Baked Ziti with Sausage

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Baked Ziti with Sausage

This baked ziti with sausage is a MAJOR family pleaser. It’s similar to meat lasagna but without the fuss, easy enough for a weeknight but also special enough for company, and it makes a great prep-ahead potluck dish.

Sausage Baked Ziti

People often say to my kids, “You must love having a mom who cooks all the time.” The kids jokingly lament that it’s not as great as it seems. When I’m developing recipes, we eat the same dinner for several nights in a row (whether they like it or not), and when I’m working on desserts, we order pizza. But when I was testing this sausage baked ziti and serving it night after night, absolutely no one complained; it’s a MAJOR family pleaser.

Loaded with Italian sausage, which packs a ton of flavor, it’s similar to meat lasagna without the fuss, easy enough for a weeknight but also special enough for company, and it also makes a great prep-ahead potluck dish. While the baked ziti is in the oven, throw together a big Italian salad and warm some bread, and a comforting, make-everyone-happy dinner is served.

What you’ll need to Make Baked Ziti with Sausage

how to make baked ziti

Before we get to the step-by-step instructions, a few words about the ingredients:

  • Ricotta cheese is a traditional addition to baked ziti, but I leave it out because it has a tendency to get dry and grainy when baked. I use heavy cream to add richness instead.
  • For the mozzarella cheese, I recommend using whole milk mozzarella; it melts beautifully. You can purchase a plastic-wrapped brick of mozzarella (pictured above and sold in the dairy case) and shred it yourself. (To make it easier to work with, pop it in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes prior to shredding.) Or, to save time time, use pre-shredded mozzarella; just be sure it is whole milk rather than low fat. Avoid fresh buffalo mozzarella, which is best suited for salads.
  • Many grocers sell bulk Italian sausage (pictured above), which is simply ground sausage without the casings. If you can’t find it, you can ask your butcher to take the meat out of the casings or do it yourself.

How to Make Baked Ziti with Sausage

Begin by boiling the ziti noodles in salted water until very al dente, about 7 minutes. (The pasta will continue to cook in the oven so you want to undercook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.

how to make baked ziti

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.

how to make baked ziti

Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate.

how to make baked ziti

Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don’t have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute.

how to make baked ziti

Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes and simmer for 10 minutes.

how to make baked ziti

Add the heavy cream, 1/3 cup of the Pecorino Romano, and basil to the pan.

how to make baked ziti

Then stir in the cooked sausage.

how to make baked ziti

Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine.

how to make baked ziti

Spoon half of the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella and half of the remaining Pecorino Romano.

how to make baked ziti

Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and Pecorino Romano.

how to make baked ziti

Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, about 15 minutes.

how to make baked ziti

Sprinkle with more basil and serve.

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Baked Ziti with Sausage

This baked ziti with sausage is a MAJOR family pleaser. It’s similar to meat lasagna but without the fuss, easy enough for a weeknight but also special enough for company, and it makes a great prep-ahead potluck dish.

Servings: 8-10
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 50 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ziti noodles
  • 1.5 lbs ground spicy or sweet Italian sausage (or removed from casings)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano) cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for serving
  • 8 oz whole milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti according to the package directions for very al dente, about 7 minutes. (It will continue to cook in the oven so you want to undercook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425°F and set the oven rack in the middle position.
  3. Heat a large sauté pan (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat. Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don't have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the heavy cream, 1/3 cup of the Pecorino Romano, cooked sausage, and basil to the pan; stir until evenly combined. Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine. Spoon half of the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella and half of the remaining Pecorino Romano. Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and Pecorino Romano. Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with more basil and serve.
  5. Make Ahead: This dish can be assembled and refrigerated, covered, up to 2 days in advance. Since the dish will be cold, the baking time will need to be increased. To bake, cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in a 425°F oven for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned and the pasta is hot throughout.
  6. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The dish can be frozen unbaked. When you’re ready to cook it, defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then proceed with the Make Ahead instructions above.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (10 servings)
  • Calories: 613
  • Fat: 38 g
  • Saturated fat: 18 g
  • Carbohydrates: 43 g
  • Sugar: 6 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Protein: 25 g
  • Sodium: 913 mg
  • Cholesterol: 111 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Reviews & Comments

  • I made the recipe exactly as directed including the shredding of the whole milk mozzarella. It was delicious and has been added to my recipe file to enjoy again. My husband had two helpings as it was that good.

    • — Valerie Manuel on January 23, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi,

    I do not have heavy cream. is there something I can use instead?

    Thanks,

    Renee

    • — Renee Schouten on January 18, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Renee, I prefer heavy cream here, but you can replace it with half & half. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 19, 2021
      • Reply
  • My family is a bunch of seriously picky eaters and they all gave this recipe a 10, and even asked for it to be added to the weekly rotation! It turned out so delicious. Can’t wait to make it again.

    • — Kelley on January 17, 2021
    • Reply
  • Such a tasty recipe. My husband and I loved it, but it ended up being kind of dry and couldn’t figure it out why at first. I know it wasn’t Jenn’s fault though. Her recipes are flawless. I’ve tried quite a few of them and, thanks to Jenn, I feel like I am such an accomplished cook 😉
    My store didn’t have ziti pasta, so I grabbed rigatoni instead. They look similar – tubular, with ridges – but it is definitely a larger noodle.
    So I ended up with a lot of pasta and not enough sauce.
    I have some sausage left, thankfully.
    Jenn, can I make more sauce (and sausage) and add to the dish? How would I do it without ruining it, and especially not overcooking and turning the pasta into mush?
    Love you to pieces x0x

    • — Gabriela on January 14, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Gabriela, so glad you like the recipes! Sorry to hear you found the dish to be a bit dry. BTW, as long as you used the same amount of pasta, the shape really shouldn’t matter, but if you’d like to add more sauce, I would recommend just serving the dish and spooning the additional sauce on top of each serving. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on January 15, 2021
      • Reply
  • I made this dish for my family tonight for dinner. It was just delicious! I was very surprised how well it turned out for the first try. Happy to have found it, going in the recipe binder for sure! Thank you Jenn!

    • — Shannon on January 12, 2021
    • Reply
  • Wow, another winner of a recipe! I make it with gluten free penne (can’t find gf ziti) and it turns out perfectly. It is absolutely delicious!

    • — Sheila on January 12, 2021
    • Reply
  • After reading all the reviews for this recipe I had to try it. I followed the directions totally and it was as everyone else agreed outstanding. my guests loved every bite they had and I will definitely make this again

    • — Marko on January 11, 2021
    • Reply
  • will high moisture/soft mozzarella work? looks delish!

    • — bridget on January 7, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Bridget, for the best results, I’d stick with the mozzarella called for in the recipe.

      • — Jenn on January 7, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    Wishing you and your family a Happy and Healthy New Year. I love ALL your recipes and I’m slowly getting to make a lot of them. You’re very talented! Please tell me what I can substitute for the cream in this baked ziti with sausage recipe. Many thanks

    • — Ali P on January 1, 2021
    • Reply
    • So glad you like the recipes and happy new year to you and your family! While I prefer heavy cream here, you could replace it with ricotta or cottage cheese. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 3, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi, Jen!
    I cannot get fresh basil. What can I substitute? I have fresh spinach and dried basil…

    Thanks!
    Peggy

    • — Margaret Smith on December 29, 2020
    • Reply
    • It will have a slightly different flavor, but I’d go with the fresh spinach. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on December 29, 2020
      • Reply
  • Excellent recipe. I followed it with the following exceptions: used two extra cloves of garlic and 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes. Otherwise the recipe as stated. Lovely and delicious and I’ll definitely be making it again.

    • — NFall on December 28, 2020
    • Reply
  • Absolutely delicious! Fresh mozzarella, instead of the pre-shredded, is the best! However, we have a heck of a time shredding it. First time, put it in freezer for about 1/2 hr and it turned to mush while shredding. Second time (Christmas day dinner) left it in freezer for 2 days. The ball of mozzarella was so hard that my husband could barely shred it! Going to have to come up with something else next time I make this cuz I am determined to use fresh mozzarella!

    • — Missy B. on December 26, 2020
    • Reply
    • I have made recipes where I take the whole mozzarella and slice it thin and lay right on top and bake. Heavenly!

      • — Carrie on January 11, 2021
      • Reply
  • This recipe is what my family requested for dinner tonight- Christmas Eve. It is that delicious and that easy to make. It is also what my son requests when he comes home from college. He actually asks me to make 2, so he is guaranteed left overs! We like a combination of hot and mild sausage. Thank you, Jenn, and Merry Christmas!

    • — Heidi on December 24, 2020
    • Reply
  • Is there any way to make this without an oven? Like in a skillet?

    • — Karen on December 23, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Karen, This would be a tough one to make without an oven. That said, the sauce is delicious mixed with the pasta. You could serve it that way — it wouldn’t be baked ziti but it would still be wonderful.

      • — Jenn on December 26, 2020
      • Reply
  • I only have heavy whipping cream instead of heavy cream is that ok?

    • — Tony on December 16, 2020
    • Reply
    • Yep that’s fine.

      • — Jenn on December 17, 2020
      • Reply
  • This recipe is amazing. Ate leftovers 3x and still wanted more. Smoked sausage on the Traeger instead of pan. Added mushrooms cooked in butter with thyme. Maybe a little aggressive, but it was Saturday. This recipe is going into the Family cook book

    • — JB on December 15, 2020
    • Reply
  • This recipe was absolutely delicious!! The only change I made was rigatoni instead of ziti, but the sauce was perfection. I will definitely be making this again!!

    • — Eva on December 12, 2020
    • Reply
  • This dish is fantastic! So tasty and easy to make. Actually I am now a big follower of Jenn Segal’s work. We have made about 5 different recipes and they are all great!

    • — Leah Eggen on December 12, 2020
    • Reply
  • Yup, yup, yup. ***** (Five Stars)

    This is my favorite baked ziti recipe. I love the sausage! I do it with mild italian or with hot. Sometimes I do half and half. I prefer the hot to add a little somethin-somethin, but my little kids prefer the mild. Before this recipe I had never made ziti with the cream and crushed tomatoes. Legit wayyyyy better than using jarred tomato sauce. I use this recipe every time I make ziti now….maybe a dozen times now. It’s yummy, but not overly complicated to make. This is my first time leaving a review, I enjoy it so much I wanted to thank Jenn by offering her a review!

    • — Lindsey on December 10, 2020
    • Reply
  • This is the third time I’ve made this delicious dish. It’s great for family or friends. It’s December, and there was no basil to be found. I added two heaping tablespoons of pesto, and it worked nicely. I only had one pound of sausage. It still worked with not a single complaint, but the 1 1/2 pounds is tastier. During this time we need to be flexible!

    • — Phyllis on December 8, 2020
    • Reply
  • My husband ate three servings the first time that I made this a few weeks ago. I have never seen him do such a thing. Anyway, it’s on the menu again this week and I am really looking forward to it. Great meal!

    • — Cheryl on December 8, 2020
    • Reply
  • OMG!!! This was delicious!! I make recipes I find on the internet all the time, but I’ve never left a review for one. Made this last night for my family and it was AMAZING!!! Did make a few tweaks. Couldn’t find fresh basil at the store so used basil herb paste. Added 8 oz block of cream cheese to the noodles and added a little more red pepper flakes because we like spicy stuff. This was SOOOOOOOOOOO GOOD!!! Thank you for sharing! We will definitely be making this again and again.

    • — Jenn on December 6, 2020
    • Reply
  • I’ve made this 1000 times. It’s incredible. But I have a question. Once I transfer the meat to a plate, a lot of fat accumulates on the bottom of the plate, so do I add the meat with the accumulated fat back to the pan, or should I drain the fat? Thanks Jenn! Can’t wait for cookbook # 2!

    • — Chad on December 6, 2020
    • Reply
    • So glad you enjoy it, Chad! This is one of the blog recipes included in cookbook #2. 🙂 You can discard the fat on the plate.

      • — Jenn on December 6, 2020
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    I have been following your website for years, your emails, your cookbook etc. YOU have brought a lot of joy into my household and I have shared accolades and your recipes with friends. Not only do you deserve all of your five star reviews, but you deserve and extra five stars because you have designed your recipes to be easy to understand and follow so we can achieve five stars with our friends and families.

    I have made this Ziti w Sausage many times over and it is awesome just as it is written. I wanted to ask you if you had a variation of this recipe (ingredients and preparation) that makes the sauce a “Vodka Sauce”. Not that I want to change this recipe but I am looking for the variation to be “an addition” to my toolkit. Thanks for everything you do!

    • — LAWRENCE SCHWARZ on December 3, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Lawrence, Thanks for your note and nice words about the recipes – so glad you’ve been able to enjoy them with friends and family! I don’t have a version of this recipe that contains a vodka sauce but I will email you separately with a vodka sauce that will be appearing in my upcoming cookbook. Please LMK how it turns out if you incorporate it into this recipe!

      • — Jenn on December 3, 2020
      • Reply

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