Baked ziti with mini meatballs is one of the pasta recipes that checks all the boxes for a delicious family meal. It’s delicious enough for company and always a favorite for Sunday supper. We use prepared marinara and a super-easy meatball recipe to keep it simplified and convenient!
I love the mini meatballs in the cheesy sauce- flavor explosions in each bite. A scoop of this delicious ziti pasta bake, a nice green salad, and a crusty chunk of bread might be the closest thing to culinary heaven I can think of! Full of classic Italian flavors this version always gets rave reviews.
If your family loves baked ziti as much as my family does, I hope you’ll try these delicious versions next!
Let’s make this!
- Cooking the pasta: I can’t stress enough that you need to follow good pasta prep techniques. You don’t want to end up with pasta mush at the end of the bake. Boil just to al dente and no rinsing! Check out this article, from Smithsonian magazine, on more pasta cooking info.
- Searing the meatballs: I use vegetable oil, generally canola, because of its high smoke point which makes it safer to use at high temperatures. You want it HOT before you put your meatballs in! It should sizzle like crazy when the meat hits it. This quick cook seals in the flavor and moisture of the meatballs and is absolutely essential!
- Frozen Meatballs Instead: No time to make meatballs? No worries! Frozen cocktail meatballs are a great shortcut for this recipe.
- Sauce: Most jars of marinara sauce are 24 ounces, so 2 jars should do it. If you have the time to make homemade, try my easy Marinara sauce, or my Italian Sunday gravy,
- Ricotta: I use whole milk ricotta because I like the creaminess. If you don’t like ricotta, you can substitute a small curd, full-fat cottage cheese.
- Pasta: I like Ziti for this pasta bake. It’s strong and sturdy and holds up well to mixing and baking. I generally use Barilla pasta
- Best way To Wrap Baked Ziti: Believe it or not, theres a right way and a wrong way to wrap with plastic wrap. Check out this article from My Recipes on how to do it right!
Storing + Freezing + Make-Ahead
- How Long Can You Keep This In The Fridge? 4-5 days is a good rule of thumb.
- Can You Freeze This? This freezes beautifully! I prefer to freeze it unbaked. Simply assemble as directed and allow to cool completely. Wrap well with cling wrap and foil. It will hold for about 3 months. You can freeze it baked or freeze leftovers- if there are any. The pasta texture isn’t quite as nice on a second go through the oven, but it’s still delish!
- How To Make Baked Ziti Ahead Of Time: You can make this up to 3 days ahead of time and store it in the fridge. Simply assemble as directed, but don’t bake it or. Wrap it in cling wrap or use a tight-fitting lid. Pop it in the oven when you’re ready for it! If coming straight from the fridge, cook time will be increased.
More Amazing Baked Pasta Recipes
- Chicken Lasagna
- Million Dollar Spaghetti
- Johnny Marzetti Casserole
- Crack Chicken Spaghetti Bake
- Baked Spaghetti
- 1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
- 2 eggs large, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 3/4 cup Romano cheese grated, divided
- 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley chopped
- 1 pound ground beef
- 3/4 teaspoon salt to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper to taste
- all-purpose flour for dredging
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 pound dried ziti
- 1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves julienned
- 5 cups marinara sauce
- 3 cups whole milk ricotta
- 2 cups mozzarella, shredded
- 1/2 cup parmesan, grated
- 6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Mix together bread crumbs, eggs, milk, 1/2 cup Romano, and parsley in a large mixing bowl. Add beef, salt, and black pepper and mix until everything is evenly combined, being careful not to overwork the beef.
- Roll mixture into cocktail size meatballs then roll each one into flour then shaking off the excess.
- Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat, in a large skillet, almost to smoking. Brown the meatballs in batches so as not to crowd the skillet. Continue to cook until all sides of the meatballs are brown. Remove browned meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate.
- Cook ziti in well-salted water, according to package instructions, just to al dente. Drain. Do not rinse.
- Mix basil, marinara sauce, and ricotta in a large bowl until combined. Add pasta and meatballs and gently fold until evenly combined.
- Pour into a large baking dish and sprinkle the top evenly with mozzarella, Parmesan and remaining Romano. Dot with butter. Place baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 40-45 minutes or until the ziti is bubbly and the crust is golden. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Fans Also Made:
Source: Adapted From Giada De Laurentiis
Leah M. says
This is phenomenal! My mother-in-law visited us and I made this. Approved!
That’s amazing, Leah! I’m glad it was a hit 🙂
great recipe. but please research. CANOLA OIL , high smoke point yes because its original use for ball berings then GMO to use in frying. Developer is MONSANTO. to my knowledge no one cooks food at that high a temperature Mario Batelli. used olive oil for all his frying Peanut oil high temp vegetable oil also. NO CANOLA !!
Katherine A Dietz says
What size is a large baking dish? Also, if I don’t want to use fresh basil how much dried basil do i use if using cottage cheese and not ricotta? Can fresh mozzarella be used? And can i use ground sirloin or italian sausage or what percentage ground beef?
Fresh basil to dried is 3:1. Use 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons dried basil.
You can use fresh mozzarella.
Yes, you can use that meat. Ground beef is 80/20.
Katherine A Dietz says
Can I use parmesan instead of Romano cheese?
Hi, Katherine. Yes 🙂
ginger mac says
Surely gonna make this! Think we’ll LOVE it. My only negative comment is that I sure do wish more of you recipe folks would include your web address at the beginning or end of the recipe so that, having printed it, I could find my way back to watch the details again.
Elizabeth W Mulgrew says
This is Oh! so yummy and comforting. It also makes a lot, so is a great potluck or holiday dinner dish! And so easy to put together (I cheated and used frozen cocktail meatballs). I haven’t ever used marinara sauce much, but I really liked the mellow flavor it gave without the acidness of regular spaghetti sauce, so now I am a fan. My husband loved it! Thanks so much for sharing this Kathleen!
Hi, Elizabeth! Thank you so much for sharing your positive review! I love your version 🙂