This Easy Baked Ziti recipe is called Super Easy because it really is that simple for anyone to make. Great for a busy weeknight dinner, friendly gatherings and just an all-around family favorite.
For a truly comforting dinner, I blanketed ziti pasta in a rich, creamy, and cheesy Bolognese sauce and blended in seasonings for a hearty and very enjoyable Baked Ziti dish. Talk about comfort food! If you are looking for ways to get a wildly comforting dish on the table and sit down with your family to enjoy a meal together, this baked ziti recipe is it. “Voted Most Likely” to be the best baked ziti recipe you have ever tried. 😉
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS EASY BAKED ZITI RECIPE
Pantry Ingredients. Many, if not all, of the ingredients you most likely have on hand in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer. The ingredients are readily available in grocery stores.
Easy Preparation. In a large skillet, brown the Italian sausage. Add in spices, tomatoes, pasta, and liquids. Cook it all together. Cover with cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and browned. Eat!
Easy Cleanup. Only 1 skillet and a couple of utensils.
Family Friendly. Everyone loves this baked pasta recipe…especially the cook!
YOU CAN MAKE THIS BAKED PASTA RECIPE EVEN FASTER
For a super easy weeknight dinner this baked ziti with sausage, while already fuss-free, can be streamlined even further by using variations of these ingredients:
- Garlic. You can use fresh cloves and then peel and mince them as directed in the recipe. OR…
1) You can easily shave minutes off this prep time by using peeled garlic cloves. I have not found any noticeable taste difference between whole and pre-peeled garlic, especially if I buy a good domestic brand, such as Christopher Ranch. But what I do notice is the time savings! Plus fewer items to clean up isn’t bad either!
2) Use jarred minced garlic or frozen minced garlic. Again, make sure you use a respected high-quality garlic brand.
3) Mince extra quantities of garlic in one preparation. Freeze measured amounts of the leftovers in ice cube trays for future recipes.
- Pasta. Use standard dry ziti pasta as listed in the ingredients. OR…
1) Use Penne, Rotini, or Gemelli pasta in place of the Ziti. Follow directions on the back of the box for cooking times for al dente pasta as directed in the recipe step 3. All other directions remain the same.
2) Use a Quick Cooking pasta which only needs about 3 minutes cooking time. You will save 6 to 7 minutes cooking time.
3) Use Fully Cooked pasta such as Ready Pasta from Barilla. You will not need to cook this pasta. The package directions say to heat the pasta in the microwave for 60 seconds. Since you are heating the pasta in the oven, you only need to stir it into the skillet with the other ingredients. You will save 9 to 10 minutes cooking time on a busy weeknight! Just make sure you have the basil chopped ahead of time.
- Basil. I do prefer using fresh basil in this recipe. However, you can use:
- 1) Lightly dried basil. You can find this type, in small .35 oz containers, in your grocery store where the refrigerated packaged herbs are. They last about 4 weeks in your refrigerator. You would use about 1/2 of the recommended amount of fresh basil compared to lightly dried basil. In this recipe, use 2 tablespoons lightly dried in place of the fresh.
- 2) Dried basil. Use dried in a pinch – it works, just not as well as fresh. You will need 2 teaspoons of dried basil in this recipe.
- Cheese. It is as tasty, and much faster, to use grated Parmesan and shredded Mozzarella instead of grating or shredding your own. This one is definitely time saver for both preparation and cleanup.
- Meatless Baked Ziti: Omit the sausage. Add the garlic to the shimmering oil. Do not drain. Follow the rest of the directions.
- Vegetarian Baked Ziti: Omit the sausage. Add 1 small chopped onion, 1/2 chopped green bell pepper, 4 oz sliced button mushrooms. Increase the oil to 1 tbsp. In step 2, add the onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms to the shimmering oil. Cook this vegetable mixture 5 minutes or until ingredients are softened. Then continue with the rest of the directions.
Easy Baked Ziti
- Large (12-in) oven-safe skillet with cover.
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1/2 lb ground Italian sausage *
- 6 cloves garlic, minced*
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 can (28-ounce) crushed tomatoes
- 3 cups water
- 12 oz ziti (about 3-3/4 cups)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 20 sprigs basil, minced (about 1/3 bunch of basil or 1/4 cup minced) *
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 475°F with oven rack in the middle position.
- In an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat, add oil and heat until shimmering. Add sausage and cook, breaking it up into smaller bits, 5 minutes or until no longer pink. Drain excess fat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute or until fragrant. Stir in salt, red pepper flakes, tomatoes, water, and ziti.
- Cover and simmer vigorously, stirring often, 9 to 10 minutes or until ziti is al dente. While pasta is simmering, mince basil leaves.
- Stir in cream, Parmesan, and basil. Season with pepper.
- Sprinkle mozzarella over the top. Bake 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and browned. Serve immediately.
- Use a potato masher to break up the sausage into smaller bits while cooking.
- If your skillet is not oven safe, before starting step 5 transfer the pasta to a shallow casserole dish. Then finish the remainder of the steps.