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  • Writer's pictureLuis and JudyAnn

Belly-filling Baked Ziti

Pasta casseroles are one of the best preferred dishes for #easy #weeknight #meals. And this Baked Ziti recipe is no exception.

Picture of the belly-filling baked ziti out of the oven.
Belly-filling baked ziti

The smell of pasta, tomato sauce, and cheese baking together is one of life's most comforting scents. We know that what's going to come out of the oven will appeal to adults and children alike, feed a crowd without breaking the bank, and be just plain delicious. It's no wonder that baked ziti is the go-to for potlucks.

Belly-filling baked ziti on a white dish.
Belly-filling baked ziti ready to serve.

Since life is crazy-busy for most of us, it’s tempting to do a fast grab for take-out on those days when appetites are big and energy is small. But that gets expensive and it’s not always convenient.

Belly-filling baked ziti with basil.
Belly-filling baked ziti with basil.

When making a pasta dish, one simple trick will take the dish from good to great. Quality ingredients are a must; always choose the best cheese, sausages, and vegetables available. The key to making great tasting pasta, however, is in the cooking water. Add about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt to a large stockpot of water before boiling. Salted water flavors the pasta internally as it absorbs liquid and swells. When the pasta is cooked, reserve a couple of cups of cooking water before draining the pasta. The salty, starchy liquid seasons your homemade sauce, gives it a silky texture and helps it cling to the noodles.


1 lb ziti noodles 1.5 lbs ground spicy or sweet Italian sausage (or removed from casings) 24 Oz. Rao’s tomato & basil pasta sauce 1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese 1/3 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped


1.Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2.Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti according to the package directions for very al dente, about 7 minutes. (It will continue to cook in the oven so you want to under cook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.

3. Heat a large sauté pan (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat. Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don't have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute. Add the 24oz of Rao’s tomato & basil pasta sauce and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

4. Add the heavy cream, cooked sausage, and basil to the pan; stir until evenly combined.

Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine. Spoon half of the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella and grated parmesan cheese . Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan. Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with more basil and serve.



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