Baked Ziti

This baked ziti is one of several meals that I served during our vacation.  It seemed like an obvious choice for feeding a crowd, as I have yet to meet anyone who would turn down a delicious hearty meal of cheesy baked pasta, salad, and bread.  This is the second time I have made this recipe, but I am sure I will be making it frequently in the future as well.  It is most definitely a crowd pleaser, and great for entertaining – once it is in the oven you can focus on other things in the kitchen, or even better, your guests!  My only alteration to the original recipe was to add some turkey Italian sausage and some onion.  I’m sure it would be great without the sausage as well, but I think it adds a lot of flavor, not to mention makes the dish even more filling and therefore able to feed more people.

If you are looking for some easy meals to serve to a crowd, here are the things I cooked for dinner during our vacation:
Shrimp scampi with salad and garlic bread (for the non-seafood eaters, the sauce minus the shrimp still makes a delicious light topping for pasta)
Grilled chicken fajitas with chips and salsa (normally I would make my favorite salsa, but in the spirit of vacation and relaxing, I used store-bought)
Chicken gyros with Greek salad (though all the meals were a hit, this was definitely the favorite – and for good reason!)
Baked ziti with Caesar salad and garlic bread 
Steamed shrimp (I made this for only Ben and I, because though it is very easy, it is not the most economical for a group of 10)

Baked Ziti
1 lb. whole milk or 1% cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups), divided
Table salt
1 lb. ziti
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
20 oz. turkey Italian sausage
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
5 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 (28 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves, divided
1 tsp. sugar
Ground black pepper
3/4 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream (or whole milk)
8 oz. low-moisture mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F.  Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in a medium bowl; set aside.  Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta; cook until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5-7 minutes.  Drain the pasta and leave in colander.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Crumble in the turkey sausage and cook until nearly browned.  Add in the onion and garlic and continue to cook until the onion is softened and the sausage is completely browned.  Stir in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.  Off the heat, stir in 1/2 cup basil and the sugar, and season with salt and pepper.  

In a small bowl stir together the cornstarch and heavy cream.  Transfer the mixture to the now-empty stockpot over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 3-4 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and add the cottage cheese mixture, 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce and 3/4 cup mozzarella.  Stir to combine.  Add the pasta and toss to coat thoroughly with the sauce.

Transfer the pasta to a 9×13″ baking dish and spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the top.  Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan over the top.  Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the pan and continue to cook until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer.  Cool for 20 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve. 

Source: adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, March & April 2009

43 Responses

  1. I’m going on vacation in a few weeks and we plan on eating in almost every night, so this post is very helpful 🙂 Thanks!

  2. I just have to say that your pictures are always gorgeous!

  3. It looks beautiful as can be! I make a ziti called sweet pepper ziti which has lots of juilenned (sp?) peppers in it that you cook with the pasta. It gives the dish so much flavor without having any meat. If you ever are out of sausage you can try it that way too. I may try your version too since my kids love meat!

  4. This is the ultimate comfort food.

  5. The perfect comfort food dish – I am going to tuck this one away for when the weather cools down!

  6. totally am making this as our first dinner in our new home! awesome, thank for sharing!!

  7. YUM! I love anything baked with lots of meat and cheese! That fresh basil looks so pretty on top.

  8. that ziti looks so comforting and perfect for a thunderstorm-y day. nice job!

  9. I make a recipe similar to this one with a layer of sour cream in the middle. Yum!

  10. I just made this over the weekend. My hubby had some friends over to help put a roof on our new garage. I made this as a thank you dinner and it was a huge hit. They all loved it. It’s also good to note that reheats really well too.

  11. Hi Annie

    I was wondering is there anything else I could use in place of cottage chesse. I’m really not a fan of the stuff.

    • Hi Jackie,
      This recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated, where they do careful repeated testing of recipes to find the best ingredients and methods. In this recipe, they are quite emphatic about the importance of using the cottage cheese, as it is the best way to get the thick, creamy sauce that makes ziti so delicious. I myself am really grossed out by cottage cheese, but it is amazing in this dish. It bakes into something that would not even be recognizable as such, so I encourage you to try it as is. Alternatively, you could find another recipe that uses something other than cottage cheese.
      🙂 Annie

  12. […] forward to eating leftovers!  I’m not going to post the recipe here so you can head over to Annie’s Eats for the recipe written as I made it.  The only think you should be aware of is that the recipe […]

  13. I just made this recipe for dinner and it was a huge success! Family loved it – it was delicious and hearty, great for rainy nights 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  14. This is the best baked ziti recipe I’ve ever tried! A group of us went camping (Cherrystone Campground in VA) this past weekend and I wanted to make something other than the usual camping food (hamburgers/hotdogs/etc.). Everyone LOVED it! Thanks and I love your site. I check it almost daily 🙂

  15. Annie,

    Can this casserole be assembled ahead of time and baked later?


    • Hi Mandy,
      I think that would be perfectly fine. I wouldn’t make it too far in advance, but I think a day or so would be fine.
      🙂 Annie

  16. Hi Annie

    I took your advice and made it with the cottage cheese, you were right, this Baked Ziti is truly amazing. Thanks for the advice.

  17. Hi Annie,
    I am not a fan of cottage cheese, but this looked too delicious not to try. I made it tonight, and we loved it! My super-picky-100%-Italian husband didn’t even pick up on the fact that this was not made with ricotta. This would be a great dish to take to a new mom!
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi!
      I am so glad you decided to try it. I completely agree, cottage cheese is pretty gross in most contexts, but I absolutely love it in this ziti. I’m so glad it was a hit!
      🙂 Annie

  18. I made this for a friend who just had a baby (her 4th!) & made a mini one for us! It was very yummy and I almost put in ricotta instead of cottage cheese (as I do when I see that in most Italian recipes) but I didn’t after reading all the comments – I love reading helpful comments! It was super creamy & very flavorful! Thanks for another great recipe!

  19. Hi Annie! This recipe looks delicious! Do you recommend a particular brand of tomato sauce?

    • Hi Raleighcook,
      No, to be perfectly honest, I just buy whatever is on sale that is a reasonably decent brand – but I’m not loyal to any particular type.
      🙂 Annie

    • Hi Raleighcook,
      Sorry for the incredibly late reply. I thought I had responded to your comment long ago, but apparently it didn’t go through. Anyway, no, I typically buy whatever brand looks good and is reasonably priced, but I don’t have a favorite. Hope that helps!
      🙂 Annie

  20. I tried this recipe tonight and it was absolutely DELICIOUS!!! My husband hasn’t stopped raving about it!! I was also leary about the cottage cheese I don’t care for it, but WOW, it was sooo creamy and flavorful. I will definitely make this one again, and again, and again…:)

  21. This was really yummy. The only change I made was to half the meat because we prefer a little less meat in our dishes. Thanks so much for the recipe!

  22. So, I am a lurker on your website-my friend introduced me to it, love the recipes! I just made this baked ziti and my husband and I loved it (I made it with your parmesian ciabatta bread). I was wondering how you take such great pictures, what kind of camera do you use, you do an awesome job at presenting the dishes!

    • Hi Heidi,
      So glad you enjoyed it! We just had this again recently – I just love it! All the info on my camera and photography can be found on the “About Annie” page.

  23. Annie,
    I am hosting a baby shower for a friend on Friday and think this will be perfect. Was wondering if this will hold in the fridge overnight before putting it in the oven to bake? The shower is at lunchtime on Friday and would like to just be able to pop the dish in the oven before the shower begins. Hope that made sense.

  24. Annie, I was curious about the addition of cream and cottage cheese in your baked ziti. I gave it a try and got all thumbs up from my family! Thanks for posting! I have nothing but praise for your blog. Everything has been a delicious treat!

  25. Annie, I’ve made this recipe several times and has always been a complete success!!! (and I am about to start making it for a friend). Thanks so much for sharing it!!!

  26. Hi Annie,

    Okay, I know this is going to sound completely odd but I was wondering what the importance is of the eggs when baking a pasta dish? The reason I’m asking is because I am making this for a family get together next week and last week I decided to test drive the recipe out on my family. It was a huge hit and I thought it turned out deliciously but a few days later when I went to write down the recipe so I could double it for my party, I realized I never put in the eggs. Now I’m wondering if it was just a fluke that this dish even turned out the first time without the eggs or if its fine just omitting them for next time? I just want to make sure this tastes just as good because it’s certainly going to be feeding a large number of people. Thank you so much, I know this sounds truly bizarre.

    • Amanda,
      They just help give the sauce a richer texture, add moisture, and hold the pasta together better. It may not be the end of the world if you accidentally leave them out but if you remember, why not add them? They’ll only make it better.

  27. Just wanted to let you know… I am making this for the third time this weekend for when my in-laws are in town. I love love love this recipe! Thanks!

  28. I made this recipe for the first time today and it was sooo delicious!! This is definitly one I will be making over and over again. My kids even loved it and they are super picky. I also hate cottage cheese but in this dish I love it! So much flavor!!! Thank you!!

  29. So this may seem like a silly question but I dont cook very often but I’m in love with this site and decided I wanted to try this recipe…. When exactly do you add the turkey? Is that mixed in when you add the pasta to the cottage cheese, tomato sauce etc mixture in the stock pot? or is it layered on after you transfer the pasta to the baking dish?

    • Did you read the recipe? I think it’s pretty clear if you actually read it, the sausage is part of the sauce.

  30. zifi recipe calls for tomato sauce. is this the one in the can or a jar of spaghetti sauce (that is seasoned)? Thanks

  31. This is the best baked ziti recipe that I have made. Thanks for posting it 🙂

  32. I made this last night for dinner and took the left overs into work to share. WOW! This is amazing! Everyone loved it and raved.

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