Baked Ziti with homemade mini meatballs, fresh basil, and three Italian cheeses coming out of the oven all hot and bubbly is Italian comfort food supreme!
When you try my Baked Ziti with marinara sauce, fresh basil, and all the Italian cheeses you can stand, there’s no doubt you’ll agree that it’s the best Baked Ziti recipe ever!
My base recipe was Baked Ziti Giada-style, which is a great recipe, but I use marinara sauce and added 1-½ cups of julienned fresh basil.
What is Ziti Pasta?
Ziti pasta is totally tubular!! Sorry, 80’s flashback, but it does fit the definition in more ways than one. It’s tube-shaped and pretty rad. Ziti got its name from the word zita, which means bride in Italian In Naples, in particular, it is served at weddings as the bride’s pasta. Ziti is perfect for baked casserole dishes, and popular casserole dishes containing ziti and mixed cheeses are called pasta al forno, meaning oven-baked.
There’s no shortage of delicious ways to make baked pasta casseroles. One of my other favorites is Baked Mostaccioli. This dish was a regular feature on the dinner table when I was growing up, and for good reason. It has rich layers of flavorful Italian sausage and is similar to lasagna, but much simpler to make. Everyone will think you spent all day in the kitchen!
Another Italian baked casserole that I love is Five Cheese Ziti Al Forno. This might be the cheesiest dish ever. If you’re concerned about calories, this is not the dish to ask about. Just. Don’t. Ask. Revel in it with your family and friends, and then just put it behind you.
I can’t engage in all this pasta talk without mentioning my Million Dollar Spaghetti. This is my go-to family pasta casserole recipe and is like lasagna and spaghetti combined. It calls for cottage cheese, but don’t let that turn you away. It gives this dish a wonderful creaminess.
You can also make Meatless Baked Ziti. It’s still delicious. Also, it’s easy to make Baked Ziti Vegetarian by adding zucchini, yellow squash, and red bell peppers in place of the meat.
How to Make Baked Ziti
To make this Baked Ziti recipe, combine the bread crumbs, eggs, milk, ½ cup of romano, parsley, salt and pepper. Add beef, and shape mixture into meatballs, roll in flour, and heat 3 minutes on each “side”. Mix the marinara and ricotta, add cooked ziti, fresh basil, and meatballs. Pour into baking dish, sprinkle with rest of cheese. Cover with foil and bake 30-40 minutes. After all this, you’ll feel like a real baked ziti pioneer woman, or man
More Easy Baked Ziti Variations:
Baked Ziti With Ricotta
Baked Ziti With Ricotta is the basic classic form of baked ziti, without the extra work of the meatballs. This dish can be prepped, assembled, and baked in no time flat.
Baked Ziti With Meat
This Baked Ziti With Meat is also a more basic form of baked ziti. You only have to brown the meat before mixing it with the cheeses and pasta al dente, and baking.
Baked Ziti With Chicken
Baked Ziti With Chicken is a yummy favorite of mine. You cook a couple of chicken breasts in a skillet, cut them into bite-sized pieces, and mix them in with Italian cheeses and al dente pasta. Then, bake.
Baked Ziti With Sausage
Baked Ziti With Sausage recipe can be made with any link sausage you choose, sliced about a ¼ inch thick
Baked Ziti With Italian Sausage
Baked Ziti With Italian Sausage recipe is made with ground mild Italian sausage and is absolutely delicious.
Baked Ziti Without Ricotta
If ricotta isn’t your thing, you can forego this ingredient and make Baked Ziti Without Ricotta, using lots of mozzarella and parmesan instead.
Recipe Notes for Best Baked Ziti Recipe:
Sturdy Pasta – When baking with pasta, you always need to ensure that you are considering the thickness of the type of pasta you are using, and how long it should boil it before baking. This will prevent gooey pasta in your casseroles.
Al Dente – To cook pasta al dente, when cooked and cooled it should have a very slight firmness to it. With ziti, since it is a sturdy pasta, you also want it to retain its shape and not crack.
Frozen Cocktail Meatballs – If you want Baked Ziti but need a shortcut in the prep time, frozen cocktail meatballs will work just fine.
How To Make Ahead – Baked Ziti is a perfect dish to make ahead of time. You can prepare it as if you were going to put it in the oven, cover with aluminum foil, and leave in the refrigerator for no more than 3 days before baking.
How To Freeze –You can also freeze Baked Ziti after cooking. Place into a freezer safe container and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Serving Suggestions –One of the best things to serve with this Baked Ziti is some warm and crispy garlic bread, and a fresh green salad.
More Pasta Recipes…
- 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/4 Cup Plain Dried Bread Crumbs
- 2 Eggs Large, Lightly Beaten
- 2 Tablespoons Milk
- 3/4 Cup Romano Cheese Grated
- 1/4 Cup Flat Leaf Parsley Chopped
- To Taste Salt
- To Taste Black Pepper
- 1 Pound Ground Beef
- All-Purpose Flour for Dredging
- 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
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, eggs, milk, 1/2 cup of the Romano and the parsley, and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Add beef and gently combine, being careful not to overwork the meat. Shape into bite-size meatballs. Roll each meatball in flour to coat, shaking off excess.
- In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain pasta in a colander and set aside. If not using immediately, cover the top with plastic wrap so that pasta does not dry out. Do not rinse pasta with water since you want to retain the pasta's natural starches so that the sauce will cling to the ziti.
- In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When almost smoking, add meatballs in batches and without moving or turning the meat, allow it to brown for about 3 minutes. Turn meatballs and brown the other side. Continue to cook until all sides are golden brown. Remove meatballs to a plate.
- In a large bowl, combine the Marinara sauce and ricotta and mix well. Add the cooked ziti, fresh basil, and meatballs and toss gently.
- In a large greased baking dish (mine was 9 x 13 x 2 1/2inch), pour in pasta mixture. Sprinkle the mozzarella, Parmesan, and remaining Romano all over the top. Place baking dish on top of the baking sheet covered with aluminum foil to collect any drippings from the dish. Bake until top is golden brown and bubbly, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Source: Adapted Slightly From Giada De Laurentiis