Easy Baked Ziti

An easy and flavorful baked ziti made from scratch! So cheesy, saucy, and a one dish meal that the whole family will love. Takes only 30 minutes to make and is all things delicious and cheesy! 

A spoon in a white dish of cheesy baked ziti.

I grew up with my mom making baked ziti all the time. It’s simple, easy to throw together, AND the whole family loves it. This is a great dinner when you are running short on time and ingredients! All you need is pasta noodles, tomato sauce (or even canned crushed tomatoes), cheese, and dried herbs.

This easy baked ziti is so yummy, freezer friendly, and takes only 20 minutes to bake! It’s a win-win.

Baked Ziti Ingredients & Substitutions

  • Pasta noodles: I used penne – you can also use rotini, bowtie, or shell pasta. 
  • Italian cheese blend: whenever you are trying to attain cheesy pasta I always recommend using pre-made Italian cheese blend that is asiago, provolone, and parmesan.
  • Pasta water: always reserve your pasta water for it’s natural flavor and consistency to make this dish perfectly cheesy.
  • Tomato sauce: use a high-quality marinara sauce or make my family’s San Marzano Tomato Sauce.
  • Herbs: I recommend fresh basil – you can use dried oregano and thyme if you don’t want to use fresh.
  • Mozzarella: for melted cheese I always recommend fresh mozzarella either shredded or sliced. 

How to Make Easy Baked Ziti – Step by Step

step by step photos showing how to make baked ziti

  • (1 -3) Boil pasta according to box directions with generous pinch of salt. When draining reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Add back to pot with pasta with 3/4 cup Italian cheese blend. Then stir in fresh herbs and 1 cup of tomato sauce.  

step by step photos showing how to make baked ziti

  • (5) Transfer penne to a 13×9 baking dish or pan. Cover with remaining tomato sauce. 
  • (6) Then add 1 cup of mozzarella and 1/4 cup Italian cheese blend. Bake covered loosely in foil for 20 minutes then brown the cheese by broiling on HIGH for 1 to 2 minutes uncovered. 

Should I Cover Baked Ziti in the Oven?

Yes, you want to make sure your pasta has the right amount of moisture while baking to avoid drying. It’s important to keep the foil loosely sealed on top so it doesn’t stick to the cheese. After baking, remove the foil and put your oven on HIGH broil for 1 to 2 minutes to get that perfect browned cheesy top. 

What Can I Add to Baked Ziti?

The great thing about baked ziti is it’s so versatile. Some of my favorite things to add to this recipe is roasted vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, broccoli), ricotta cheese for more creaminess and cheese, and cooked sausage or ground beef. 

A close up of baked ziti with melted cheese and herbs.

Reheating Pasta Without Drying It Out

A secret that helps with reheating almost any food to keep from dying up is adding a splash of water. Preheat oven to 350F and add about 3 Tablespoons of water to help moisten pasta and ingredients – you can also add 1/4 cup of sauce as well. Bake covered with foil for 15 minutes. 

A white dish on a white background with baked ziti in it and fresh herbs sprinkled over top.

Extra Helpful Tips

  • Cheesy pasta noodles: Leave 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the pasta water in with the noodles after boiling, stir Italian cheeses in with the noodles and water. This will create the ultimate creamy/cheesy sauce with the pasta noodles. The pasta water combined with the cheese helps the pasta remain moist and prevents it from drying out while baking.  
  • For sauce: You can use your favorite homemade sauce, store-bought sauce, or even canned crushed tomatoes. I used my family’s famous San Marzano Tomato Sauce. Easy to make and is the perfect addition to any Italian recipe! 
  • Make it healthier: One of my favorite ways to make pasta recipes healthier is using a lentil or chickpea pasta. It’s made completely from lentils or chickpeas and has a ton of plant-based protein and is gluten free. I love using this pasta because it tastes just like regular pasta noodles but with much more nutritional value! 
  • Make ziti ahead of time: You can prepare the ziti ahead of time, skip baking, then cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Then bake according to instructions. 

A spoon lifting of cheesy baked ziti in a white dish on a grey napkin.

More Delicious Italian Recipes to Try

If you tried this Easy Baked Ziti recipe or any other recipe, don't forget to rate the recipe and let me know what you think. I love hearing from you! You can also follow me on PINTEREST, INSTAGRAM, and FACEBOOK for more crave-worthy content.

A close up of baked ziti with melted cheese and herbs.

Easy Baked Ziti

An easy and flavorful baked ziti made from scratch! So cheesy, saucy, and a one dish meal that the whole family will love. Takes only 30 minutes to make and is all things delicious and cheesy! 

Servings 6
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 30 mins
Total Time: 40 mins

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Italian
Tags: baked pasta, baked ziti, easy baked ziti
Calories: 448 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ziti or penne pasta
  • 3 cups tomato sauce (see notes)
  • 1/2 cup pasta water
  • 1 cup Italian cheese blend (parmesan, asiago, provolone)
  • 1 cup Mozzarella
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped ( opt for 2 teaspoons dried basil)
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme ( opt for 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano ( opt for 1 teaspoon dried oregano)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Cook pasta according to box directions with a generous pinch of salt. Drain pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. 

  2. Add pasta and pasta water back into pot and stir in 3/4 cup Italian cheese blend, 1 cup of tomato sauce, and all of herbs (basil, thyme, and oregano). Pasta should have a creamy and cheesy consistency. 

  3. Transfer pasta to a 13x9 baking dish. Layer with rest of tomato sauce, mozzarella, and 1/4 cup Italian cheese blend over top. 

  4. Bake covered with foil for 20 minutes until cheese is bubbling and browned. Garnish with fresh herbs and enjoy!

Notes

Tips

  • Cheesy pasta noodles: Leave 1/2 cup of the pasta water in with the noodles after boiling, stir Italian cheeses in with the noodles and water. This will create the ultimate creamy/cheesy sauce with the pasta noodles. The pasta water combined with the cheese helps the pasta remain moist and prevents it from drying out while baking. 
  • For sauce: You can use your favorite homemade sauce, store-bought sauce, or even canned crushed tomatoes. I used my family's famous San Marzano Tomato Sauce. Easy to make and is the perfect addition to any Italian recipe! 
  • Make it healthier: One of my favorite ways to make pasta recipes healthier is using a lentil or chickpea pasta. It's made completely from lentils or chickpeas, is full of plant-based protein, and is gluten free. I love using this pasta because it tastes just like regular pasta noodles but with more nutritional value! 
  • Make ziti ahead of time: You can prepare the ziti ahead of time, skip baking, then cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Then bake according to instructions. 
  • Freezing Instructions: Cook the ziti and prepare in a dish - do not bake. Let temperature come down to room temperature before covering tightly with foil/plastic wrap and placing in the freezer. When ready to bake - remove and let thaw for 1-2 hours then bake as instructed. 

Extra things to add to your baked ziti

The great thing about baked ziti is it's so versatile. Some of my favorite things to add to this recipe is roasted vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, broccoli), ricotta cheese for more creaminess and cheese, and cooked sausage or ground beef. 

Nutrition Facts
Easy Baked Ziti
Amount Per Serving
Calories 448 Calories from Fat 62
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 6.9g 11%
Cholesterol 18.4mg 6%
Sodium 495.3mg 21%
Total Carbohydrates 71.6g 24%
Sugars 7.6g
Protein 24.9g 50%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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About The Author

Bethany Kramer is a home cook, recipe developer, and dog mom. She found a deep love for food and nutrition after learning to cook from her mom at eight years old. Since then she’s been developing and sharing recipes from her own kitchen that are bold in flavor and nourishing to the body!
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