Baked ziti with meat is one of the most indulgent Italian pasta recipes in my repertoire! There’s just something about the way that little ziti pasta is layered into ricotta cheese surrounded by plenty of that warm bubbling marinara meat mixture that really hits the spot.
This baked ziti with meat recipe is one of the most favored dishes at my house and it’s the perfect meal to break up all that holiday cuisine. It’s just the flavor-intense dinner you need to regroup and reset. Plus, it’s ideal for potlucks and friendly get-togethers when you need a bring along!
What I Love About Baked Ziti With Meat Recipe
This baked ziti with meat is quite possibly the perfect family dinner. All it needs is a crisp vinaigrette salad and a little bread to sop up all that decadent meat sauce at the bottom of your plate! With plenty of meat, pasta, veggies, and cheese – I think it covers all the major food groups.
Here are some other great reasons to love it.
- Absolutely decadent and delicious
- Plenty of savory cheesy goodness
- Wholesome protein-heavy nutrition
- The perfect meal to break up holiday cuisine
- Ideal bring along for get-togethers
Best Baked Ziti Recipe Notes
Making baked ziti is a bit like building a lasagna. It’s more of a craft than anything else! Just remember that there are three main component layers and they’ll have to be crafted separately before they can be put together to make the perfect dish. Here’s a couple of small tidbits to get you there successfully.
First, be sure to sauce your pasta immediately after draining. This allows you to take advantage of its starchy characteristic and put it to work for you. The hot starch helps the sauce stick to the ziti pasta and evenly coat each noodle for a perfectly balanced baked ziti with meat recipe.
Also, take the time to build your baked ziti with meat recipe. I know it’s tempting to just mix it all up and toss it in a dish, but you don’t want to do that. Crafting the layers, even loosely, will give you that incredible crave-worthy work of art you’re after.
One of the best things about this amazing baked ziti with meat recipe is that it doesn’t require any crazy tools or ingredients. It comes together relatively quickly with wholesome familiar ingredients. Here’s a little about the mainstays.
Meat – I like to use a combination of ground beef and sausage in this baked ziti with meat recipe. It gives the dish more savory layers of yummy flavor that work to form one cohesive dish.
Veggies – You’ll need to sauté your veggies for your meat sauce. I know you hear that a lot, but it is vital! Sautéing your veggies gets rid of that harsh bite and brings out their mellow balanced flavors.
Pasta – Try not to overcook your ziti pasta or you’ll end up with a mushy mess when it comes out of the oven. Salt it well and boil it just until al dente, then get it into the marinara immediately after draining.
Marinara – Of course homemade marinara tastes best in this baked ziti with meat but jarred marinara is convenient and works just fine. If you opt for the jar, spring for the kind you really like. It’s a big part of this dish and so totally worth it!
Cheese – You’ve got your ricotta mixture, your parmesan, and your mozzarella. The creamy decadent combination of white cheeses really takes this dish to the next level! You’re all-in now.
Secret Ingredient – The secret ingredient in this baked ziti with meat recipe is nutmeg. It goes into the ricotta mixture and it changes everything about this dish! Just be sure not to be too heavy-handed.
This mouth-watering baked ziti with meat recipe will call to every hungry tummy within smelling distance. If you do happen to have leftovers, they’ll need to go into the fridge in a covered container. It’s best not to store this one in a bag.
Can You Freeze This?
Unfortunately, I don’t recommend freezing this baked ziti with meat. The pasta and the cheese sauce are both finicky in freezing temperatures, to say the least. This is just one of those dishes that is best enjoyed fresh.
Make Ahead Tips
If meal prep is just your thing, you can always make the meat sauce ahead of time and freeze it until you’re ready to make your dish. I like to whip up a batch of this baked ziti after we’ve had holiday leftovers a couple of times. It usually gets gobbled up and I’m lucky if there’s enough left for a couple of lunches the next day!
How Long Can You Keep This?
If stored properly, your baked ziti will stay fresh in the fridge for up to 4 days. I doubt it’ll last that long without being sacrificed for a midday snack but if it does, then those awesome flavors will continue to develop.
This baked ziti with meat is absolutely awesome just like it is and I recommend at least trying it before making changes. However, there are a few subtle ways you can tweak this recipe for a new flavor twist. Here are a couple of suggestions.
- Make it with meatballs instead of meat sauce
- Try using all sausage or no sausage at all
- Lose the meat and make it vegetarian
- Switch out the mozzarella for different cheeses
Can I Make This Baked Ziti Vegetarian?
If you’re just not the carnivorous type, you may enjoy five cheese ziti Al Forno instead of this baked ziti with meat. Cheese just makes everything better and it shows in this recipe. That savoring bubbly goodness is out of this world!
Can I Use Ricotta Instead?
Making baked ziti with ricotta is kind of like a rite of passage into the decadent world of Italian cuisine and it’s the perfect practice run for making baked ziti with meat. Of course, if you’re just a cheese-head I can totally empathize with that too!
Can I Add Sour Cream?
Enjoying ziti with sour cream is almost as awesome as baked ziti with meat! Using sour cream instead of heavy cream gives your dish more of a tangy characteristic that’s a little unexpected. Baked ziti with sour cream is unique and delicious but baked ziti with meat is divinely inspired!
Can I Omit Meat?
Building this baked ziti no meat style gives it kind of a vegetarian ring but there’s still plenty of protein because of all the cheese in it. This baked ziti with meat recipe is designed to be savory, awe-inspiring and totally delicious but you can substitute veggies for the meat if its necessary to suit your dietary goals.
What Other Meats Can I Add To Baked Ziti?
This baked ziti with meat will change your relationship with Italian food. If you’re looking for even more savory decadence, you can make baked ziti with sausage or even baked ziti with meatballs. This awesome recipe will work with both.
Baked Ziti With Meat
- 1 pound ground beef, 80/20
- 1/2 pound Italian sausage
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 teaspoons Italian seasoning divided
- 48 ounces homemade marinara sauce, or 2 (24 ounce) jars-divided
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 (15-ounce) container ricotta
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, optional
- 1 cup Parmesan,-divided grated
- 2 cups Mozzarella, -divided shredded
- 16 ounces ziti
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9X13 inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
- In a large pot over medium-high heat, add the beef and sausage and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown mixture, crumbling into large pieces. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of drippings from pot. If you don't have that amount remaining, add olive oil to make up the difference.
- Add the onion, garlic, and 3 teaspoons Italian seasoning and saute, over medium-high heat, until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Return beef and sausage to the pot. Add half of the marinara sauce (2 cups or 1 jar), water, and heavy cream to the onion and meat, turn the heat to low and heat through; set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring another large pot of water, with 1 tablespoon of salt, to a boil. Cook ziti according to the package instructions. Drain well, then return pasta to original pot off the heat, and add the remaining half (2 cups or 1 jar) of marinara sauce to pasta and combine; set aside.
- In a medium bowl, stir together ricotta, egg, remaining 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, and nutmeg; set aside.
- Spoon a thin layer, about 1 cup of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9X13 inch baking dish. Pour half the ziti in the baking dish. Spread all the ricotta mixture over ziti, then sprinkle half the parmesan, half the mozzarella, and half the sauce.
- Spread the remaining ziti, then the remaining sauce, mozzarella, and Parmesan. Bake in preheated oven, uncovered 25-30 minutes or until cheese is golden and sauce is bubbly.
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There are only so many things I can say about this baked ziti with meat recipe. It’s a staple in my kitchen and a totally decadent bring-along for those holidays get-togethers. This protein-heavy, flavor-intense dish is awesome cheesiness and Italian comfort food all rolled into one.
This is probably one of my all-time favorite dishes and I just know you’ll feel the same way after you try it. – And trust me, you’re gonna’ want seconds!
Ken Cayea says
Thank you for this recipe!
I forgot the nutmeg but was still awesome.
Everyone had seconds.
I’m so happy you enjoyed this Ken!
Jennifer Fulk says
Preference not reference. lol
<3 <3 <3 I hope you enjoy the ziti!
Jennifer Fulk says
This looks delicious. Added it to my weekly list. About the Italian Seasoning – it says 1 tablespoon which would equal 3 teaspoons but you have 3 in the sauce and 1 in the ricotta mixture . 4 teaspoons all together is more than a tablespoon. I think I will on;y put 2 teaspoons in the sauce. Thanks for the recipe!
Jennifer, you are so right! My bad. Thanks for point that out. I do indeed use the 4 teaspoons. 🙂
Jennifer Fulk says
I made this recipe and it was awesome! I did cut back on the Italian seasoning to just 2 teaspoons in the sauce- personal reference. I used fresh parsley in the ricotta, along with fresh ground black pepper and the nutmeg. Thank you for a delicious baked ziti.! This recipe tasted as good or better than the ones that take much longer . KEEPER! 🙂
I’m so happy you enjoyed Jennifer!