You only need one hand to count the number of ingredients you’ll need to make this easy and delicious Baked Ziti Recipe. In fact, you likely already have everything you need to bring this nutritious and popular Italian meal to your table tonight. Read on for our quick suggestions to customize this weeknight Baked Ziti to make it just right for your family, including our hot tip for how to get two meals out of one.
This post was created in partnership with Primal Kitchen.
This recipe was originally published Feb 22, 2018; Updated Feb 6, 2022.
baked ziti takes the stress out of weeknight dinners
Everyone needs a simple and reliable homemade meal they can turn to when schedules get busy. This Baked Ziti with Meat is perfectly designed to make your life easier because it’s made from just a few everyday real-food ingredients, it takes minimal prep time, and it’s a recipe that everyone loves to eat, kids included.
If you’re looking for dairy-free option that’s made on the stovetop, check out this Easy Skillet Rigatoni recipe.
ingredients to make baked ziti with meat
Here’s the short list of five ingredients that come together in this delicious Ziti Recipe you can assemble in just 20 minutes.
- uncooked pasta – we prefer a tubed pasta, such as ziti or penne, but you can use any pasta shape; use gluten-free, if needed
- ground meat – we love the taste of this Baked Ziti when made with a mix of ½ pound of ground beef and ½ pound of ground mild Italian sausage, but you can make it with 1 pound of either type of those meat, or use ground turkey, ground pork, ground bison, ground venison, or any ground meat you have on hand
- pasta sauce – our go-to pasta sauce for this recipe is the Primal Kitchen Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce. We love it because it’s made with a base of organic California-grown tomatoes and basil plus avocado oil, and contains no added sugars, gluten, canola oil, or soybean oil. We also love to tweak the flavor a little by using the Primal Kitchen Roasted Garlic Marinara Sauce; both are great options!
- mozzarella – use pre-shredded mozzarella to keep things fast, or shred your own from a block of mozzarella, which is classic for Baked Ziti. However, if you don’t have mozz, you could sub in another shredded cheese you have on hand, such as Cheddar, Colby Jack, Havarti, mild Gouda, or Fontina
- Italian seasoning
Want more veggies? Read below for our suggestions for great veggies to add even more nutrition and flavor to this Baked Ziti Recipe (or to use in place of the meat).
how to make baked ziti with meat
Follow these 4 easy steps to make our 5-Ingredient Baked Ziti pronto:
- Brown the meat: Saute the ground beef and sausage until browned, using a spatula to break up the meat. If adding chopped vegetables, add them to the pan now with the meat.
- Cook the pasta: While the meat is cooking, cook the pasta until al dente (the pasta should still be slightly firm and have some “chew” to it or it will get too soft when baked). Drain the pasta and pour into a greased 9×13 pan.
- Assemble the baked ziti: To the pan with the pasta, add the cooked meat, marinara sauce, 1 cup of the cheese, and the Italian seasoning. Stir gently until well incorporated. Sprinkle with remaining the remaining ½ cup cheese.
- Bake the casserole: Cover the pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, until hot and bubbly, and the cheese on top is melted.
It’s really that simple!
Add veggies to your baked ziti to up the nutrition
You can easily customize this simple Italian casserole and increase the nutrition at the same time by adding some chopped veggies. The following veggies make great flavor additions to this Baked Ziti with Meat (our personal fave is adding zucchini). Simply add 3 to 4 cups of your preferred chopped veggies (or a mix of them) to the pan while you are browning the ground meat. Try adding:
- zucchini (chopped or cut into half moons)
- sliced white or yellow onion
- chopped broccoli florets
- chopped fresh spinach
Looking for a meat-free baked ziti?
You can easily turn this Baked Ziti recipe into a plant-based meatless meal. To do so, replace the ground meat with any combination of the above vegetables.
Baked Ziti: how to make two meals at once
When we make this Baked Ziti for our families (and that is often!) we either bake the entire recipe in a single 9×13-inch baking dish, OR we divide all the ingredients among two 9×9-inch baking dishes and freeze one of those for later. Which direction we go really depends on how many leftovers we want and need for the week. Read on for notes about freezing and thawing.
how to freeze and thaw Baked ziti for later
After dividing the ingredients into two 9×9-inch baking dishes, bake one now and freeze another for later. Cover one baking dish with a double layer of aluminum foil and/or lid and freeze for up to 3 months.
When you want to bake the frozen ziti casserole, it’s best to thaw the dish overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, bake the casserole as directed until the cheese is melty and perfectly browned at the edges. No time to thaw? You CAN bake the casserole directly out of the freezer. Just plan to bake it at least an hour.
When making this Baked Ziti for the freezer (and especially if you’re using gluten-free pasta), you’ll want to cook the noodles until they’re just shy of al dente (tender but still quite chewy) so that when the dish is thawed and baked, the noodles won’t become too soft and overcooked.
our Go-To sauce for baked ziti
Not all pasta sauces are created equal. And we have fallen in love with the fresh-tasting marinara sauces from Primal Kitchen. They’re made from a base of California-grown tomatoes and seasoned with fresh basil or roasted garlic. We also love that they’re made without any added sugars or inflammatory oils (like soy or canola). Plus, they’re Whole30 approved and Paleo certified. For this Baked Ziti recipe, we keep things simple by using a 24-ounce jar of either the Primal Kitchen Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce or the Roasted Garlic Marinara Sauce.
what to serve with this Baked ziti recipe
When making this ziti recipe, we love to keep things Italian by serving it alongside our Copycat Olive Garden Salad. Or, pair it with a simple veggie side, such as our Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic-Bacon Aioli or Grilled Asparagus with Parmesan.
the perfect occasion for baked ziti
This really is the perfect budget-friendly, simple, and easy meal to make for a quick dinner. And this popular Italian casserole is also a good fit for fancier occasions, too. Try serving it:
- for a romantic dinner at home – Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, Date Night In
- when hosting dinner guests – you can’t beat a simple comfort dish that everyone loves
- busy weeknights – the quick prep and short ingredient list (not to mention the fact that you can prep it ahead for a freezer-to-oven meal) makes this a go-to for those dinners when you need something easy, homemade, and good
- for a new mom or other friend in need – a sick friend, new parents, a family member who needs a helping hand … Any one of them would appreciate this made-ahead healthy freezer meal that they can bake at their convenience
- 12 ounces pasta of choice (use gluten-free, if needed)
- ½ lb. bulk mild Italian sausage + ½ lb. lean ground beef (or, may use 1 lb. ground meat of choice)
- 1 24-ounce jar Primal Kitchen marinara sauce
- 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- Optional for serving: Fresh basil and Parmesan cheese
Want more veggies? Add 3-4 cups of diced zucchini, diced onion, roughly chopped spinach, and/or chopped broccoli in Step 2 below.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mist a 9×13-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray (or use two 9×9 baking dishes, if freezing one for later) and set aside.
- To a skillet or saute pan over medium high heat, add ground beef and sausage. Cook until browned, using a spatula to break up the meat. If adding chopped vegetables, add them to the pan now with the meat. Cook until the meat is no longer pink and the vegetables are tender. If needed, drain excess fat from the pan.
- While the meat is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Add pasta and cook until al dente (pasta should still be slightly firm or it will get too soft when baked – and cook it a little more al dente / more firm if you plan to freeze it). Drain the pasta and pour into the prepared 9×13 pan (or divide it among the two pans).
- Add the cooked meat, marinara sauce, 1 cup of the cheese, and the Italian seasoning to the pan (or pans) with the pasta. Stir gently until well incorporated. Sprinkle with remaining the remaining 1/2 cup cheese (or add more to your liking). If freezing one pan, see the freezing instructions below.
- Cover the pan with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 5-10 minutes, until hot and bubbly, and until the cheese on top is melted.
- Serve sprinkled with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese, if desired.
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- Serving Size: ⅛ recipe
- Calories: 352
- Fat: 12 g
- (Sat Fat: 4 g)
- Sodium: 485 mg
- Carbohydrate: 38 g
- (Fiber: 3 g
- Sugar: 5 g)
- Protein: 24 g
- Cholesterol: 49 mg
Photo Credit: The photos in this blog post were taken by Rachel Cook of Half Acre House.
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