Pasta dishes like this one seem to have an almost universal appeal. And baked ziti is one of those meals that I know I find myself gravitating toward over and over again.
Actually, one of the most comforting aromas in the world for me is the scent of pasta, tomato sauce, and cheese baking in the oven together.
In my family, we’ve always been big fans of anything made with this combination of ingredients. It doesn’t matter how many times we’d already had it in the past week, my mom and I couldn’t resist whatever was on offer if some kind of pasta was on the menu.
For this easy cheesy baked ziti, there’s gorgeous layers of pasta, tomato sauce, creamy white sauce, ground beef, and melty cheese, all snuggled in the dish together.
It’s the ultimate comfort food, one of my favorites at just about any time of year, starting promptly with the arrival of sweater weather and throughout the remainder of fall and winter to follow, times of year when comfort food is always in style, if you ask me.
And most importantly, it’s super simple to make.
Ensuring that each of the ingredients is evenly distributed throughout this dish is key. You don’t want to get a bite that is just cheese or just sauce, after all! But it’s far less time consuming to put together than something like lasagna or stuffed shells.
My favorite maneuver is to divide the cheese, add half in the middle, then add the other half on top. This is how you get that gorgeous golden brown crust, a signature element of any well-made baked pasta dish!
If you really want your baked ziti to stand apart, you could go the extra mile by using homemade sauces. We have a killer homemade marinara recipe and a homemade mornay sauce that you can use specifically for this pasta casserole.
You could even get out your extruder and make the pasta in your own kitchen as well. But making every component of this recipe from scratch isn’t really what it’s all about.
We’re talking about an easy weeknight meal that’s super satisfying, and you can truly make it as simple or as complicated as you wish, with superb results either way.
Whether boxed and jarred or made with flour, cheese, and tomatoes that you turned into pasta and sauce with your own two hands, the combination of all of these components is going to be absolutely scrumptious whether prepared on a leisurely weekend afternoon when you have all the time in the world, or on a busy weeknight.
Substituting the ziti with penne or rigatoni will also work, if that’s what you have on hand. And I even have some suggestions for substituting the ground beef with other options that you might have in the freezer, if you want to avoid an extra trip to the supermarket. Keep reading for those!
For garnish, I love to sprinkle some freshly chopped basil or parsley on top, or you could opt to use some chopped oregano or thyme. This gives the dish an extra pop of color, and the scent of the fresh herbs makes it smell even more incredible.
You can also make this dish ahead of time. All you have to do is prepare the casserole as directed, up until the baking portion. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, until you’re ready to cook and serve. Keep in mind that you’ll probably need to add 10 minutes or so to the total bake time if you’re preparing a premade casserole.Print
Easy cheesy baked ziti will make everyone think you’ve been cooking for hours, but it’s actually shockingly simple to whip up.
- Cooking oil spray
- 1 box uncooked ziti (1 pound)
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 3/4 cups alfredo sauce
- 3 cups spaghetti sauce
- 2 cups shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese (8 ounces)
- Preheat oven to 350˚F. Spray a 13-by-9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
- Cook ziti in boiling water according to package directions.
- While the ziti is cooking, place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add ground beef and cook until browned, breaking up any large chunks with a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes.
- Drain any excess liquid from the skillet. Add spaghetti sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, until the meat is fully coated and sauce is heated through.
- Drain ziti in a colander and return to the pot. Stir in alfredo sauce to thoroughly coat the pasta and set aside.
- Add enough meat sauce to just cover the bottom of the dish, about 1 1/4 cups. Add half of the cooked ziti and spread evenly over the sauce. Add half of the remaining meat sauce and spread evenly. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Add the remaining ziti in an even layer on top, then top with remaining meat sauce, spreading it to cover the pasta. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese.
- Bake for 20 minutes, until the top is bubbly and golden brown. Serve with a salad and crusty French bread.
- Category: Pasta
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Casserole
Keywords: ziti, casserole, pasta, ground beef, cheese, baked
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Measure Ingredients
Measure out all of the ingredients as listed on the ingredients list. Since this recipe is pretty heavy, I like to use 93% lean ground beef, but you can opt for a higher fat percentage if you prefer.
Another substitute that I like to use when I don’t have ground beef on hand is Italian sausage. It adds a different flavor to the dish, so it’s a good option if you want to change up the recipe too. Sausage links can be removed from their casings before cooking, otherwise use loose ground sausage.
Other tasty substitutes that you might enjoy include ground turkey or ground chicken. Both of these are perfect to lighten things up.
Just use the same amount as listed, 1 pound of whatever type of meat you prefer.
Preheat your oven to 350˚F.
Lightly spray a 13-by-9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking oil spray and set it aside.
Step 2 – Cook Ziti
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the ziti according to the directions on the package.
Drain the pasta and return it to the pot you cooked it in, along with the alfredo sauce. Stir until the pasta is coated evenly. Set aside.
Step 3 – Cook Beef
Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the ground beef and cook until it’s browned, making sure to break up any large chunks with a wooden spoon. This will take about 5 minutes.
Drain any excess liquid, and then add the spaghetti sauce. Stir to coat the meat well and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is heated through.
Step 4 – Assemble and Bake
Add enough of the meat sauce to cover the bottom of the baking dish, about 1 1/4 cups.
Top with half of the creamy ziti in white sauce, spread in an even layer over the red sauce.
Top with half of the remaining meat sauce, spreading it out evenly.
Sprinkle with 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese. Top with the remaining ziti in an even layer, then the remaining meat sauce, also spread in an even layer.
Sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes, until the top is golden and bubbly. Remove from the oven and serve.
How Long Does Baked Ziti Last?
If you have any leftovers, this dish can be covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.
It’s actually one of my favorite types of leftovers to indulge in for lunch, and I love that you don’t even have to transfer it to a different container for storage if you don’t want to.
But I think the best way to package up the leftovers is to divide them into single servings, in microwave-safe containers with lids. Make sure to let them cool completely, then put them in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave when you’re ready to eat.
Looking for even more recipes to satisfy your pasta craving? Try these next:
- 30-Minute Lemony Pasta with Grilled Chicken
- Pasta with Balsamic Vinegar, Mushrooms, and Goat Cheese
- Angel Hair with Braised Kale
What’s your favorite thing about baked pasta dishes? Do you love the meat, the tomato sauce, or the melted cheese? Tell us in the comments below, and be sure to rate the recipe as well, after you’ve tried it!
Photos by Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on June 29, 2010. Last updated on February 26, 2021. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Meghan Yager
Meghan Yager is a food addict turned food and travel writer with a love for creating uncomplicated, gourmet recipes and devouring anything the world serves up. As the author of the food and travel blog Cake 'n Knife, Meghan focuses on unique foodie experiences from around the world to right at home in your own kitchen.