Baked Ziti with Sausage

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This bubbling baked ziti is perfect for feeding a crowd, and it freezes well too.

Photo by Johnny Miller, (Clarkson Potter, 2021)

This baked ziti is a MAJOR family-pleaser. Loaded with Italian sausage, which packs a ton of flavor, it’s similar to meat lasagna but without the fuss; it’s easy enough for a weeknight but also special enough for company; and it makes a great prep-ahead potluck dish. The dish can be assembled and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance, or frozen for up to 3 months. While the baked ziti is in the oven, throw together a big Italian salad and warm some bread in the oven.

What You’ll Need to Make Baked Ziti with Sausage
ingredients for 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 made from whole milk (low-fat won’t taste nearly as good). 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.

Step-by-Step Instructions For Baked Ziti

Step 1: Boil the Noodles

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti according to the package instructions until a few minutes shy of 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.

boiling the ziti

Step 2: Make the Sauce

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, and crumble the sausage into the pan.

adding sausage to pan

Cook the sausage, 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.

browned sausage

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.

cooking the garlic

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

Adding the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes.

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

adding cream, cheese, and basil to sauce

Then stir in the cooked sausage.

adding sausage to baked ziti sauce

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

baked ziti sauce in pot

Step 3: Assemble & Bake

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.

layering baked ziti in baking dish

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

finished layered baked ziti

Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

How To Make Baked Ziti Ahead

The dish can be assembled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days in advance, or frozen for up to 3 months. If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator overnight, and bake, covered tightly with aluminum foil, in a 425°F (220°C) oven for 25 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is lightly browned and the pasta is hot throughout.

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Video Tutorial

Baked Ziti with Sausage

This bubbling baked ziti is perfect for feeding a crowd, and it freezes well too.

Servings: 8 to 10
Prep Time: 40 Minutes
Cook Time: 50 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

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
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ⅓ cup plus 3 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano) cheese, divided
  • ⅓ 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 cream, ⅓ 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 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/Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The dish can be assembled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days in advance, or frozen for up to 3 months. (If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator overnight.) Whether refrigerated or frozen and defrosted, bake, covered tightly with aluminum foil, in a 425°F oven for 25 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is lightly browned and the pasta is hot throughout.

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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Comments

  • Big hit with the boys in the house.

    • — Llg on June 27, 2022
    • Reply
  • Looking for a simple pasta dish that has simple ingredients in a very short time. Saw Jenn’s website. Once Upon a Chef. Her Baked Ziti with is perfection. Easy to make and very delicious. I usually cook a recipe and taste it first before serving to group of friends. Everybody loved it, right amount of cheese and cream, not overwhelming at all. We paired this Italian wine along with other Italian dishes. Can’t wait to try other recipes.

    • — My on June 10, 2022
    • Reply
  • This recipe is so good and easy to scale down for 2 people. I don’t often have cream on hand so I decided to try Trader Joe’s shelf stable cream. Comes in 8oz boxes. It’s perfect for this recipe. Thanks again for giving us recipes that always work. Love your latest cookbook, too.

    • — Penny on June 8, 2022
    • Reply
  • Love love love this dish. The heavy cream makes it so much better than the ricotta cheese. Everyone loved it at my house.

    • — Janet on June 6, 2022
    • Reply
  • When making ahead to freeze, instructions say to assemble dish and cover. Does this mean cook pasta, sauce/meat, etc and layer with cheese, then freeze? Or bake as directed and then freeze? Probably a dumb question but I was unsure. Thank you 🙂

    • — Lauren W. on June 3, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Lauren, Not a dumb question! I’d freeze it unbaked. 🙂

      • — Jenn on June 4, 2022
      • Reply
  • I’ve loved this recipe! I’m debating on cooking it for our family beach week but my sister-in-law has a gluten allergy. Will this taste just a good using gluten free pasta?

    • — Erika on May 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Erika, Glad you like it! I’ve never made it with gluten-free pasta but a number of readers have commented that they have and have been happy with the results. Have fun on you week at the beach!

      • — Jenn on May 24, 2022
      • Reply
  • This was delicious!! Do you think using hamburger would make a big difference in taste? Thank you

    • — Shell on May 19, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Shell, You can use ground beef here; I’d just make sure it’s well seasoned as the sausage has a lot of seasoning. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on May 19, 2022
      • Reply
  • Great recipe…also cooked some fennel seeds and ital seasoning with the meat; browned some onions and then garlic…heavy cream over ricotta a hit..added good basil marina too…they loved it..

    • — David on May 14, 2022
    • Reply
  • This is a favorite at our house. Taught the 18 year old how to make it tonight. Came out great. Hoping she’ll make in her own apartment during college 1350 miles away from home!

    • — Becky Hayes on May 12, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi! If I’d like to make this in an 8×8 pan for 2 person family, would I just cut the amount of ingredients in half and the cooking time in half as well?

    • — amanda on May 6, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Amanda, I’d cut the ingredients in half, but the bake time will be about the same if not just a touch shorter. Hope they enjoy!

      • — Jenn on May 6, 2022
      • Reply
  • I enjoyed the sauce but I wish there was a healthier option for this recipe!

    • — Jennifer on April 28, 2022
    • Reply
  • I am anxious to try this recipe. Can I use a tomatoe basil sauce in place of the crushed tomato, basil and sugar. I forgot to buy basil. Thanks

    • — Shell on April 25, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Shell, it will taste slightly different, but it will work. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on April 26, 2022
      • Reply
  • I made this for my half-Italian husband who has always talked about baked Ziti – he said this one is “one of the best” he’s ever had. I am not a leftover gal but I gobbled this up day 2 and 3 happily. I am always blown away by how flavourful Jenn’s recipes are considering how simple they are! This baked Ziti was incredible and definitely one of my new go-to recipes that I will be making when I have to drop off dinner for someone.

    • — Julie Godwin on April 16, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hello. This looks amazing. Can I substitute half & half for the heavy cream?

    • — Gail on April 15, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Gail, I like heavy cream in this, but you can use half and half — hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on April 15, 2022
      • Reply
  • What a wonderful recipe! Absolutely delicious. I used turkey and chicken sausage since that’s what I had on hand… And added in some carrots celery onion to the garlic, since it needed to be used up. It made a big batch enough so that I’ve put away two dishes in the freezer for later or in case my neighbor needs
    one 🙂
    Thanks again Jen for a wonderful recipe! You’re amazing!

    • — Jen O on April 12, 2022
    • Reply
  • Seriously delicious!

    Baked Ziti, in general, requires more time than I have to spend in the kitchen especially if making time-intensive sides alongside it, which was my mistake. It’s probably not even a big deal for other people, but I have difficulty managing more than one recipe at once and this felt like it took me a long time. That being said, I LOVED this recipe when I finally got to sit down and eat it. It was so hearty and filling and it made a huge batch – we had leftovers for two for several days.

    I would definitely make this again and next time I’ll use the recommended side, which sounds like it would be much easier to throw together.

    • — Joseph on April 10, 2022
    • Reply
  • This is a great recipe! I have made it several times and it has become my family favourite. It is delicious!

    • — Terri Pierracos on March 25, 2022
    • Reply
    • Absolutely delicious. I followed it exactly and it came out amazing! Perfectly saucey and cheesy. Adding this to the rotation!

      • — Cece on March 30, 2022
      • Reply
  • This is my maiden voyage with Jennifer’s website. I’m a Cook’s Illustrated subscriber and almost always gravitate towards their recipes. I came across this website in preparation for an easy Saturday night dinner party. I purchased spicy Italian sausage at Whole Foods and followed the recipe as written. Absolutely outstanding dish with expertly written instructions. The only change I will make when I revisit this recipe will be to up the protein content. I can’t emphasize enough how pleased I was with this recipe and the accompanying photos. Five stars all around.

    • — Sam Shamansky on March 19, 2022
    • Reply
  • I made this and really liked how it came out. I think I would combine it differently next time, because I like cheese in every bite, but the recipe was otherwise a winner for us. I omitted the parsley and added some pasta water to give the flavor a bit more depth, but no complaints here.

    • — Nicole on March 17, 2022
    • Reply
    • (I meant to say that I omitted the basil, which I didn’t have on hand, but would use in the future.)

      • — Nicole on March 17, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hearty and satisfying! All the flavors of a traditional lasagna – half the work!

    • — Terri F on March 15, 2022
    • Reply
  • I had whole milk ricotta on hand, so I substituted one cup of it for the cream. I think mixing it with the sauce, sausage, etc. kept it from getting dry and clumpy. This is a phenomenal recipe—a real keeper.

    • — Becky on March 14, 2022
    • Reply
  • Loved this recipe! I made this for a dinner for a couple friends and I loved that I could make it in advance and then just pop it in the oven! My friends were going back for 2nds and thirds! Love your recipes ! I have not had a bad meal yet !

    • — Samantha on March 12, 2022
    • Reply
  • I did make this recipe and it is delicious. We were going to Florida for the winter in a horse trailer with living quarters. I divided it into several containers and froze it for later but had it for dinner out first evening out. Will make it again when I return home and have a big oven..

    As with all the recipes of Jenn’s I have tried, this one is also a winner!!

    Thanks, Jenn!

    • — Sue on March 5, 2022
    • Reply
    • OMG. I am also going to Florida in a horse trailer and was wondering if this recipe would work out – what a coincidence!
      Your comment was so helpful!

      • — Rich on March 26, 2022
      • Reply
  • Can I double this? Do I need a bigger pan or can I use one pan? Would cook time be longer?

    • — Sara on March 3, 2022
    • Reply
    • Yes, you can definitely double this! For the most even cooking, I’d bake it in two separate pans. It may take a few extra minutes to bake because the oven will be more crowded. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on March 3, 2022
      • Reply
  • easy to prepare, everyone loved it!

    • — jackie on February 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • Delicious, this recipe will be added to my collection. After making it once I would alter the recipe slightly as I have Celiac Disease and require it to be gluten free. Adapting recipes to gluten free some times call for some adjustments. I used Barilla gluten free penne pasta as it is hard to find GF ziti pasta. Instructions said to cook for 10 minutes, I cooked for 6 minutes but next time I would cook for 4 minutes and would use 12 ounces of pasta verses 16 ounces. Open to other tips in adapting to gluten free.
    Thanks Jenn

    • — Julie on February 21, 2022
    • Reply
  • What would you recommend to replace the sausage with veggies? I’m hosting a party and want to make one with and one without meat. I was thinking maybe zucchini or mushrooms. However I wasn’t sure if certain veggies would add too much moisture to the dish and make it watery. Thanks!

    • — Jen L on February 17, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Jen, Several readers have commented that they’ve made a vegetarian version of this and have added sauteed veggies including bell peppers, mushrooms. I would just make sure to season them well and cook them very thoroughly to get the moisture out of them. Please let me know how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on February 17, 2022
      • Reply
  • Absolutely amazing. This is restaurant quality meal but super easy.

    • — Rose Di on February 16, 2022
    • Reply
  • The ultimate savory, tasty, comfort food, pasta dish. So much quicker than lasagna. Thank you!

    • — Kim on February 15, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen,

    If I assembled the ziti today (Tuesday) would it be ok to refrigerate and cook Friday? It said 2 days, but wondered if it would make it to Friday so that I don’t have to freeze it?

    Best,
    Terry

    • — Terry on February 8, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Terry, I guess I’m weighing in too late to be helpful, but I think 3 days may be pushing it.

      • — Jenn on February 9, 2022
      • Reply
    • This is delicious!! I loved it!

      • — James Baley on March 5, 2022
      • Reply
  • so i made this for a potluck last night and it was a huge hit! i used ground beef instead of sausage and a good portion of tomato paste as the beef rendered (idk if it did anything, but i always use tomato paste as a foundation for my sauces lol) and it worked out really well!

    i also made a vegan version that was actually really really good too. i added garlic to a pan, let it shimmer, before adding tomato paste and then the tomatoes. i seasoned the sauce and let it cook before adding coconut creme, nutritional yeast, and the basil. i replaced the mozzarella with vegan mozz + parm and my vegan friends really liked it!

    • — alex on February 6, 2022
    • Reply
  • Made this today. It was wonderful!

    • — James Baley on February 5, 2022
    • Reply
  • This recipe is hands down one of the best and most delicious. Not to mention how EASY it is to throw it all together. You will fool your guests! It’s a staple in our household.

    • — Meaghan on January 27, 2022
    • Reply
  • Delicious, I froze half of it as we are only two people. I also
    Cut down on the cheese when layering the pasta: probably by half for the whole recipe.
    Very good.

    • — Lisa Hartung on January 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • Absolutely superb and so easy to make! Thank you for sharing.
    … I added some yellow bell peppers, onion, and and more pepper flakes.
    I will certainly be looking at your site for more recipes to try out.
    Cheers!

    • — Wayne McNamara on January 21, 2022
    • Reply
  • This was delicious and so easy to make. Everyone loved it. I used some hot sausage for some heat. The only change I made was to use more cheese and not a whole pound of pasta. Will definitely make it again. I usually make baked ziti with ricotta but didn’t miss it at all.

    • — Laurie on January 18, 2022
    • Reply
  • I made this for a work potluck only to find out it was an appetizer party. This yummy dish sat among the hummus and dip and didn’t last long. So freakin’ tasty. I used a half spicy Italian ground sausage and half mild Italian. Gave it a little kick, yumo!

    • — Laura on January 18, 2022
    • Reply

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