This super cheesy vegetarian baked ziti recipe with its extra creamy cheese layer is a delicious and easy family favorite for dinner.
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What is baked ziti?
Baked ziti is a very popular American Italian pasta bake/casserole made with Ziti pasta. It is often made with a tomato-based Italian sausage/meat sauce and layered with ricotta and other cheeses. I decided to keep it vegetarian and to do away with the ricotta cheese layer. Instead, I layered the cooked pasta and marinara sauce with a delicious cheesy cream.
- Ziti or other short, hollow pasta of your choice. Penne, Rigatoni or Macaroni will work.
- Fresh garlic cloves.
- Canned tomatoes.
- Tomato paste.
- Stock / Water.
- Sour cream.
- Parmesan cheese.
- Mozzarella cheese.
- Salt, black pepper and sugar.
How to make baked ziti
- Make the tomato sauce: Sauté chopped onion in a large skillet/oan over medium-high heat until soft and translucent then add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add a can of chopped tomatoes along with a tablespoon of tomato paste, stock and a pinch of sugar. Add a sprig of fresh basil (or use a teaspoon of dried basil instead) and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 7-10 minutes or until the sauce has reduced slightly. Season to taste.
- Make the cheese cream: Combine sour cream, finely grated Parmesan cheese and grated mozzarella then season with salt and pepper.
- Assemble the baked ziti: Combine the sauce with par-cooked Ziti noodles. Add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. At this stage, the pasta should look quite wet as it will continue to absorb liquid and cook in the oven. Transfer half the pasta to a casserole dish/ baking dish. Dollop the cream over the pasta then top with the remaining pasta and tomato sauce. Scatter over the remaining mozzarella cheese, cover with foil and place in the oven.
- Bake: Place in the oven and allow to bake for 15-20 minutes until hot and bubbling. Remove the foil and bake for another 5-10 inutes until the cheese is golden and the pasta is al dente. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 5 minutes then serve.
Can you freeze baked ziti?
- Freezing instructions: Assemble the ziti, sauce and cream in a freezer and oven safe container (I like using foil containers). Wrap well with foil then freeze for up to 3 months. Bake from frozen until hot and bubbling.
- Make ahead: The ziti can be assembled, covered with foil and kept in the refrigerator for a day before baking. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- How to reheat ziti: Place the ziti in a hot oven and allow to heat through until hot and bubbling.
What to serve with baked ziti
Pasta bake recipes
Easy baked ziti
For the sauce
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves crushed
- 400 g (14oz) chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup stock / broth / water
- ½ tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 sprig fresh basil (or use 1 teaspoon dried basil)
For the cheese cream
- 1 cup sour cream
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup grated Mozzarella cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
For the ziti
- 500 g (1lb) ziti / or other hollow pasta of your choice
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/390°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- In a saucepan, saute the onion in a splash of olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Add the tomatoes, stock, basil, sugar, salt and pepper then bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and allow to cook for 7-10 minutes until the sauce has reduced slightly.
- While the sauce cooks, combine the ingredients for the cheese cream and set aside.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for 7-8 minutes. The pasta should be very firm still as it will continue cooking in the oven. Reserve ½ cup cooking water then drain the pasta.
- Combine the cooked pasta with the tomato sauce and a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water. At this point the pasta needs to be quite wet and saucy.
- Transfer half of the pasta to a suitable baking dish. Dollop on the cheese mixture and top with the remaining pasta. Add the rest of the mozzarella cheese then cover with foil.
- Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until hot and bubbling. Remove the foil and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown on top.
- Remove from the oven, garnish with basil (optional) and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.