Baked ziti with ricotta is a decadent Italian delicacy that rises high above many typical pasta recipes. Though simple to assemble, this ziti pasta exudes sophistication and confidence in all its splendor. People will think you spent hours in the kitchen.
There are plenty of recipes for this hearty classic, but none as divinely inspired as this. The melty mozzarella topping, Italian meat sauce, and beautiful ricotta filling are broken into bite-sized portions by the amiable ziti pasta. It’s enough to make you salivate. Baked Ziti with Ricotta is perfect for a cozy family dinner or a decadent potluck course.
I love that this baked ziti with ricotta is so simple to make even though it tastes like a million bucks! With an easy 20-minute prep time, you can still get it in the oven for a family meal even on a busy schedule. The recipe is also flexible, so its easy to suit personal tastes and dietary restrictions.
It tastes just like grandma used to make in less than half the time! Here are some other reasons to fall in love with this recipe.
- Hearty and filling
- Robust meat sauce with garlic
- Easy 20-minute prep
- Plenty of melty cheese
- On the table in under an hour
Making baked ziti with ricotta doesn’t require any special skills or crazy kitchen gadgets. A few tricks of the trade are all you need to knock this one out of the park.
I know I sound like a broken record, but it is so important to salt the pasta water. I find that 1-2 tablespoons is adequate for about 4 quarts of water. The pasta absorbs some of the water as it cooks so you want that water to be well-seasoned. If you have any doubt at all, try a taste test. Cook just a little bit of pasta both ways and taste them.
You’ll also want to cook your ziti pasta al dente which is still a little firm in the middle. Of course, cook it to your liking. I’m just saying that since pasta is the cornerstone of your dish, you want well-seasoned pasta that isn’t mushy when you take it out of the oven.
Believe it or not, it does matter how you set up your layers in your baked ziti with ricotta. You should always start with pasta, meat sauce and then ricotta. Of course, spread a layer of meat sauce on the bottom of the pan first to prevent the ziti from sticking. Layering in this manner will ensure that there is just the right amount of each ingredient in every bite.
Lastly, be sure to let your baked ziti with ricotta rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. This is not a myth or an old wives’ tale as some people claim. The reason for this is to let your dish ‘set up’ so that all the beautiful flavors can mingle, and you don’t end up with a soupy mess upon serving.
Veggies: While it can be tempting to throw this baked ziti with ricotta together in one shot, make sure you take the time to sauté the onion. Sautéing veggies before adding them to a recipe helps rid them of their bitterness and brings out their sweet mellow characteristics. It adds layers of aroma and flavor to any dish.
Spaghetti Sauce: It is also important to choose a great tasting spaghetti sauce for this recipe. Don’t go in search of the cheapest sauce on the grocery store shelf. Your baked ziti with ricotta will taste so much better with a quality spaghetti sauce. Of course, you can make your own but that will take much longer, and it certainly isn’t necessary for a great tasting dish.
Meat: I prefer ground beef for this recipe, but other ground meats will work too. Feel free to use ground turkey or ground chicken if that is what you are used to cooking with.
Spices: Lastly, I know the nutmeg sounds a little misplaced in the ricotta filling, but I promise you don’t want to skip it. This is the ‘secret ingredient’ that gives your dish that extra something special and it adds to the fragrant aromas that tempt the tummy!
Pan Size: Our recipe fills a pyrex 9X13 to the absolute maximum of pan capacity. We pressed the top layer gently down with the back of a large spatula. If you happen to have a ceramic 9X13 inch dish with an ever so slighlty larger capacity, I suggest using that.
Place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet before placing in the oven. It will catch any spillovers (I’ve never had any, even in my pyrex dish) but it also makes it easier to move the baking dish in and out of the oven.
Baked Ziti With Meat Storing Tips
Storing your baked ziti with meat sauce is so simple. I just take the leftovers and put them in an airtight container in the fridge. It makes a fantastic brown bag lunch the next day but there often isn’t enough left. Inevitably, someone gobbles it up before the night is out! Depending on how much you have left, you can separate and store in single serve portions too.
Can You Freeze This?
Absolutely, you can freeze this baked ziti with ricotta. Simply prepare as directed and cool to room temperature. Then wrap and freeze accordingly. I often make a double batch and freeze one of them for a ready-made meal during the busy week. You can also freeze your baked ziti in single-serve portions that are easy to pull out a couple at a time. It makes great afterschool snacks for teenagers and even better weekend lunches for the busy family!
Make Ahead Tips
You can certainly prepare this dish ahead of time for convenience and there are a couple of different ways you can do it. First, you can put the whole thing together, cover it and park it in the fridge instead of the oven.
You can also go ahead and prepare the meat sauce ahead of time, label it and freeze it by itself. Just toss it in the fridge to slowly thaw the day before you’re ready to cook. When you want to make your baked ziti with ricotta, boil the ziti and mix the filling. It’ll be ready for the oven in no time flat.
How Long Can You Keep This In The Fridge?
If you have made this dish ahead of time and parked it in the fridge, you should cook it within 3 days. If you are storing leftovers, the USDA recommends 3-5 days if stored properly in an airtight container at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to observe the 2-hour window for serving at potlucks and get-togethers.
You can do so many different things with this recipe and it will still taste fantastic! Try using ground sausage for a more savory kick, sneak some riced cauliflower in the ricotta filling or just make baked ziti without ricotta.
Some people like to add fresh basil or sprinkle parmesan on top for a more textured topping. I’ve even heard of people using different cheeses, like cheddar or Colby. It’s up to you, so do what your family likes!
Can I Cook This With Sausage Instead?
Making baked ziti with sausage is pretty common, just be sure to use mild Italian sausage. It may have too much of a kick if you grab the hot stuff. I have even used a combination of sausage and ground beef. It was every bit as fantastic as the original recipe!
Can I Add More Cheese?
Uh, absolutely! Add several cheeses and make five cheese ziti al forno. Who says you have to go out to enjoy a decadent Italian inspired cuisine? Similar to baked ziti with ricotta, this will knock your socks off with a savory blend of five different cheeses and a textured topping to blend it all together. You won’t believe your taste buds!
Baked Ziti with Ricotta
- 2 tablespoons Olive oil
- 1 cup onion chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic minced
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 (24 ounce) jars spaghetti sauce
- 3 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 24 ounces ricotta
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 cup mozzarella, shredded
- 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 12 ounces ziti pasta uncooked
- 2 cups mozzarella shredded
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Make Sauce: Heat olive oil, over medium-high heat, in a large, high sided skillet. Add onion and saute until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Moderate heat so as not to brown onion. Turn heat to medium-low and add minced garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
- Add beef, salt, and black pepper to skillet and cook, over medium heat, until no longer pink; drain as needed. Stir in spaghetti sauce and add Italian seasoning.
- Make Ricotta Filling: In a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese, eggs, nutmeg, Italian seasoning, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan.
- Pasta: Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well.
- Assembly: Add 1/2 cup of sauce to the bottom of a 13x9-inch baking dish and swirl to cover bottom. Spread 1/2 of cooked pasta in baking dish, then spoon a 1/2 of the meat sauce, then dollop 1/2 ricotta mixture-spreading it into an even layer with an offset spatula. Repeat with remaining layers, ending with meat sauce.Place on a rimmed cookie sheet.
- Cover and bake about 40 minutes or until a thermometer reads 160°. Uncover; sprinkle with remaining 2 cups mozzarella cheese. Bake 10 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
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Baked ziti with ricotta is one of the most delicious decadent Italian inspired dishes in my arsenal. The fact that it is so simple to make just adds to the convenience factor. The fragrant aromas draw my family in from long and far before I even take this dish out of the oven. In fact, any time I’ve made baked ziti with ricotta for a potluck I’ve had to make two of them because the family can’t wait. Yeah, it’s that good!