This meatless baked ziti is a simple, yet hearty dish the whole family will love!  Ziti pasta is combined with sweet tomato sauce, creamy ricotta, melty mozzarella, and salty Pecorino Romano cheese, and then baked until bubbly and just the slightest bit crisp.   If this isn’t the ultimate comfort food, I don’t know what is!

Close up shot of baked ziti.

This is a meatless baked ziti recipe.  But with all the mozzarella and ricotta you will hardly notice the meat is missing!

If you desire a recipe with a meat sauce, check out our pasta al forno recipe.  It’s similar but uses a hearty beef and pork ragu and is a heavier dish than this one. 

Alternatively, you could use our classic Italian meatballs recipe and break them up into pieces and add to the sauce. 

The variations are really endless and you can certainly experiment and add additional ingredients, like roasted eggplant or zucchini, fontina cheese, or chopped spinach.

For this recipe, you will need plum tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, and onion for the sauce. 

Already have the sauce made?  Then, you’ll only need ricotta, mozzarella, Pecorino Romano or parmesan cheese, and ziti or any similar shaped pasta. 

We used pennoni.  Rigatoni and penne would be perfect as well.

Ingredients shown: Pecorino Romano, mozzarella, ricotta cheese, pasta, and a pot of sauce.

 

How to make it

Note: The instructions start with the sauce already made.  Use our low and slow-cooked Sunday sauce recipe or a quick marinara (recipe provided below in recipe card).  If you’re really in a rush, you could use jarred sauce.  We will usually save left-over sauce and freeze it just for nights when we feel like a little baked ziti!

  1. Grate about 1/3 of the mozzarella block for the top and cube the rest for the layers.
  2. Cook pasta to very ‘al dente’ (about 2 minutes less than package instructions) and toss with about 2-3 cups of the sauce.

Baked ziti recipe process shot collage.

  1. Mix the ricotta with the pasta and sauce.  Coat a large baking dish ( 4-5 quart is a perfect size) with a layer of sauce.  Add some of the mixed pasta and layer the mozzarella cubes on top of it.  Sprinkle some of the Pecorino Romano on top and a bit more sauce.  Repeat process for 2 more layers.  On the top add a bit more sauce and the grated mozzarella and more Pecorino Romano cheese.
  2. Bake at 375-400f for 25-30 minutes until cooked through and the cheese is bubbling.

Overhead view of finished baked ziti in oval bowl.

Remove from the oven and let it sit for about 10 minutes uncovered to firm up a bit. 

Serve baked ziti with a nice veggie side like Italian green beans.   Garlicky Italian broccoli or sauteed broccoli rabe with garlic and oil would also be perfect side dishes.

Substitutions and additions

  • meat – Ground sausage removed from its casing can be added to the sauce for a nice kick.  And as mentioned above, beef and pork can easily be added to the sauce for a heartier dish.
  • cheeses – Pecorino Romano was used but Parmigiano Reggiano can be substituted.  That’s a personal preference.  Ricotta is hard to substitute.  I’ve seen some info recommending cottage cheese, yogurt, or cream cheese.  Of the 3, cottage cheese is the closest but will lack the delicious creaminess of the ricotta.  For the mozzarella, feel free to substitute fresh mozzarella, but realize that it won’t melt quite as well.  For baked ziti, good old Polly-O brand block mozzarella is really hard to beat!
  • pasta – Any tubular pasta works well.  Penne, rigatoni, casarecce, and tortiglioni are all great for this dish.
  • eggplant – Roasted eggplant pieces mixed in with the cubes of mozzarella are absolutely amazing in this recipe.  For another great eggplant recipe check out this rigatoni alla Norma recipe.

Baked pasta dish on table with steam rising from it.

Top tips

  • Undercook the pasta!  Fully boiled pasta will become mushy after baking for another 30 minutes, so aim for ‘al dente’ or even a bit firmer.  About 2 minutes less than the box instructions.
  • Put a nice layer of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish to avoid sticking.
  • Add the pasta in layers with the cubes of mozzarella cheese distributed randomly.  This gives a better texture to the dish with a bigger bite of cheese in one spot than the other.  It’s not required, but a nice touch.
  • Bake the pasta until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned on top.  If you desire, broil the top for 1-2 minutes to crisp it up right before serving, but watch carefully to avoid burning.  

Leftovers

Baked ziti is one of the best dishes to make ahead.  To reheat an already made batch just use the microwave. 

For an uncooked frozen batch, just bake the whole frozen prepared ziti in the oven at 375-400f until completely cooked through.  This takes around 60-90 minutes but just check to make sure it’s warmed all the way through.

Pinterest image.

More baked pasta

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Meatless Baked Ziti

5 from 23 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 50 minutes
Total: 1 hour
Servings: 6
Super hearty and delicious meatless baked ziti with ricotta, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano cheese.

Ingredients 

For the sauce

  • 2 28 ounce canned plum tomatoes blender pulsed
  • 3 ounces tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

For the baked ziti

  • 1 pound ziti
  • 1 pound block whole milk mozzarella 2/3 cubed, 1/3 grated
  • 1 pound ricotta
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano grated

Instructions 

For the sauce

  • Saute onion for 3-5 minutes in olive oil on medium-low heat in a large pot until soft. Add garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes more until fragrant.
  • Add the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring with a spoon. Add the plum tomatoes and season with pepper.
  • Cook for 15 minutes uncovered, stirring frequently to avoid any sticking. After 15 minutes, taste-test the sauce and adjust salt and pepper if required.
  • Keep the sauce warm and set aside.

For the baked ziti

  • Preheat oven to 375f. Boil pasta to 1-2 minutes less than package instructions.
  • In a large bowl mix pasta with 2-3 cups of sauce and 1 pound of ricotta cheese. Mix until smooth and creamy.
  • Coat a 4-5 quart baking dish with a thin layer of sauce. Add 1/3 of the pasta. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cubed mozzarella, 1/3 of the grated Pecorino Romano and a bit more sauce on top. Repeat for another 2 layers.
  • On the top layer add a bit more sauce, the shredded mozzarella, and the remaining Pecorino Romano cheese.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and lightly brown. If a more crispy top is desired, broil for 1-2 minutes, but watch carefully to avoid burning.
  • Remove from oven and let baked ziti sit for 5-10 minutes to settle. Serve with remaining sauce on the side, more grated cheese, and Italian bread. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Undercook the pasta!  Fully boiled pasta will become mushy after baking for another 30 minutes, so shoot for 'al dente' or even a bit firmer.  About 2 minutes less than the box instructions.
  • Put a nice layer of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish to avoid sticking.
  • Add the pasta in layers with the cubes of mozzarella cheese distributed randomly.  This gives a better texture to the dish with a bigger bite of cheese in one spot than the other.  It's not required but a nice touch.
  • Bake the pasta until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned on top.  If you want, broil the top for 1-2 minutes to crisp it up right before serving, but watch carefully to avoid burning.  

Nutrition

Calories: 751kcal | Carbohydrates: 71.9g | Protein: 40.3g | Fat: 35.3g | Saturated Fat: 17.8g | Cholesterol: 87mg | Sodium: 826mg | Potassium: 508mg | Fiber: 4.7g | Sugar: 12.6g | Calcium: 618mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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5 from 23 votes (9 ratings without comment)

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50 Comments

  1. Jack Kraeutler (North Jersey raised, Cincinnati now) says:

    5 stars
    This past Sunday my grandkids (5, 3 and one year old) were at the house and I set them up to build, bake and enjoy their own pizzas. I had a variety of toppings and three kinds of cheeses to choose….Mozzarella, Feta and shredded Gruyere. It was a great success but…I had quite a large assortment of components left over. So, I went to the website and printed out the Meatless Baked Ziti recipe. I followed the instructions however, I used Rigatoni and added leftover sautéed green and yellow peppers, cooked sweet Italian sausage and…the Mozzarella and the Gruyere (no Feta)! As Jim always says, “do it your way”. One of the secrets to the recipe, IMHO was mixing the sauce, Romano and the Ricotta first. I am sure that whenever I had eaten baked Ziti in the past, the ingredients had been added as layers…not as good. I dropped the dish off yesterday and, this evening the kids each sucked down three helpings.
    I love the podcast and the YouTube features. As with you two, my Italian roots are on my mother’s side….both great grandparents were from Avellino (Teora and Ariano di Puglia). Oh…also, ignore the haters. Everyone wants to be Italian!

    1. James says:

      Hi Jack, thanks so much for the comment and sharing your story. Really appreciate you following along and happy to hear you’re enjoying the YouTube and podcast as well!

  2. Frankie Valentino says:

    5 stars
    Hey Jimmy I have been a fan of yours since you started watched your kids grow up on YouTube with you LOL. I’m about to make double batch of your Sunday sauce and a double batch of your baked ziti and a double batch of your manicotti. I’m from Jersey so there’s one store that is around here cuz I moved to Pottsville PA ugh. That sells maggio’s I have a whole milk ricotta whole milk mozzarella if you haven’t I know you’ve heard of maggio’s and ricotta out there. And if you don’t know already what kind of sausage I’m using do you know what’s going to be maglio’s I know it’s going to be amazing thank you for the recipe and thanks for all the content it’s awesome

    1. James says:

      Hi Frankie, thanks for the comment and hope you enjoy the food. Sounds like you’ve got a great feast ahead of you!

  3. Antionette Brown says:

    5 stars
    Very easy and tasty, great for parties

    1. Jim says:

      Hi Antionette, thanks for the comment and so happy you enjoyed!

  4. Natalie White says:

    5 stars
    This recipe is so fantastic and easy! Love how the from scratch sauce comes together so quickly and I don’t have to make a batch of sunday sauce ahead of time. This is such a crowd pleaser and it’s so easy to make a day ahead of time and pop in the oven before guests arrive. There is usually enough sauce left over to spoon over some meatballs. Thanks for another great one!

    1. Jim says:

      Hi Natalie, I’m so happy you enjoyed the baked ziti and really appreciate the comment!

  5. Elena says:

    Can you use tomato sauce and no cloves of garlic, or black pepper
    medium onion?

    1. Jim says:

      Hi Elena, sure, you can omit the garlic, black pepper, and onion if you’d like. It won’t have the same taste, but you can season it to your liking.

  6. Tess says:

    Help! Jim: I’m making your baked ziti with the homemade meat sauce (not meatballs) today (Saturday) for my retirement home’s St. Joseph’s Table) at noon tomorrow
    ( Sunday).
    1) Can I put it all together tonight and keep it in the fridge to bake just before taking it to the hall at noon? We’ll have the blessing first, so eat maybe 1p.m.
    2) I’m thinking of bringing extra sauce in my slow cooker to warm it up when served to be sure it doesn’t dry out. Or just add more. No microwave or oven available there. What do you think?
    I’m kind of nervous. I’m Italian and have been cooking for well over 50 years, but haven’t cooked for a crowd for some time and this is a new group.Thank you!

    1. Jim says:

      Hi Tess, yes, you can put it all together and then bake it tomorrow. It may take a little longer to bake since it will all be cold from the fridge, so just take that into account. And yes, I think the slow cooker to warm the sauce sounds like a good idea. Hope you all enjoy!

  7. Nan says:

    5 stars
    Delicious! My entire family said “Don’t lose that recipe Mom!” Thanks Jim love your recipes.

    1. Jim says:

      Hi Nan, thanks for the comment and so happy you’re enjoying the recipes!

  8. Elizabeth Blondia says:

    5 stars
    Delicious and fun to make. Perfect for a weeknight dinner, potluck, or meal train delivery!

    1. Jim says:

      Hi Elizabeth, thanks for the comment and so happy you enjoyed making this!

  9. Maggie says:

    5 stars
    perfection and simplicity

    1. Jim says:

      Hi Maggie, so happy you enjoyed this and thanks for the comment and review!

  10. Ell says:

    5 stars
    Unbelievably delicious.

    1. Jim says:

      Thanks for the comment, Ell, and so happy you enjoyed this one!