Meatless baked ziti recipe is an easy Italian inspired dinner dish. This version is made with jar spaghetti sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, and is baked to perfection. Perfect for a weeknight dinner!
I originally shared this recipe on March 3, 2020. It's the same great recipe, just with better photos!
Why it's awesome
This meatless baked ziti is one of my family's favorite. I like it because I can get it in the oven in about 20 minutes then it's baked up and ready to serve 30 minutes later. Other reasons to love this recipe:
- It's a tasty vegetarian meal option, but you can easily add your favorite protein like chicken, beef or shrimp
- It uses jarred marinara sauce, for easier prep
- Filling and family friendly
- If you like this recipe idea, be sure to check out my Baked Spaghetti Casserole
Ingredients and substitutions
1 box (16 ounces) ziti - you can substitute another short pasta like farfalle (bowties) macaroni, penne or mostaccioli.
1 jar (24 ounces) spaghetti or marinara sauce, or your favorite homemade tomato sauce. If you prefer a meat sauce, here's a link to a great Slow Cooker Meat Sauce
1 can (14 ounces) petite diced tomatoes. Regular (non petite) will work as well. I just prefer the petite size. You can also use fire roasted, or a flavored variety of canned tomatoes, such as garlic and basil.
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened in microwave. Low fat will work as well. I don't recommend using non-fat.
Italian seasoning - you can substitute with any combination of dried Italian herbs such as basil and oregano and parsley. You can also use fresh herbs, just chop them finely and increase amount to 2 tablespoons.
Garlic powder - you can add fresh minced or sliced garlic for more flavor
Sour cream-substitute with ricotta or cottage cheese, if desired. You can leave out the sour cream if you don't like it. You can use low fat sour cream, if preferred.
Shredded mozzarella cheese - Substitute with provolone or use a mixture of mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, Romano or fontina. You can also used thinly sliced cheese from the deli or fresh mozzarella. The choice is yours! I prefer shredded mozzarella because it melts perfectly!
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Start with clean hands and a clean work area. Gather all your ingredients.
Step 1: Heat the oven to 375º F and cook pasta according to package directions to al dente (it should be slightly undercooked because it will finish cooking when baked).
Step 2: While pasta cooks, combine marinara sauce, undrained canned diced tomatoes, softened cream cheese, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder in a very large bowl. Stir until well combined.
To soften cream cheese, cook unwrapped block in the microwave for about 45-60 seconds.
Step 3: When pasta is cooked, drain well in a colander. Add drained ziti to bowl of pasta sauce. Stir gently until pasta is well coated.
Step 4: Pour half the pasta mixture in the prepared pan. Smooth the top. Spread the sour cream (or ricotta or cottage cheese) over the pasta. Sprinkle with 1 cup of shredded cheese.
Step 5: Pour remaining pasta mixture in the pan then sprinkle the rest of the shredded cheese over the top.
Step 6: Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes, or until bubbly and cheese is completely melted.
This vegetarian baked ziti can easily become a meat lovers baked ziti. Cook ground beef, turkey, chicken or Italian sausage until no longer pink. Layer on casserole before adding shredded cheese.
Spicy: add desired amount of crushed red pepper to sauce mixture. One or two teaspoons for mild, more for extra spicy.
Gluten free: substitute with your favorite gluten free pasta. If you have a special dietary requirement, be sure to ready ingredient labels carefully.
Veggie: If vegetables are more your thing, sauté sliced mushrooms, diced zucchini, and sliced red onion in some olive oil until softened. Add to the sauce for a ziti primavera!
Pizza: How about a pizza version of the recipe? Layer 8 ounces of pepperoni, chopped green peppers, mushrooms, and red onions before the cheese layer.
This dish is similar to baked penne or baked mostaccioli.
This recipe is great on busy weeknights, but it can also be served at big family gatherings, parties, or pot lucks. It looks so pretty in a white casserole dish sprinkled with chopped parsley or basil leaves.
Storage and reheating
To make ahead for refrigerator: prepare recipe then cover with foil and store in refrigerator until ready to bake (up to one day ahead). Add about 30 minutes to baking time.
To make ahead for freezer: use a freezer/oven safe container. Prepare recipe as written. Wrap unbaked dish with plastic wrap (2 layers) as tightly as possible. Then cover with heavy duty foil as tightly as possible. Freeze for up to 3 months. Be sure to write the date on foil for reference.
Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
Reheating: Bake at 375º F for about 60-75 minutes. You can also use the microwave to defrost the dish. Since appliances vary, it's best to check your owner's manual for defrosting instructions.
Store leftovers covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days. To freeze leftovers, place in an airtight freezer safe container for up to 3 months.
Thaw in the refrigerator overnight or use your microwave. Never thaw food at room temperature! Once thawed, cook and serve immediately.
People also ask
This baked ziti is filling enough and can be served by itself. However, you can round out the meal with a nice green salad and some garlic bread. A side of roasted broccoli is a healthy and light side dish and this tomato basil soup would make a nice appetizer.
This recipe is baked uncovered until the cheese is gooey and bubbly around the edges. If you want to bake it covered with foil, be sure you spray one side of the foil with cooking spray so the melted cheese won't stick to it. Once it's bubbly you can serve it, or bake for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is lightly golden.
Penne, mostaccioli, and macaroni are most like ziti and can be used in its place. Any short tubular pasta will work well in place of ziti.
Meatless Baked Ziti
- 16 ounces ziti or other short pasta noodle like penne or mostaccioli
- 24 ounces jar marinara or spaghetti sauce any brand, or homemade
- 14 ounces petite diced tomatoes undrained
- 8 ounces cream cheese softened
- 2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ cup sour cream regular or low fat, ricotta or cottage cheese; use up to 1 cup
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese shredded; more if you like it extra cheesy
- Heat oven to 375º F. Spray a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish with cooking spray.
- Cook pasta according to package instructions to al dente. Pasta should be firm to the bite, not soft. It will continue to soften when baked.
- White pasta cooks, combine marinara sauce, undrained canned diced tomatoes, softened cream cheese, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder in a very large bowl. Stir until well combined. To soften cream cheese, cook unwrapped block in the microwave for about 45-60 seconds.
- When pasta is cooked, drain then add it to the bowl with marinara sauce. Stir gently until pasta is well coated.
- Pour half the pasta mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth the top. Spread the sour cream (or ricotta or cottage cheese) over the pasta. If ½ cup sour cream isn't enough, add up to one cup more. Sprinkle with 1 cup of shredded cheese.
- Layer the remaining pasta mixture in the pan then sprinkle the rest of the shredded cheese over the top.
- Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes, or until bubbly and cheese is completely melted.