Baked ziti with sausage is Italian comfort food that’ll bring the family home for dinner. Tour the tastes of Italy with one of the best Neapolitan style pasta recipes to come out of the peninsula!
Toss a crisp salad and throw some bread in the oven for an awesome meal that’ll put you in a flavor-induced stupor. Ziti pasta is the perfect vehicle to transport all the rich cheese-filled Italian meat sauce.
This baked ziti with sausage recipe is a staple in my kitchen and the family gets giddy with excitement when I put it on the table.
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love Italian food. This baked ziti with sausage recipe is really easy to make but it doesn’t show in the flavor. The meat sauce is rich and creamy and full of fragrant Italian herbs and spices.
Here are some other awesome reasons to love it.
- Fragrant Italian herbs and spices
- Rich flavorful meat sauce
- Hearty and nutritious
- Lots of cheesy goodness
- Great for meal prep and potlucks
Making baked ziti isn’t difficult at all. The right ingredients and techniques can help you coax some amazing flavors out of your baked ziti with sausage recipe. Here’s what you need to know!
Sautéing your veggies is one of the first steps after cooking the sausage. Don’t skip this step. It helps combat bitterness and brings out the sweeter more mellow flavors of the veggies. You’ll also want to do this is the same pan you used to cook the sausage.
You’ll be building a fond which is the tasty basis for your rich incredible meat sauce. When you add the water and other ingredients to the pan, make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with your spatula (or spoon) before letting it simmer.
Italian Sausage – I use mild Italian sausage for this baked ziti with sausage recipe. I have seen it made with hamburger, but Italian sausage gives this dish sooo much more flavor. Depending on your personal preference, you can also use sweet Italian sausage or hot Italian sausage for this dish.
Garlic & Italian Seasoning – The minced garlic and Italian seasoning also need a quick sauté before everything goes back into the pan. It helps perk them up, so they really add some intense flavor to your sauce.
Ziti Pasta – Ziti pasta is kind of the basis for the entire dish. I mean, it is in the name! You’ll want to cook your ziti just until al dente since it’ll be going in the oven too. Definitely do not forget to salt your pasta water. This is also very important as it ensures the most flavorful dish.
You’ll also want to toss your ziti pasta in the hot meat sauce immediately after draining. The hot starchy pasta holds onto the meat sauce better to help ensure each noodle is well coated.
Tomato Products – These are for your Italian red sauce. Don’t drain the crushed tomatoes, you’ll want to throw it all in there. The tomato paste will help thicken it up a bit and the heavy cream will make your sauce nice and rich.
Mozzarella – You simply can’t make this baked ziti with sausage recipe without mozzarella! I prefer to use the full-fat mozzarella because it adds to the rich creamy characteristics of the dish but feel free to use what suits you.
When I make this baked ziti with sausage recipe, there’s usually not a lot left after everyone has eaten. If I take it to a potluck, then I know I’m bringing home an empty dish. Anyhow, you’ll want to reserve the FDA recommended 2-hour serving rule and refrigerate any leftovers in a covered container.
Can You Freeze This?
Technically yes and no. This baked ziti with sausage is fantastic for meal prep, but pasta doesn’t freeze well. If you’re making this for meal prep, I recommend freezing this baked ziti with sausage recipe without the pasta. You can make fresh pasta and add it in before tossing your dish in the oven.
Make Ahead Tips
This baked ziti with sausage recipe has some intense flavor and it’s a great family meal when you want something really good for dinner. When I make this dish, I like to make a double batch of the meat sauce and freeze one of them. I like to keep a batch in the freezer, so I have it when the mood strikes.
How Long Can You Keep This?
When stored according to USDA recommendations, your baked ziti with sausage recipe will stay fresh in the fridge for up to 4 days and up to 3 months in the freezer. Trust me – it never lasts that long. People gobble up this dish quickly!
Tweaking this baked ziti with sausage recipe is super simple. All it takes is a few simple changes to ensure this dish suits your personal preference and/or dietary goals. Here are just a few suggestions.
- Make this recipe with sweet Italian sausage or hot Italian sausage. Turkey sausage also works
- Add mushrooms or bell peppers or use different types of onion.
- Try using a different type of cheese, such as Colby or Monterey Jack
- Swap the grated carrot for sweet earthy squash
Can I Add Spinach?
Why not? Making baked ziti with sausage and spinach is a great way to sneak in some greens and the kiddos will probably never even know its there.
Can I Make This Baked Ziti Vegetarian?
Well since this baked ziti with sausage recipe even has ‘sausage’ in the name, it may be hard to make this one vegetarian. BUT, you can make five cheese ziti al forno instead and it is off the charts! Viva Italia!!
What Other Baked Ziti Recipes Can I Cook?
This baked ziti with sausage recipe is so outstanding that it may actually leave you craving baked ziti when you least expect it. Lucky for you, there are a million other ways you can make it. Instead of using sausage, you can make baked ziti with meat or – one of my personal favorites – baked ziti with ricotta!
Baked Ziti With Sausage
- 1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage
- 1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup carrot, finely grated
- olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, including juices
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup water
- 16 ounces ziti
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese
- 3 cups (about 12 ounces) Mozzarella, shredded
- 2 tablespoons parsley or fresh basil, chopped
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees, Spray a 9X13 inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside
- In a large pot, brown the sausage, crumbling into large pieces. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of drippings from pot. If you do not have that amount remaining, add olive oil to make up the difference.
- Add the onion and saute, over medium-high heat, until soft, about 5-6 minutes. Add the grated carrot, salt, and pepper, and saute until soft. Reduce the heat to low and add the garlic and Italian seasoning. Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the browned sausage back to the pot. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, bay leaves, and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat immediately and simmer for a minimum of 30 minutes. Stir in cream and Parmesan cheese.
- While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta according to package instructions to al dente. Drain well and return to the pot. Pour the sauce over pasta and toss well to coat pasta.
- Pour half of the pasta in the prepared baking dish then sprinkle 1/2 the mozzarella over the top. Repeat with remaining pasta and cheese.
- Place baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven until heat through and bubbly, about 25-30 minutes. Top with parsley or basil and serve.
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This baked ziti with sausage recipe is sort of an illusion. It has such a rich and decadent flavor that people will automatically assume you spent all day in the kitchen. Whether you tell them any different is up to you!
Either way, this baked ziti with sausage recipe will take people on a tasty tour of flavors that are the ultimate Italian comfort food.