This classic meatless baked ziti is an easy layered pasta dish made with a zesty sauce, 3 different kinds of cheeses, and baked until golden and bubbly!
This dish may remind you of a cross between a casserole, a lasagna, and a big bowl of cheesy saucy pasta! It’s quick and easy comfort food, made easier with your favorite jarred tomato sauce, and ready in under 1 hour.
Vegetarian Baked Ziti
This dish is not fancy and we are totally ok with that. It’s a flavorful vegetarian version of traditional baked ziti and is a recipe that is one to keep handy! It’s the perfect main course for family gatherings or to have as a no-fuss make-ahead potluck dish because it easily feeds a crowd. Serve it with a side of garlic bread and a simple salad and you’ve got a complete meal ready on the table in no time. Bonus points for knowing it’s a meal everyone will love!
What is baked Ziti?
Baked ziti is a homestyle, family-friendly meal that has restaurant-quality flavors on a dime. Simply put, it’s pasta tossed in a creamy cheese mixture, layered on top of tomato sauce in a casserole dish. Then it’s baked until the melty cheesy goodness bubbles on the sides and the top is golden brown. It is to lasagna what a burger is to a steak. And we all know how much everyone loves a burger!
This means it’s a scrumptious choice when you are craving something quick but tastes like you’ve been in the kitchen all day. It is sure to be a family favorite, whether it’s meatless Monday or not!
This is a vegetarian version, but feel free to add chunks of Italian sausage, extra veggies, or even ground beef. This kid-friendly dish allows you to pick and choose your fillings and tastes amazing no matter what.
Why this recipe works
- Quick and easy
- Tons of flavor
- Serves a crowd
- Can add meat
- Comfort food
- Freezer friendly
- Easy make-ahead prep
- Ziti pasta – You can also substitute with rigatoni, penne, or rotini.
- Tomato sauce – Use whichever you have on hand. You can use store bought or this homemade marinara sauce.
- Ricotta cheese – Ricotta is a soft mild cheese that doesn’t have as much of a test as it does a texture. If you end up having lots leftover, not to worry it can be used for so many different recipes from cooked dishes to baked goods.
- Mozzarella cheese – Use pre-shredded packaged cheese. But if you can, freshly grated is the way to go.
- Parmesan cheese – Again, same deal as above. If you can avoid parmesan that comes in a shaker, you won’t regret it.
- Eggs – Used to bind the cheeses, especially the soft ricotta. It gives it some stability and helps it from becoming runny.
- Garlic minced – An aromatic used to enhance the flavor of this dish.
- Parsley – Fresh parsley is a delicious pairing to any tomato sauce.
- Italian seasoning – A simple seasoning made up of rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano, among other herbs.
How to Make this Recipe
Step 1: Preheat the oven and cook and drain your pasta according to package directions.
Step 2: In a large bowl, mix all of the ricotta cheese with part mozzarella and part parmesan along with the eggs, garlic, parsley, and Italian seasoning. Stir well to combine. The remaining mozzarella and parmesan will be used as the top layer just before baking.
Step 3: In a 9×13 baking dish, add half of the sauce and spread evenly all around the dish. Add the cooked pasta to the cheese mixture make sure it’s all coated evenly. Then spread that pasta mixture over top the sauce in the baking dish and top with remaining sauce, then remaining cheeses.
Step 4: Bake in the oven until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted and slightly brown. Remove and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Variation 1: For an easy vegetarian lasagna swap, use ready-to-cook lasagna noodles in place of the ziti pasta and layer it as you would any lasagna. Add in some veggies if you’d like and bake as directed on the lasagna noodle package!
Variation 2: For a meat version and added protein toss in pieces of Italian sausage, ground beef, or bulk sausage (the sausage without the casings), which makes it easier to ground up.
- This recipe works great with any pasta noodles. Ziti pasta is the traditional choice, but feel free to use rotini, rigatoni, or even penne.
- Add extra veggies for added flavor and nutrients. You could wilt some spinach into the sauce, or add in some chopped-up broccoli florets, zucchini, or bell pepper into the layers.
- If you’re making a vegetarian version but want a little “meat” texture, add in loads of mushrooms.
- For a meat option, you could make a meat sauce with ground turkey, chicken, or beef.
- Like a little heat? Sprinkle in some red pepper flakes into your sauce.
You will bake it covered for the duration of the bake time with the exception of the last 5 minutes. With the last 5 minutes remaining remove the foil and broil until the cheese is lightly golden.
Absolutely! Sausage, ground beef, turkey or chicken, all work.
Ziti and penne are similar in that they are both a medium pasta, similar in shape and size with ziti being a bit larger. Penne also has its signature diagonal cut on the ends, whereas ziti is a straight cut. You can see why they can be used interchangeably in a pinch.
When baking with ricotta it’s a good idea to use an egg to help keep its structure. Otherwise you’ll find the ricotta runny.
Classic Meatless Baked Ziti
- 1 pound Ziti pasta
- 32 ounces tomato sauce
- 16 ounces Ricotta cheese
- 2 cups Mozzarella cheese divided in half
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese divided in half
- 2 eggs
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon parsley
- 2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- Cook the penne pasta according to package directions.
- Drain the pasta in a colander.
- In a large bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup parmesan
- cheese, eggs, garlic, parsley and Italian seasoning to a large bowl and stir to combine well
- In a 9×13 baking dish, add half of the sauce and spread evenly all around the dish.
- Add the cooked/ drained pasta to cheese mixture and toss well to coat
- Add the pasta mixture to the baking dish spread evenly.
- Top with remaining sauce, then the other 1 cup mozzarella and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese.
- Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted and slightly brown.
- Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes