Here she is, the lightened-up baked ziti of my dreams. This baked ziti has all of lasagna’s saucy, mozzarella-topped appeal, but is easier to pull off on a regular weeknight. Amen.
When I dreamed up this recipe, I wanted to replace some of the pasta with roasted vegetables. In the end, I was able to displace half of the ziti (8 ounces) with two pounds (32 ounces!) of vegetables.
I chose cauliflower, which develops the most irresistible golden edges as it roasts, red bell pepper and yellow onion. I love this combination, but you could easily use your favorite vegetables here.
It took me a while to find the perfect ratio of mozzarella, marinara, and ricotta (I actually used cottage cheese, more on that in a bit). I believe I’ve hit the nail on the head with the final recipe, and can’t wait to hear how it turns out for you.
The Best Baked Ziti
This baked ziti recipe is so versatile. Here are a few more reasons to love it:
- This vegetarian baked ziti will satisfy everyone. True, it’s meatless, but carnivores love ziti without the meat when it tastes this good.
- This baked ziti would be a great option for a date night or casual entertaining. You’ll have plenty of time between steps to chat and sip wine.
- It’s a quiet recipe to make, too. You don’t have to sauté anything! I feel like this is an underrated recipe quality.
- This ziti can be assembled up to 3 days in advance, so this is a perfect dish to make ahead or bring to a friend who could use a good meal.
- This lightened-up classic Italian dish is surprisingly high in protein. Each serving offers twenty grams!
- This ziti would be awesome with my chopped Italian salad. Feel free to make a simplified version of it.
Watch How to Make Baked Ziti
Baked Ziti Ingredient Notes
This recipe doesn’t require a long list of ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need:
Preferably ziti, but rigatoni or penne will also work. I usually opt for whole wheat noodles (love DeLallo and Bionaturae), but those have been harder to come by lately, so I used Whole Foods’ organic ziti for these pictures. Pasta is generally sold in one-pound boxes so you’ll need half of a box.
I believe you could use a sturdy corn and quinoa pasta blend to make this recipe gluten free.
I’m a huge fan of my homemade marinara recipe, but since this recipe is supposed to be simple, I opted for a jarred option from the store. My favorite brand is Rao’s, which tastes pretty close to my homemade sauce. If you do want to make homemade marinara, you’ll need to double my recipe to yield the four cups you’ll need for this ziti.
I used cauliflower, bell pepper and onion. If you’re sensitive to onions, you might want to swap the onion for something else (maybe a sweet potato?).
You can use up your leftover vegetables in this ziti recipe. You’ll need about two pounds prepared vegetables to make it work. Keep in mind that heads of broccoli or cauliflower weigh twice as much as they yield in florets (so a two-pound bunch of broccoli will yield about one pound of florets).
Now, you could skip the basil, but it adds a lot of irresistible fresh flavor to jarred marinara, and livens up the cheesy finished dish. In my opinion, it is worth buying!
Part-skim mozzarella is ideal here, since it develops a beautiful golden shade in the oven. It also makes your finished dish less greasy than it would be if you used full-fat mozzarella.
It’s best to grate your cheese yourself, rather than to buy the pre-shredded kind (you’ll also save money this way). Pre-grated cheese is typically coated in starch or powder that can inhibit its melty factor.
Cottage Cheese (or Ricotta)
Scandalous, I know! I genuinely prefer cottage cheese to ricotta here, even though I can’t stand cottage cheese on its own. Ricotta tends to get gummy when heated, which bothers me, whereas cottage cheese turns magically more creamy and delicious. Use whichever one you prefer in lasagna recipes.
A Few Tips Before You Get Started
Use half-sheet pans. If only everyone owned these basic half-sheet pans (affiliate link). They offer a lot of surface area, so your vegetables have some breathing room while they roast.
Be sure to use a big baker. You’ll need a three quart baker (think 9×13″ with deep sides) for this one. Here’s mine. To err on the side of caution against overflow, I’ve instructed you to place the baker on a clean rimmed baking sheet when it’s in the oven.
Don’t overcook your pasta. In fact, you want it a little bit undercooked, so cook it for the shortest amount of time offered on the package. It should still have a little bite to it when you drain it, since it will continue to cook while it’s in the oven.
Please let me know how this baked ziti recipe turns out for you in the comments! I hope you love it as much as I do.
Craving more Italian comfort food? Don’t miss these recipes on Cookie and Kate:
- Best Vegetable Lasagna
- Baked Ziti with Lentils
- Hearty Spaghetti with Lentils and Marinara Sauce
- Classic Minestrone Soup