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 59 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.

 

84 comments

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published.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

Rate this recipe (after making it)




  1. Debra Evans
    12.30.2020

    5 stars
    My family loved this dish–the lemon ricotta is genius. This is going into our regular rotation. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  2. Christine Saad
    12.30.2020

    5 stars
    Loved this recipe! Thank you!

  3. Elizabeth Warren
    12.29.2020

    5 stars
    This dish was easy to put together and a great freezer meal! I used brown rice pasta from Trader Joe’s since I had it on hand and it worked really well for a gluten free option,. I will be making this again soon!

  4. Daphine
    12.29.2020

    4 stars
    I had plans to make this recipe but my stove stopped working. So I ordered electric burners and an oven and made it with it those. It turned out well. Flavor was great.

  5. Marina Sweeney
    12.28.2020

    5 stars
    I made this recipe (mostly as written: I added extra garlic), and it was delicious. It made a lot, but winter is definitely a time when I want abundant leftovers. I’m adding this to the list of meals to bring to families with new babies.

    Additional note: I had to make a double batch of marinara sauce to have enough for this recipe, and I used the extra for homemade pan pizza. Would recommend doing that, too!

    • Marina Sweeney
      12.28.2020

      Oh, and I used regular mozzarella, because that’s what I had.

  6. Sarah Sanders
    12.26.2020

    5 stars
    We made this for Christmas dinner. I splurged on a pound of local spinach, used a provolone, and some how ended up with enough pasta for three layers! Best is that the dish comes together rather quickly, making it a great choice at the end of a long day.

  7. Jenny Garcia
    12.24.2020

    5 stars
    This was so delicious! I wasn’t able to find smoked mozzarella and it still turned out great.

  8. Emily Essay
    12.23.2020

    5 stars
    Excellent choice for the December cooking club! This was a pretty quick recipe to take care of dinner on Christmas Eve Eve so I could focus on other things! 🌲🎁 Really like the brightness of the lemon zest and the kick from the red pepper flakes. Definitely adding this recipe to the rotation!

  9. Cecilia Caughman
    12.23.2020

    5 stars
    The lemon zest and smoked mozzarella gave this recipe a really cool twist. Looking forward to the leftovers!

  10. Pamela Donaldson
    12.22.2020

    5 stars
    This was so delicious! I had to go to three different stores to find the smoked mozzarella but it was definitely worth it. That and the lemony ricotta really made the dish special. Even my spinach hating boyfriend loved it and wants me to make it again for Christmas.

  11. Carrie M.
    12.22.2020

    5 stars
    This was delicious! I made it gluten free by using GF rice/quinoa blend pasta and it works a charm. The lemon in the ricotta filling brightens up the whole dish! My grocery didn’t have smoked mozzarella this time but I hope to find it next time because I bet that would put it over the top! We’ll definitely be adding this easy and tasty dish to the rotation.

    • Carrie McCormack
      12.22.2020

      Oops forgot to put my full name for the club, so here it is! Sorry!

  12. Nova Parrish
    12.21.2020

    5 stars
    This recipe was delicious! Loved the addition the lemon zest. Plus it made so much I got to share with a neighbor. Store was out of ziti so I substituted rigatoni and added impossible ground meat. Absolutely going to make this again.

  13. Erin Conway
    12.21.2020

    Loved this recipe! The lemony ricotta is especially nice!

    In addition to the spinach, I added some roasted vegetables to the dish (squash, zucchini, onion, carrot) – a really nice touch of flavor and nutrients 🙂

  14. Erin
    12.21.2020

    5 stars
    Loved this recipe! The lemony ricotta is especially nice!

    In addition to the spinach, I added some roasted vegetables to the dish (squash, zucchini, onion, carrot) – a really nice touch of flavor and nutrients 🙂

  15. Jessica Erwin
    12.18.2020

    5 stars
    It was easy to make and tasty. I added mushrooms and only had a bag of spinach which was hardly any after it was cooked. I had vegan mozzarella shreds that needed to be used up. I’m curious how the smoked mozzeralla tasted. The whole family enjoyed it.

  16. Sarah Laughlin/Burghaus
    12.16.2020

    4 stars
    I made this last night and it was pretty good. My husband cooked meatballs separately and added them to his plate. He wasn’t a big fan of the lemon in the ricotta so I’ll leave that out next time. It came together quickly though! It also seems easy to make, take somewhere and bake like for a party or something,

  17. Kaila Schroeder
    12.14.2020

    5 stars
    This was so yummy & easy to put together! I made it for December cooking challenge, and I will definitely be making it again

  18. Hannah Bedard
    12.13.2020

    I loved making this for the December cooking club! The lemony ricotta was really good! I’ve never had baked ziti with that kind of flavor!

  19. Brenda Leis
    12.13.2020

    My family loved this. I added mushrooms because they were in the fridge. It was a good addition.

  20. Katie
    12.10.2020

    5 stars
    I made this last night for the December cooking club with the help of my 13 year old daughter. She mixed together the lemon ricotta mixture and had trouble keeping herself from eating it all out of the bowl while the noodles cooked. I had a bag of mixed kales, chard, and collards from the CSA that I used in place of the spinach. We loved it!

    • Katie Lebow
      12.10.2020

      Oops, forgot to have my whole name for the cooking club. Sorry, here it is!

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.