Quick baked ziti lets you decide what ingredients you use! This version is simple to make with or without meat and uses both sour cream and ricotta, but you can easily swap one for the other. When blended with melty mozzarella and your favorite sauce, this is one pan of flavorful weeknight dinner goodness.Jump to Recipe
There’s not much easier than pasta when you need to get dinner done in a rush (and bonus points for recipes you can make ahead and bake later!) so this quick baked ziti is the perfect fit when you’re stuck, worn out, or plain old sick of what you’ve been making.
It feels like you tried a little harder than just basic spaghetti–but it’s still really easy to make.
What’s the difference between lasagna and baked ziti?
Lasagna is a layered baked pasta dish that uses sheets of flat lasagna noodles. Tomato sauce with or without meat is layered with cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta and baked until hot and bubbling.
Baked ziti is an unlayered pasta dish that uses ziti pasta–a short, hollow cylindrical pasta with no ridges on the outside. The cooked pasta is blended with tomato sauce, meat and a blend of cheeses including ricotta and mozzarella or sour cream before baking.
How to make baked ziti without meat
Sautee the onions according to the recipe until translucent; about 5 or 6 minutes over medium low heat. Add the rosemary and garlic, cook 30 seconds then add the pasta sauce. Heat together until gently simmering and hot throughout then add to the pasta and proceed as directed.
To make this recipe ahead
Fully assemble the ziti it and let it cool. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate. If you are baking your pasta in a glass or ceramic dish, place it in the oven before you preheat it so the pan can come up to temperature slowly and not shatter.
I have mixed feelings about freezing this recipe. It’s going to dry out as the pasta absorbs the sauce. But, if you must: Wrap the dish well in several layers of plastic wrap and then foil. Freeze for up to 2 months.
To bake, either thaw overnight in the fridge then follow the instructions above for making ahead or bake from frozen by covering the dish and baking 45 to 50 minutes or until hot in the center, removing the foil for the last 10 minutes of baking and broiling if desired.
You may need to lightly stir in 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of additional pasta sauce or a 1/2 cup of water before baking to help loosen the sauce up a bit.
How to assemble quick baked ziti step by step
Should ziti be baked covered or uncovered?
Bake covered for half the cook time so that the cheese has time to melt efficiently without drying out the rest of the ziti in the process. Then uncover and bake the remaining half.
If you’re using aluminum foil make sure to grease it so the cheese doesn’t stick. I choose to use parchment paper then the foil so it doesn’t come in to contact with the food.
How to make baked ziti even faster
- Use a jarred sauce you like. I love Michael’s of Brooklyn because the flavor is fresh and the ingredients tick all the boxes for quality. If I’m not using my homemade pasta sauce, this is my next best choice.
- Skip the meat if you don’t have time to brown some up OR you could try my favorite trick: freeze dried ground beef. It’s totally real, quality beef, just freeze dried so all you need to do is add water to soften, then drain it and add it to your recipe. Thrive Life makes my favorite brand.
- Bake optional. Technically, everything you’re assembling just needs to be heated, not truly baked. If your baked ziti is layered with hot ingredients (warmed sauce, hot pasta) you can get by with just broiling the cheese on top and serving immediately.
Can this ziti be baked without boiling the pasta?
I didn’t test it. Some people like to add several jars of pasta sauce or a blend of sauce and water to dry pasta then bake–but that’s going to take much longer to cook than if you just boiled the pasta and moved on.
I also don’t feel like it’s fair to your budget to ask you to use two or three jars of expensive pasta sauce for baking when you could just use water, boil it and get it in the oven.
Swaps for the ricotta/sour cream
Cottage cheese is an okay swap for the ricotta and some people like plain greek yogurt in place of sour cream. It might work here though I haven’t tested it.
Swaps for muenster
Muenster is an amazing cheese that brings a bit more flavor but all the melt you expect from mozzarella. Even though it’s not traditional in a baked ziti I think it’s worth using. Otherwise you can just swap in another cup of mozzarella or even some good parmesan is fine.
Tips for keeping the pasta from drying out
You always run the risk of over baking a pasta dish and getting something really dry after it bakes.
To prevent this, make sure to cover the noodles with an even layer of cheese before baking and
What to serve with ziti baked pasta
For something lighter, a pear and Gorgonzola salad is a good fit.
Don’t skip on a great garlic bread. This recipe is perfect!
Quick Baked Ziti with Sour Cream (Meat Optional)
- 1/2 pound ziti pasta measured dry; half a box; 8 ounces
- 1 1/2 tablespoons avocado oil another high heat oil works
- 1/2 cup yellow onion diced in to 1/4" pieces
- 2 cloves garlic minced, about 1 teaspoon
- 1/4 pound ground beef
- 1/4 pound Italian pork sausage
- 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary chopped
- 3 cups spaghetti sauce use a good quality one
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1/3 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 cup mozzarella, divided grated, then measured
- 1 cup muenster cheese, divided grated, then measured; you can swap more mozzarella here if you choose
- Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9×13 or slightly smaller baking dish and set aside. I used a 9x11x3 pan when testing.
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions adding 1/2 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water, then cook 1 minute less than the package directions for al dente. Drain; leave it in the colander and set aside.
- In a 9" or larger skillet, add the avocado oil over medium high heat and add the onion. Saute 3 to 5 minutes then add the beef and sausage and cook, breaking up any large pieces until no pink remains. Add the garlic and chopped rosemary and cook 30 seconds more then drain as much fat as you can from the meat. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, mix the sour cream and ricotta cheese together in a small bowl and set aside.
- In the baking dish mix the cooked pasta, pasta sauce, and meat mixture. Add the salt and stir well.
- Add the sour cream and ricotta in 2 tablespoon dollops around the dish and use a spoon or knife to gently swirl it in to the pasta, but don't mix it in totally.
- Add half the mozzarella and half the meunster to the pasta and gently mix it around–don't worry about mixing it in totally.
- Add the other half of the cheeses to the top. Lightly grease a sheet of foil or use a layer of parchment paper then foil and cover; bake 10 minutes then uncover and bake 5-7 minutes more; broil the top until golden brown if you have time.
- If baking cold from the refrigerator, bake covered 20 to 25 minutes, then uncovered 5 to 10 minutes. Just until the center is hot.