Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (2024)

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This easy baked ziti recipe is extra creamy thanks to smooth and tangy cream cheese. It comes together quickly and makes great leftovers.

Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (1)

This Baked Ziti Recipe is my favorite!

Picture any one of these scenarios:

  1. you are in dire need of something “new” on your dinner menu this week.
  2. your neighbor is having surgery and his family could use an easy meal to throw in the oven.
  3. your friend is having a baby and you’d love to take the burden of figuring out a meal for a couple nights (because the leftovers are awesome).
  4. you’re entertaining and want an easy main or side dish you can prepare ahead of time and chill or freeze until you need it.

This is my favorite baked ziti recipe for all of those things. In fact, a girlfriend of mine jokes every time someone I know has a baby that it’s time for a baked ziti. And she’s right– this recipe is super easy, it (usually) leaves leftovers, it reheats beautifully, AND it’s freezable. It’s just… Well, my favorite!

Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (2)

And if you need some more convincing, consider this 5-star review from reader Leigh:

“This recipe is great! It’s simple, doesn’t require too much measuring (recipe is pretty true to available items on the grocery shelves), and is perfect for a small meal for two with leftovers, but is large enough to feed a family of four. The cream cheese provides a different tangy sweetness to the dish – but because there’s no specific sauce listed, a person can really make this dinner to their own specific tastes… We’re excited to test out a different sauce for the next time we bake it. Perfecto!!”

What is Ziti?

Baked ziti is an Italian-American casserole made from tender ziti noodles baked in a red sauce and topped with shredded mozzarella cheese. While it’s called “baked ziti,” you can actually use any tube-shaped pasta you like for this dish.

I have used penne pasta, rigatoni pasta, and rotini pasta. You can use whatever pasta shape you prefer, have on hand, or is on sale. Another reason I love this recipe is that the cost of ingredients is quite low. It’s an awesome budget-friendly option!

Easy Baked Ziti Recipe Ingredients

My favorite recipes are ones that have some flexibility with ingredient selection, and this baked ziti with cream cheese fits that criteria well. Here’s what you’ll need:

Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (3)

DRY PASTA: again, any tube-shaped pastas work well here. I suggest avoiding any pasta shape that’s too tiny like macaroni or long and thin like spaghetti. Larger individual tube pastas are your best choice.

CREAM CHEESE: you’ll need block cream cheese here, and preferably a low to full fat version. I have made this ziti with fat-free cream cheese and it’s just not nearly as creamy or as delicious. Casserole at your own risk, but you have been warned!

TOMATO SAUCE: I typically reach for a classic marinara sauce or one with Italian seasoning. There are so many jars of pasta sauce to choose from, but I find the best results with one that doesn’t have any tomato chunks or too many flavors going on.

DICED TOMATOES: I much prefer petite diced tomatoes for this recipe as the tomato chunks are smaller. Be sure you aren’t choosing diced tomatoes that have been salted, and be sure not to grab the one seasoned for Mexican food!

SHREDDED CHEESE: so many kinds of cheese to choose from! I typically lean into basic mozzarella cheese, but have often grabbed the bag with an Italian cheese mixture that includes Parmesan cheese and Romano cheese. If you want to shred your cheese fresh, that’s perfectly fine. But remember– this recipe is meant to be incredibly easy and low maintenance.

BASIL: this is totally optional and mostly there for color and a pop of flavor. Don’t go out of your way to purchase a special ingredient.

Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (4)

How to make Easy Baked Ziti

​Another thing that makes this the best baked ziti is that aside from cooking the pasta, you’re essentially just opening cans and containers and dumping ingredients together. It’s so quick!

STEP #1

Start by cooking the pasta in a large pot of salted water according to the directions on the box. I prefer to cook my pastaal dentesince it will cook a bit more in the liquid in the casserole dish. Drain the pasta and set it aside.

STEP #2

While the large saucepan is still hot, add the cubed cream cheese and stir it with a spatula or wooden spoon until mostly melted.

STEP #3

Add the hot pasta, spaghetti sauce, and diced tomatoes (remember not to drain the tomatoes). Stir the mixture until the pasta is well-coated, then stir in half of the shredded cheese.

STEP #4

Pour the pasta mixture into a 2 quart casserole (I have also used a 9″ × 13″ baking dish or disposable casserole container), then sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese evenly over the top and bake for 25-30 minutes or until cheese bubbles.

Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (5)
Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (6)

How long to cook your Ziti

This casserole only needs to bake for 25-30 minutes, unless you make it ahead of time, then I usually add about 5 minutes to the base baking time.

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Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (8)

Make this Baked Ziti ahead of time

I love making this dish ahead of time, especially if I’m bringing it to someone’s house. That way, they can bake it right away or pop it in the freezer to make it another time.

To make this baked ziti ahead of time:follow the recipe as written through putting everything into a baking dish, then cover the ziti and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. Bake casserole cold from the fridge.

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Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (10)

To freeze unbaked ziti: this ziti freezes well, up to 2 months.Thaw in the refrigerator overnight, if possible. Cut up and heat individual servings in the microwave or cover with foil and bake in a 300ºF (148ºC) oven for 20 minutes.

Ziti Recipe Variations

As written, this is a meatless ziti recipe, but adding meat is very simple. Follow the recipe as is, then add about 2 cups of your preferred cooked/browned meat (like Italian sausage, ground beef, or ground chicken).

Another option is to use your favorite meat sauce (here is my homemade meat sauce recipe).

What to serve with this Ziti Recipe

While this ziti is perfectly perfect as a standalone dish, serve it with a salad, garlic bread or dinner rolls, and/or a protein to make it a heartier meal.

How to store leftover Baked Ziti

This baked ziti stores keeps very well in the refrigerator when covered tightly to insure it does not dry out.

Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (11)
Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (12)

One of my favorite things about it is how it lasts for several days. A lot of times, pasta bakes get dry and the pasta gets gross after a couple days. Not this baked ziti! There is so much moisture going on in this dish that you might think it’s too wet when it goes into the casserole. But it’s not. I promise.

You’ll be thankful for that liquid later!

Baked Ziti Recipe FAQs

You do not need to cover this baked ziti while baking, unless the cheese is becoming too brown for your taste.

Your sauce may have been too watery from the beginning, or your pasta was well done when you added it to the casserole. Be sure to use al dente pasta before baking so that the pasta will absorb some more of the liquid.

You do not need to rinse pasta before cooking it.

Cooking the pasta al dente means just until it starts to soften with a firm bite. Since the pasta will cook in the baked ziti, you don’t want it to be too soft from the get-go.

Baked ziti is a mixture of noodles, sauce, cheese, and sometimes meat in a casserole dish. It is typically spooned onto a plate or a bowl. Lasagna is all of these elements but layered into a dish and eaten in slices.

Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (13)

Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (14)

4.43 from 7 votes

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Creamy and Easy Baked Ziti

This easy baked ziti recipe is extra creamy thanks to smooth and tangy cream cheese. This baked pasta dish comes together quickly, leftovers stay moist and flavorful for days, and it can even be made ahead of time.

Prep Time20 minutes mins

Bake Time30 minutes mins

Total Time50 minutes mins

Recipe Author Lynn April

Servings: 10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 box uncooked ziti1
  • 8 ounces (225g) block cream cheese softened to room temperature and cut into 8 cubes; any fat content2
  • 1-24 ounce jar (680g) pasta sauce3
  • 1-14 ounce can (411g) petite diced tomatoes4 undrained
  • 2 cups (226g) shredded cheese5 divided
  • fresh basil finely chopped; optional

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF (177ºC). In a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. I prefer to cook my pasta al dente since it will cook a bit more in the liquid in the casserole dish. Drain the pasta and set it aside.

  • While the large pot is still hot, add the cubed cream cheese and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until mostly melted.

  • Add the hot pasta, pasta sauce, and diced tomatoes. Stir until pasta is well-coated. Stir in about half (I usually just do one big handful) of the shredded cheese until evenly dispersed.

  • Pour the pasta into a 2 quart casserole (I have also used a 9×13" baking dish or disposable casserole container). Sprinkle remaining shredded cheese evenly over the top and bake for 25-30 minutes or until cheese bubbles. Remove from oven and allow to cool 15 minutes before serving. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator, covered or wrapped tightly, up to 1 week. Baked casserole freezes well– up to 2 months. Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Cut up and heat individual servings in the microwave or cover with foil and bake in a 300ºF (148ºC) oven for 20 minutes.

  • Make ahead: this casserole can be assembled and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Add an extra 5 minutes to the baking time.

Notes

  1. Pasta: I have made this recipe with ziti, penne, and rigatoni. You can really use any type of tube-shaped pasta or any short noodle. Box amounts vary– aim for a 13-16 ounce box.
  2. Cream cheese: I prefer full-fat or low-fat cream cheese. I do not love this recipe with fat free cream cheese. Be sure to use the block cream cheese and not tub or whipped cream cheese.
  3. Pasta sauce: I typically use an Italian-spiced sauce and one without chunks. You can also use a meat sauce.
  4. Petite diced tomatoes: I have used diced tomatoes but much prefer the size of bites with petite diced tomatoes.
  5. Shredded cheese: I usually use mozzarella or an Italian blend shredded cheese. You can shred it yourself, but this recipe works great with pre-shredded cheese.

Did you make this recipe?Mention @freshaprilflours on Instagram or tag #freshaprilflours!

Nutrition Disclosure

All nutritional values are approximate and provided to the reader as a courtesy. Changing ingredients and/or quantities will alter the estimated nutritional calculations.

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 260kcal | Carbohydrates: 36g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 20mg | Sodium: 320mg | Potassium: 197mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 182IU | Vitamin C: 0.5mg | Calcium: 204mg | Iron: 1mg

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Creamy Ziti Recipe - Fresh April Flours (2024)

FAQs

Should baked ziti be covered when baking? ›

Bake, uncovered, 350°F until lightly browned and bubbly, 60 to 70 minutes. Cover with foil if the top browns before the inside is fully heated. Freezing and reheating a baked ziti: Bake, covered with foil, at 350°F. (Make sure you remove any plastic wrap first.)

What is a substitute for ricotta cheese in baked ziti? ›

If you're simply looking to substitute another cheese for ricotta without the extra step, cottage cheese is the most similar, and cream cheese and mascarpone are also worthy replacements (via Izzy Cooking).

Why is my baked ziti dry? ›

Overcooking Pasta: When you pre-cook the pasta or noodles, make sure not to overcook them. Cook them just until they are slightly underdone or "al dente." They will continue cooking in the casserole, and overcooked pasta can absorb too much liquid and become mushy, leading to a dry casserole.

Can I prep baked ziti the night before? ›

Yes, the dish can be assembled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days in advance. 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.

Why is my baked ziti so watery? ›

Why is my pasta bake watery? There are a couple of reasons why your pasta bake might be runny. Sauce that is thick at room temperature or from the fridge will thin out in the hot oven. It is better to have a thicker sauce at the beginning, so it will be the right consistency after cooking.

Is it better to bake covered or uncovered? ›

If you prefer a tender and moist result, covered baking will be the better option. If you're desiring a crispy exterior and bolder flavors, uncovered baking is best.

What do Italians use instead of ricotta in lasagna? ›

I like using béchamel sauce instead of ricotta because it holds the mouthwatering lasagna layers together and gives the dish an overall creamy texture. Using béchamel is also the authentic Italian way to make lasagna.

Can you substitute sour cream for ricotta cheese in baking? ›

Sour Cream

As an alternative to Ricotta cheese, sour cream already has that tangy zing, so a little goes a long way! Bake or dip with it, just like you would with yogurt. But hold off on layering the cream in your classic dishes unless you're cooking up some fun twist like a bundt coffee cake!

What cheese is closest to ricotta? ›

Cottage cheese: As far as ricotta substitutes go, light and mild cottage cheese is your best bet. In fact, some people prefer to use cottage cheese because it has a similar flavor and fewer calories.

Does baked ziti contain ricotta cheese? ›

There's still some layering involved but only a little so it comes together quicker and easier than lasagna. Does baked ziti contain ricotta cheese? It sure does. The ricotta is mixed with two other types of cheese and egg to create a creamy mixture that coats the pasta.

How do I make ziti not dry? ›

Layering is important (but easy!)

Layer half the mozzarella into the pasta and reserve half for the top. It bakes up golden-brown — the hallmark of a good pasta casserole. Make sure there is enough sauce to use as a layer at the top, under the mozzarella. This will insulate the pasta and keep it from drying out.

How do you know when ziti is done? ›

Pasta that is properly cooked should be al dente, or a "to the tooth" texture. That means that the pasta still has some resistance when you bite through it.

Can you eat week old baked ziti? ›

Mayo Clinic says 4 days is the limit for refrigerated. food.

Is it safe to eat baked ziti left out overnight? ›

It's not recommended to eat pasta that's been left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Bacteria can grow rapidly at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F (4°C to 60°C), potentially causing foodborne illness.

Do you cook baked ziti covered or uncovered reddit? ›

I boil my pasta to just under a minute of “al dente” and then after my layering it typically bake it uncovered because I want the crusty cheese on top.

Should I bake my lasagna covered or uncovered? ›

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until cheese is golden brown, 5 to 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

How long do you heat baked ziti in the oven? ›

Oven. To reheat baked ziti that has been refrigerated, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Again, if it is in a glass dish, be sure that the glass has come to room temperature first to avoid cracking. Cover the oven-safe dish with aluminum foil and bake for around 35-45 minutes.

Is it better to cover lasagna while baking? ›

If uncovered, the prolonged exposure to heat will quickly dry out your lasagna, no matter how much sauce you've added. Make sure to always add a layer of tin foil over your baking dish, which will trap the moisture inside while still allowing the dish to cook properly.

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