer lemon zest. So delicious!

  13. Ainsley Hume
    12.30.2020

    This was delicious! I happened to have it planned for today without even realizing it was the recipe for the cooking club this month—great choice!

  14. Jessica
    12.30.2020

    5 stars
    LOVE this recipe. It has become a weekly staple for us. I use rice pasta, add cauliflower and eggplant, and we roast it for 1hr covered then 15 minutes uncovered and it is amazing. Thank you!

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.