This ricotta and sausage baked ziti is a spin on the ricotta-baked ziti my mother used to make growing up. Italian sweet sausage is sauteed with squash, zucchini, and onion, then layered in between shredded mozzarella, pasta, ricotta cheese, pasta sauce, and fresh basil for the ultimate pasta bake.
Normally baked ziti is made with ziti pasta, however, I use rigatoni or penne pasta because it's easier to find at my local grocery store. Also, I prefer the large rigatoni tubes for soaking up all that pasta sauce goodness.
What I Love About This Recipe
Not only do I love this recipe, but apparently so do my parents. My mom and dad both asked me on separate occasions this morning if there was any more of the baked ziti left over. The thing I love the most about this recipe is the number of vegetables hidden within the cheesy pasta sauce. I also really love that this meal reheats well, making it a perfect meal prep or batch-cooked meal. And finally, this ziti pasta bake is so delicious.
- Pasta: Normally baked ziti is made with smaller diameter tube pasta called ziti, however, rigatoni and penne pasta are appropriate substitutes. In fact, as I stated earlier, I prefer rigatoni because the large diameter soaks up more pasta sauce.
- Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage: Sometimes you can find Italian ground turkey (not in sausage form). Fear not, the sausage casings are easy to cut away if all you have is Italian sausage.
- Squash and Zucchini: I really like this neutral vegetable for this pasta bake. Other vegetables that work well are mushrooms and eggplant.
- Fresh basil: I really like the added flavor of the fresh basil to this baked ziti.
See the recipe card at the bottom of the post for quantities.
How To Make Ricotta and Sausage Baked Ziti
I like to break this recipe into two main parts: preparing the ingredients and assembling the ziti pasta bake. I find it's easier to assemble the layered pasta bake when all of the ingredients are ready.
Prepare The Ingredients
Boil water in a large pot with a pinch of salt. Add the pasta. Cook the pasta to "al dente" (about 10 minutes). Drain the pasta and set it aside.
Peel and chop the onion. Wash and chop the green zucchini and yellow squash into small pieces. Wash and chop the basil.
Remove the casings from the Italian sausage (if there are any). Shred the mozzarella block and set it aside.
In a nonstick stovetop pan, add the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the chopped onions. Once the onions start to change colors (about 2 to 3 minutes), add the Italian sausage. Continue breaking up the sausage into small pieces as the Italian sausage browns (about 5 minutes).
Add the chopped zucchini and squash to the sausage. Add some salt to taste. Cover the pot until the zucchini and squash are cooked through (about 5 to 7 minutes).
Assemble the Pasta Bake
Heat the oven to 375℉ (190℃). In a baking dish 9" x 13" or larger, add ½ of one jar of tomato sauce. Add ½ of the pasta then ½ of the sausage mixture. Pour the remaining portion of the first tomato sauce jar. Using a spoon, scoop ½ of the ricotta cheese onto the tomato sauce. Spread the ricotta gently. Sprinkle ½ of the shredded mozzarella cheese and some of the chopped fresh basil (if using).
Add ½ of the second tomato sauce jar onto the mozzarella cheese. Add the remaining pasta and sausage mixture. Distribute the remaining tomato sauce jar on top of the pasta and sausage mixture. Drop spoons of the ricotta cheese onto the tomato sauce and spread with the back of the spoon.
Sprinkle the remaining shredded mozzarella cheese and chopped basil.
Put the ricotta and sausage ziti in a 375℉ (190℃) oven in the middle rack uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the mozzarella cheese starts to brown on top.
Tips and Tricks
- Boil the pasta to al dente. Don't overcook the pasta initially because it will continue cooking when baking in the oven.
- There is a large amount of zucchini and squash, however you can reduce the quantity if desired. I try to jam pack as many extra hidden veggies as I can, but you do you.
- Cook the squash and zucchini until the liquid sweats out. Use a slotted spoon when spooning this sausage mixture on the ziti pasta, so the pasta will not be mushy after baking in the extra liquid.
Variations and Substitutions
- Make this vegetarian - You can make this recipe vegetarian (and more quickly) if you skip the Italian sausage, zucchini, and squash mixture. Just assemble the pasta bake with pasta sauce, ricotta cheese, tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, and fresh basil (optional). This is the original recipe that my mom used to make growing up, and it's delicious as well.
- Swap pasta type - I made this baked ziti with rigatoni instead of ziti, and there are many other types of pasta that will work like penne pasta.
- Low fat ricotta and mozzarella - You can reduce the amount of fat in this ricotta baked ziti by using low fat ricotta and part-skim mozzarella cheese.
- Use whole wheat pasta - Substitute whole wheat pasta in lieu of enriched pasta.
- Add some shredded parmesan - On the top of the ziti pasta bake, sprinkle some shredded parmesan before it goes into the oven.
Use a 9" x 13" baking casserole dish or one that's slightly larger. This baked ziti recipe is really smashed full into the 9" x 13" dish, so it won't hurt for something a bit larger. Also, this baked ziti can be split between two dishes.
Saute the sausage, onion, zucchini, and squash in a nonstick skillet with a cover. Boil the pasta in a large stovetop pot. Shred the mozzarella using a cheese grater.
Store the sausage-baked ziti in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave using a microwave-safe dish. I don't recommend freezing this recipe.
This ziti pasta bake can be prepared up to 1 day in advance without baking. Just assemble the ziti pasta bake, cover it with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge. Bake at 375℉ (190℃) for 35 to 40 minutes.
No, there is no need to cover ziti while it is baking in the oven.
Yes, baked ziti is a type of pasta bake.
Baked ziti uses ziti pasta, penne pasta, or rigatoni pasta. Whereas lasagna uses long lasagna noodles. Both baked ziti and lasagna are made in a casserole dish with pasta sauce and cheese.
It depends on the recipe. Some baked ziti recipes use ground beef or sausage whereas other baked ziti recipes are vegetarian.