Feeding a crowd? This baked ziti recipe is the easiest way to do it! Saucy, cheesy, comforting, and flavorful, this fuss-free pasta is always a hit.
Have you tried this baked ziti recipe?! It’s a fan favorite on the blog, and it’s one of our family favorites as well. If you have yet to make it, I hope you will this season. This easy baked ziti is a perfect no-fuss recipe for feeding a crowd, and the combo of marinara sauce, pasta, and three (yes, three!) types of cheese is so comforting at this time of year.
This baked ziti recipe is my veggie spin on the version I grew up eating. Reliably present at every potluck or party I attended, it was my favorite comfort food. I loved the jumbles of noodles mixed with tangy tomato sauce, gooey cheese, and Italian sausage or ground beef. These days, I skip the meat in favor of creamy ricotta and lots of fresh spinach, but this baked ziti recipe is still hearty, satisfying, and packed with flavor. I love it, and I think you will too.
Baked Ziti Recipe Ingredients
Here’s what you’ll need to make this baked ziti recipe:
- Ziti, of course! Another tube-shaped pasta, such as penne or rigatoni, would work nicely too.
- Marinara sauce – If I have the time, I like to use my homemade marinara sauce here, which comes together with a quick 20-minute simmer on the stove. But store-bought sauce is fair game too! I recommend Rao’s.
- Ricotta cheese – It creates a creamy layer in the center of the baked ziti. For the best texture, make sure to use whole milk ricotta in this recipe.
- Garlic, lemon zest, oregano, and red pepper flakes – I use these ingredients to season the ricotta. The garlic, oregano, and pepper flakes add classic Italian flavor, and the lemon zest brings a delicious, unexpected brightness.
- Fresh spinach – It wouldn’t be a Love & Lemons recipe if it wasn’t loaded with fresh veggies! I sauté a whole pound of spinach in olive oil before stirring it into the pasta.
- Smoked mozzarella and pecorino cheeses – For topping. The smoked mozzarella gives the pasta a kick of rich, smoky flavor, which I love, but if you can’t find it, no worries! Sub in regular mozzarella. And in a pinch, salty, nutty Parmesan cheese is a great sub for the pecorino.
- Torn fresh basil and chopped parsley – I sprinkle them over the final dish for a fresh, vibrant finishing touch.
- And salt and pepper – To make all the flavors pop!
Find the complete recipe with measurements below.
How to Make Baked Ziti
This baked ziti recipe is easy to make! Here’s how it goes:
First, cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta until al dente. Be careful not to overcook it! It will soften more while it bakes.
While the pasta cooks, make the ricotta cheese mixture. Stir together the ricotta, garlic, lemon zest, oregano, and red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper.
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. Tip: Work in batches here! I do 1/2 pound at a time so that the spinach cooks evenly. I like all of it to be tender and vibrant green, not slimy or soggy. When I work in batches, I’m able to hit that sweet spot every time.
Gently squeeze some of the excess moisture out of the sautéed spinach and roughly chop it.
Then, mix everything together. Return most of the spinach and all of 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. Top with the grated smoked mozzarella and pecorino cheeses, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the cheese is golden brown and bubbling. Enjoy!
Want to get ahead?
This baked ziti freezes well. Assemble it up to the point of baking, cover it tightly with foil, and freeze for up to 3 months. To reheat, bake, covered, at 350°F for an hour, or until heated through. Uncover and bake until the cheese on top is browned and bubbling.
Instead of freezing the pasta, you can also assemble it a few hours, and up to day, in advance, cover it, and store it in the fridge. Allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking according to the instructions in the recipe below.
What to Serve with Baked Ziti
This baked ziti recipe is a delicious cold weather main dish. Pair it with garlic bread, garlic knots, or homemade focaccia for sopping up any stray marinara sauce. Round out the meal with a big salad. Any of these would be fantastic:
- Caesar Salad
- Italian Chopped Salad
- Simple Green Salad
- Arugula Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
- Pear Salad with Balsamic and Walnuts
Not feeling the salad? Skip it, or opt for a simple veggie side dish instead. Roasted broccoli, roasted Brussels sprouts, and sautéed green beans would all be great choices.
The baked ziti is best on the day it’s made, but leftovers keep well for up to 4 days in the fridge. Reheat individual portions in the microwave, or warm larger quantities in a covered pan in a 325°F oven.
More Favorite Comfort Food Recipes
If you love this easy baked ziti recipe, try one of these comforting dishes next:
- Best Vegetarian Lasagna
- Stuffed Shells
- Baked Eggplant Parmesan
- Eggplant Rollatini
- Homemade Mac and Cheese
- Fettuccine Alfredo
- Tortellini Soup
- Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Want more easy dinner ideas? Check out this post!
Easy Baked Ziti
- 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
- 1½ cups smoked mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
- Chopped fresh parsley and/or torn basil leaves, for garnish
- 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.
I loved this recipe!! I, also, recently made the Mushroom risotto. Loved that as well! Which cookbook are these recipes included in?
Hi Paula, I’m so glad you loved those recipes! Unfortunately, they are just online. We try not to duplicate recipes from the blog in the cookbooks.
This was delicious! It was a hit even with my young brother. Thanks so much for sharing!
So glad everyone loved it!
I made this for a large gathering of family after Christmas. It was so easy to put together and so good. Thank you for a simple recipe that tastes really elegant. It will become a regular for me!
I’m so glad you loved it!
Thank you so much for this recipe! It is delicious, and my husband loved it. It tastes amazing, and comes together pretty easily. The extra effort for a homemade marinara, and the ricotta mix make for an amazing flavor profile that is really elevated. I made this for an Xmas gathering and it impressed my loved ones. I really enjoyed this.
Hi Erika, I’m so glad everyone enjoyed it!
I have the same question as Linda! I made this once before and it was delicious. Today, I am going to attempt making this dish this morning, refrigerating it and then baking it tonight. Fingers crossed…
Can I make the zita recipe the day before?
Would love to make this for tonight but don’t have fresh spinach. Could you do without it?
Might have some frozen.. Would that work?
Any non dairy substitutions for ricotta cheese? I’ve had to temporarily cut dairy off my diet
I just found the tofu ricotta version 😀
Delicious! The lemon zest in the ricotta was absolutely perfect. I added a can of cannellini beans for some protein. Great recipe!
oh I love the cannellini bean idea, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
I tried it today and absolutely loved it. I only had one cup of ricotta, but I think it was more than enough. That one is a keeper for sure.
I’m so glad you loved it!
Is it possible to prepare in advance freeze and cook at a later date? I like to try and prepare in advance so I just have to throw into the oven if possible.
Hi Celina, yep, we have freezing instructions for baked pastas in this post: https://www.loveandlemons.com/freezer-meals/
Hi there, I plan to make this recipe this week. But I wonder if I can do all of the assembly in the morning before work and then bake for the final step when I get home. Any insight for me regarding breaking up the preparation and final baking time?
Hi Priscilla, yes, just cover it and store the assembled dish in the fridge. Bake it when you’re ready. I hope that helps!
Thanks for your help. We ate this tonight and my goodness!! It was a major crowd pleaser. So delicious. The smoked mozzarella really adds another level of savory to this baked dish and the lemon zest made it all POP. My 2 kids, 8 & 11 gobbled it up, as well as my hubs and myself. I plan to save this to our recipes. Thanks so much for this tasty dish.
I’m so glad it was such a hit!
OK – just saw this- thanks for the info (and ignore my previous post :).
Took an hour total, to prep and cook. WAY too much ricotta – I regret putting 2 cups because it ruined the dish.
This was delicious! It was a hit even with my two young kids. Thanks so much for sharing!
I’m so glad everyone loved it!
This recipe was amazing! Hubby loved it!
Excited to make – do you ever add chicken or other protein? I led you were going to add chicken, would you cook fully before adding to the oven or would that overcook the meat?
Hi Emily, I don’t usually add anything, it’s really substantial as it is. I don’t really cook chicken so I’m not sure.
Loved the recipe, I m right now baking it while posting this comment.
Loved it even more after having it. Enjoyed the meal. I substituted Ricotta cheese with Cottage cheese , as I didn’t have the former . Now I m gonna try more recipes on your page.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
This is in no way 15 minutes to prep. It was 25 minutes alone to bring the water to a boil and cook the pasta…followed then by cooking the spinach in batches. It’s at least 45 minutes just for the prep.
Normally I don’t count boiling water as the water boils itself. The time is the on hands part where your actually doing something.