Creamy Baked Ziti is a simple and delicious baked pasta dish that never fails to please. This easy baked ziti recipe is extra creamy and cheesy thanks to our secret ingredient. Everything bakes together into something so tasty, no one will be able to resist. It will be the new family favorite for weeknight dinners!
Best Easy Baked Ziti
This baked ziti is the best ever! It’s the creamiest, cheesiest baked pasta recipe, something I can never resist!
If you love pasta and cheese, then this classic Italian dish is about to be one of your favorites. I can’t resist cheesy pasta in any form, and this just might be the best pasta dish for easy dinners.
One of the many great things about this dish is that EVERYONE will love it. Without exaggeration, I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this. Ziti covered in a creamy sauce and baked with tons of cheese…yum! I’ll gladly eat this every night until it’s gone.
As with any good casserole, this recipe is really easy to make ahead of time, and really easy to save leftovers for later. So there’s never a reason to let this cheesy ziti go to waste! If you need a dinner that’s simple yet delicious, then this is exactly what you need!
This Easy Baked Ziti recipe is the BEST I’ve ever tasted. Make it at home tonight and you’ll see what I mean!
Why You’ll Love this Ziti Recipe:
- CREAMY AND CHEESY: We use our “secret ingredient” to make this the creamiest, cheesiest baked pasta ever. Yum!
- FAMILY FAVORITE: This dish is a family favorite, and a reader favorite too. It’s a hit every time, for any occasion!
- MAKE IT MEATLESS: This baked ziti recipe can easily be made with or without meat, whichever you prefer! Use marinara for a vegetarian version, or add meat sauce instead.
It’s also a great baked pasta to make for parties and larger gatherings. You can double the recipe and make it for graduation parties, bridal showers, or holidays.
Baked Ziti WITHOUT Ricotta
So what makes this the best baked ziti recipe? Our secret ingredient is cream cheese instead of ricotta!
A lot of recipes use ricotta cheese, but I think this ingredient substitution makes all the difference. Cream cheese is absolutely what makes this ziti recipe sooooo creamy and amazing. We cook the cream cheese directly into the marinara sauce before baking, which adds even more cheesy goodness into this pasta.
What ingredients do you need?
This baked ziti really is simple. There’s just a few ingredients (pasta, sauce, cheese, check!) and a few steps between you and a creamy, cheesy baked pasta dish!
- Ziti pasta
- Marinara Sauce
- Cream Cheese
How to Make Easy Baked Ziti – Step by Step
Be sure to see the recipe card below for full ingredients & instructions!
- Boil the ziti according to package instructions and drain.
- Heat the marinara sauce and cream cheese in a saucepan, combining them into one sauce.
- Add the pasta into the pot of sauce and stir it all together, so that the ziti is well covered.
- Pour half of the mixture into the prepared casserole dish, then sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan.
- Pour the rest of the ziti into the dish and top with the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan.
- Cover the casserole dish and bake for 30 minutes at 375°F. Then bake uncovered for another 15-20 minutes.
Simple as that! It comes out creamy, cheesy, hot, and bubbly. Just so darn good! Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days, and you can easily freeze the rest for another time.
Can I use penne or do I have to use ziti pasta?
This baked ziti uses, of course, ziti pasta. But you can easily substitute penne in this recipe if you need/want to. They are both tubular pastas, so they have the same basic shape. Penne is slightly smaller than ziti, but it won’t make too much of a difference.
Bake it covered for the first 30 minutes, then finish baking uncovered.
Yes! If you prefer, substitute meat sauce in place of the marinara.
Cooking the pasta al dente means just until it starts to soften, but still firm to the bite. You don’t want it to be too soft since it will cook in the casserole.
It will bake for a total of around 45 minutes.
The layering of pasta, sauce, and cheese will keep the pasta from drying out in the oven. Keeping it covered for the first part of baking helps too!
Absolutely! This is a great make ahead baked ziti recipe. Check below for details on how to do so.
If you want to make this ahead of time to freeze, I don’t recommend baking it first. Cook the pasta and sauce, then layer into the casserole without the shredded cheese. Cover and freeze. You can add the cheese and fully bake when you’re ready to serve.
This is just about the easiest ziti recipe out there! Just like any casserole, it’s so easy to throw this baked pasta dish together for dinner any time!
Can I make baked ziti ahead of time?
Yes! This is a great dish to make ahead of time. You can make it just a couple days ahead of time, and keep it in the refrigerator.
Follow the recipe as is, assemble everything in the baking dish, but stop before baking. Instead, cover the ziti in the casserole dish and refrigerate it until ready to serve. It can be made up to 2 days ahead of baking.
When you want to serve it, let the ziti sit out while the oven preheats. Then just follow the rest of the baking instructions. Cover and bake at 375°F, then bake uncovered for another 15-20 minutes.
Vegetarian Baked Ziti (No Meat)
The base recipe for this dish is meat free! So if you’re looking for a vegetarian ziti recipe, just follow the recipe card as is. This is one of the great pasta dishes that doesn’t need meat to be incredibly delicious. It’s perfectly creamy, cheesy, and flavorful with just marinara sauce (and cheese, duh).
That being said, if you prefer your baked ziti with meat, that’s easy to accommodate! Follow the recipe as is, and mix in Italian sausage, ground beef, chicken (brown meat before adding it in). Or just use your favorite meat sauce in place of the marinara (try this spaghetti sauce). It’s really easy to cook up some ground beef to mix in with the marinara, and then mix that into the pasta.
Meat or no meat, this is the best baked ziti and everyone will love it!
- Don’t boil the pasta too long. Cook it just until it softens (al dente).
- Use your favorite jarred sauce, a homemade marinara, or substitute a meat sauce if you prefer.
- Be sure to fully pre-heat the oven before baking the ziti.
- This recipe makes about 8 servings. If you’re planning to feed a crowd (for a party or family gathering), you can easily double the recipe, separate into two baking dishes, and refrigerate until ready to bake.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
This creamy, cheesy, baked ziti recipe is always a favorite at dinner time. While the pasta is the star of the show, I love to add a salad and some bread into the mix.
I hope you and your family LOVE this easy baked ziti as much as our family does. It’s so cheesy and creamy, there’s nothing not to love!
Try these other easy pasta recipes:
- Chicken Alfredo Pasta Bake
- One Pan Chicken Parmesan Pasta
- Easy Chicken Tetrazzini
- Caprese Pasta Bake
- Creamy Chicken Spaghetti
- Baked Pasta Primavera with Cream Cheese Alfredo
- One Pot Chicken Alfredo Skillet
- Creamy White Chicken Lasagna
- Italian Stuffed Shells with Meat and Cheese