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.
Table of contents
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.
Other Easy Baked Dinner Ideas
Mexican Cauliflower Rice Casserole
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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, ½ 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 ½ 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
Nutritional facts are estimates and are provided as a courtesy to the reader. Please utilize your own brand nutritional values to double check against our estimates. Nutritional values are calculated via a third party. Changing ingredients, amounts or cooking technique will alter the estimated nutritional calculations.
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Made for a large crowd. Delicious!
I can’t cook to save my life so I was concerned when my brother assigned me ‘baked ziti’ for Thanksgiving dinner. I ran into a few snags being “kitchen challenged” (I bought shredded mozzarella and realized in hindsight you weren’t referring to shredded so adjusted cups to ounces). The verdict? Everyone went back for seconds and took some home! My husband said it was his favorite of the day. THANK YOU!!!!
I made this recipe for my family. It was a HUGE hit. They definitely want this again. The only thing I did differently was add a bit of Italian seasoning to the tomato sauce. Thanks for sharing this GREAT recipe!
Hi! A family member has requested baked ziti. I have never made it before. My question is about the tomato sauce. Do you do anything to it to “doctor” it up? I am concerned that if I leave it plain, it will be too acid. Any thoughts or suggestions? Thanks for sharing this recipe!
I personally add a little sugar to mine. It definitely changes the flavor. The amount of sugar would be up to you.
Quick question…You mention fresh parsley in your description of ingredients. In the recipe section you say 1 Tbsp parsley but it seems like a small amount for fresh parsley. Is 1 Tbsp the amount for fresh or dried parsley. Thanks.
With fresh I usually do end up putting more like 2 TBSP since it has more volume than dried when you cut it. The flavor doesn’t change to much with the parsley 🙂
Made this for a friend who is having surgery and split into 2 8″pans. I did add more marinara but they raved about it. They don’t eat sausage or red meat so this was perfect. They are from NY so they love Italian food. Big hit..thank you!
That makes me so happy to hear!! 🙂
Is the mozzarella cheese shredded or cubed?
I have used both. But definitely like fresh vs already shredded mozzarella in a bag 🙂
Hi…I’m making this recipe tomorrow. Just a quick question. There is sauce on the bottom and on the top, but none in the center? Would it be okay to add a few spoons of sauce into the ziti/cheese mixture before baking?
Also, can I assemble it today, refrigerate overnight, and bake the next day?
Yes! You can definitely do that! And another yes to making it the day before. I do like to put it in a cold oven and then turn the oven on to bake. (if it’s in a glass dish)
I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
I have used both but typically cube it
There must be an error in the posting of this recipe, as nowhere do I see where the tomato sauce is used?
#6 and #9 in the instructions above direct you to spread the sauce in the baking pan and then to top with remaining sauce.
I don’t usually leave reviews, but this recipe warrants it. I just made it for the first time tonight, and it is perfect, exactly as written. No substitutions, no extra this-or-that, no need to change a thing. I have made many baked ziti dinners over the past 35 years, and although they each came out good, this recipe came out exceptionally good. Phenomenally good. My son (25yrs old) just came to me saying how delicious it was, and asked what I did different. It’s a new recipe and if you think it’s good now, wait until tomorrow, I told him. Because as we all know, any baked “pasta + cheese + tomato sauce” dish is always better the next day, after the flavors have had time to meld and the pasta has soaked up some of the sauce. I can’t imagine this being any better, but I am looking forward to tomorrow’s dinner already. Thank you for our new favorite, and forever, Baked Ziti recipe!
Aww! I’m so happy to hear this! Thank you for letting me know 🙂 I appreciate you taking the time!
What temp does the oven go at and for about how long average to cook?!
350° F for 35-40 minutes 🙂
This is my go to ziti recipe. I do put a thin layer of sauce and cheese half way up the pasta when I layer it in the casserole dish. I have also started putting it in the oven without a cover at a slightly higher temperature. We just love it!
I’m so happy to hear that! It is such a favorite for us!
Can you make a larger batch of this(1 1/2 times the size or double it) , and if so what size pan would you cook it in?
Oh definitely! if it’s just 1 1/2 times, it will fit in the 9×13 pan more than likely. If doubled I would use two separate pans.
Excellent recipe: rich and cheesy, gooey on the inside with some crust around the edges. It seems forgiving, too, as I didn’t really measure anything, did it all by eye, and used homemade tomato sauce with San Marzano tomatoes. Definitely a winner!
I’m so happy you enjoyed it!
This the the best ziti I have ever made and I’ve made many over the years. I love that it’s layered and creamy! All 6 of my family members loved it (that never happens ages 3-9 + 2 adults). I also made it for my mother and father-in-law after a surgery and they loved it and asked for the recipe. Thank you for the new family staple!!
I am going to take this to a sick friend on Friday! If I assemble it and refrigerate it (not bake it), how long should she put it in the over for, straight from the fridge?
That is so kind of you! She can put the “cold” dish in the oven and “then” turn the oven on to 350° F. and cook for the 35 minutes. 🙂
This is one of the best baked zitis I have ever tasted…yet along made! Thank you for this quick, easy and tasty recipe!
I’m so happy to hear that!
Delicious and very easy to make. Doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to purchase the ingredients either.
best and easiest recipe I have made. I substitute basil for the parsley and use 1/2 the amount of italian seasoning. It’s amazing!
Hopefully it come in handy for you in a few weeks. 🙂
My Baked Ziti recipe calls for marinara spaghetti sauce. I’m assuming that your recipe is plain tomato sauce and not what you are calling spaghetti sauce. Am I correct? You’ve gotten such wonderful reviews, I want to try it and I want to make sure I do it right.
Also… for future reference, will it make a lot of difference in taste if I use cottage cheese instead of Ricotta cheese? Thanks!
Yes, I use plain tomato sauce 🙂 and it is absolutely wonderful to use cottage cheese instead of ricotta! I do that in my lasagna a lot too.
I substitute sausage with portobello mushrooms and roasted red peppers in the jar when I go vegetarian every other time.
I’m sorry if I missed this somewhere but if I am going to prep the day before, should I bake with a cover on or off? I am using a 9×13 cast aluminum casserole dish with a glass lid.
I understand to put the cold dish in the oven turn to 350 and leave in for 35 mins. Does the time change if I’m using 1.5 lbs of pasta?
Yes, it is baked uncovered. 🙂 You may need to add 10-15 more minutes but I would just keep my eye on it to be sure it doesn’t get too brown on top.
I hope you enjoy it too!
Recipe is great. I would suggest on the freezing directions to mention that plastic wrap needs to be removed before baking.
Thank you!! Excellent thought! I will do that now 🙂
That seems like such an obvious assumption but sadly if it’s not spelled out to the letter, people won’t use their brains & will actually PUT Saran wrap IN the stove!