Baked Ziti with Sausage

This bubbling baked ziti is perfect for feeding a crowd, and it freezes well too.

Photo by Johnny Miller, (Clarkson Potter, 2021)

This baked ziti is a MAJOR family-pleaser. Loaded with Italian sausage, which packs a ton of flavor, it’s similar to meat lasagna but without the fuss; it’s easy enough for a weeknight but also special enough for company; and it makes a great prep-ahead potluck dish. The dish can be assembled and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance, or frozen for up to 3 months. While the baked ziti is in the oven, throw together a big Italian salad and warm some bread in the oven.

What You’ll Need to Make Baked Ziti with Sausage
ingredients for baked ziti

Before we get to the step-by-step instructions, a few words about the ingredients:

  • Ricotta cheese is a traditional addition to baked ziti, but I leave it out because it has a tendency to get dry and grainy when baked. I use heavy cream to add richness instead.
  • For the mozzarella cheese, I recommend using whole milk mozzarella; it melts beautifully. You can purchase a plastic-wrapped brick of mozzarella (pictured above and sold in the dairy case) and shred it yourself. (To make it easier to work with, pop it in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes prior to shredding.) Or, to save time time, use pre-shredded mozzarella; just be sure it is made from whole milk (low-fat won’t taste nearly as good). Avoid fresh buffalo mozzarella, which is best suited for salads.
  • Many grocers sell bulk Italian sausage (pictured above), which is simply ground sausage without the casings. If you can’t find it, you can ask your butcher to take the meat out of the casings or do it yourself.

Step-by-Step Instructions For Baked Ziti

Step 1: Boil the Noodles

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti according to the package instructions until a few minutes shy of al dente, about 7 minutes. (It will continue to cook in the oven, so you want to undercook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.

boiling the ziti

Step 2: Make the Sauce

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, and crumble the sausage into the pan.

adding sausage to pan

Cook the sausage, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate.

browned sausage

Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don’t have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute.

cooking the garlic

Stir in the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes and simmer for 10 minutes.

Adding the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes.

Add the heavy cream, 1/3 cup of the pecorino Romano, and basil to the pan.

adding cream, cheese, and basil to sauce

Then stir in the cooked sausage.

adding sausage to baked ziti sauce

Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine.

baked ziti sauce in pot

Step 3: Assemble & Bake

Spoon half of the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella and half of the remaining pecorino Romano.

layering baked ziti in baking dish

Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and pecorino Romano.

finished layered baked ziti

Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

How To Make Baked Ziti Ahead

The dish can be assembled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days in advance, or frozen for up to 3 months. If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator overnight, and bake, covered tightly with aluminum foil, in a 425°F (220°C) oven for 25 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is lightly browned and the pasta is hot throughout.

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Baked Ziti with Sausage

This bubbling baked ziti is perfect for feeding a crowd, and it freezes well too.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ziti noodles
  • 1.5 lbs ground spicy or sweet Italian sausage (or removed from casings)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano) cheese, divided
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for serving
  • 8 oz whole milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti according to the package directions for very al dente, about 7 minutes. (It will continue to cook in the oven so you want to undercook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425°F and set the oven rack in the middle position.
  3. Heat a large sauté pan (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat. Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don’t have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the cream, 1/3 cup of the pecorino Romano, cooked sausage, and basil to the pan; stir until evenly combined. Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine. Spoon half of the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella and half the remaining pecorino Romano. Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and pecorino Romano. Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with more basil and serve.
  5. Make-Ahead/Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The dish can be assembled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days in advance, or frozen for up to 3 months. (If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator overnight.) Whether refrigerated or frozen and defrosted, bake, covered tightly with aluminum foil, in a 425°F oven for 25 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is lightly browned and the pasta is hot throughout.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

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  • Per serving (10 servings)
  • Calories: 613
  • Fat: 38 g
  • Saturated fat: 18 g
  • Carbohydrates: 43 g
  • Sugar: 6 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Protein: 25 g
  • Sodium: 913 mg
  • Cholesterol: 111 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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