This easy baked ziti with ricotta and sausage is hearty, comforting, and deeply satisfying. Made with a flavorful homemade marinara sauce, this Italian recipe is Grandma approved!
- 1 pound Ziti pasta
- 1 pound (raw) Italian sausage links, hot or mild
- 2 tablespoons olive oil – for pan frying sausages
- 1/4 cup olive oil – for marinara sauce
- 7 garlic cloves, peeled and pressed or minced
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar, or as desired
- 1 15-ounce container whole ricotta cheese
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped (for garnishing)
- OPTIONAL GARNISH: fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
COOK ITALIAN SAUSAGE
Multi-task while prepping the sausage: Cook the ziti al dente, according to package directions.
- Place a small pot of cold water on the stovetop. Submerge sausage links in the cold water. Do not pierce the casings. Bring to a light boil over medium heat. The sausages will be 3/4 cooked. Remove them from the pot onto paper towels. Lightly pat them dry.
- Add olive oil to a small skillet over medium-low heat. Transfer the links to the pan. Frequently turn the sausages until they’re cooked and browned with an internal temperature of 160°F. Use a Thermapen or another cooking thermometer to check for doneness.
- Transfer the sausages to a cutting board. Once the sausages are not too hot to handle, slice into 1/4-inch rounds.
- As you multi-task, the pasta should be done cooking. Drain noodles in a colander, then return to the pot.
PREPARE MARINARA SAUCE
- Heat olive oil in a large wide skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic. When the garlic sizzles, add the crushed tomatoes with all the liquid from the can. Stir. Pour one cup of water into the tomato can. Swirl it around to collect any tomato pieces and liquid left behind. Pour the water into the skillet. Stir well to incorporate.
- Add spices: salt, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine. Allow sauce to simmer for 15 minutes, or until thickened. The olive oil on the surface should develop a beautiful orange tint. Add 1/4 teaspoon sugar to the sauce. This secret ingredient helps offset the tomato acidity. Do a taste test. Adjust spices and sugar, as desired.
ASSEMBLE BAKED ZITI
RECIPE PREP: Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9X13 baking dish, or 2 8X8 baking dishes.
- Add the sausage and 3/4 of the marina sauce to the pot of cooked pasta. Fold the ingredients together. Transfer half the baked ziti mixture to the baking dish.
- Using half the ricotta cheese, spoon it in dollops over the noodle mixture. Sprinkle half the mozzarella cheese on top. With a spatula, pat and spread the cheese into an even layer.
- Spread remaining ziti mixture on top. Spoon dollops of remaining ricotta over ziti. Do not spread. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Drizzle remaining marinara sauce over the cheese.
- Tent baking dish loosely with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil. Bake 10 minutes more.
GARNISH THE PASTA
- Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.
- Garnish with chopped Italian parsley, and basil if desired.
- BEST SUBSTITUTES FOR ZITI PASTA: Penne is the best swap out for ziti. But these pastas will also work: mostaccioli, rigatoni, or chifferi.
- SUBSTITUTES FOR RICOTTA CHEESE: The best substitute is Requeson, which is Mexican-style Ricotta. Other swaps include cottage cheese, goat cheese, or mascarpone.
- HOW TO MAKE THIS RECIPE MEATIER: Use 1.5 pounds of Italian sausage. When making this recipe for Dad, his special request is always the same: please add more meat!
- HOW TO MAKE THIS RECIPE FASTER: Instead of homemade sauce, use a jar of store-bought marinara sauce or spaghetti sauce.
- HEALTHY ADD-IN: 2 cups fresh spinach leaves, torn. Mix the spinach into the pasta along with the sausage and marinara sauce.
- MAKE-AHEAD INSTRUCTIONS: This is the ideal make-ahead meal! After assembling baked ziti, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. To bake this dish, tent loosely with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil. Continue baking until heated through.
- FREEZER-FRIENDLY INSTRUCTIONS: After assembling this dish, tightly cover it with 2-3 layers of foil. Freeze it unbaked for up to 3 weeks. Before baking, defrost it in the fridge for 24 hours. Bake according to make-ahead instructions.
- WHAT TO SERVE WITH BAKED ZITI: Pair it with steamed veggies or a crisp green salad. Enjoy it with garlic bread, or a rustic sourdough baguette and pats of butter.
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Stovetop and Oven
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: Baked Ziti, Baked Ziti with Ricotta, Baked Ziti with Sausage