Three-Cheese Baked Ziti
Everyone’s favorite baked pasta! Three-cheese ziti is made with an easy tomato sauce and, you guessed it…three cheeses! This quick baked ziti recipe is easy enough to throw together for a weeknight dinner, but memorable enough to make for a night of entertaining friends and family. It’s that good!
This quick three-cheese ziti is easily made ahead and freezes well, meaning you can easily double and freeze one batch for your future dinner needs. It’s a one-pot dish made with ziti pasta, fresh mozzarella, parmesan and cottage cheese. The tomato sauce is seasoned with a simple blend of dried Italian spices you probably already have on hand. So, boil some pasta and make this in a snap!
Three-cheese baked ziti was gifted to my husband and me eight years ago, after we brought home our second baby girl and it was pure comfort, on so many levels. I’m not sure there’s ever been a more intense hunger than those first few days postpartum. I’ll never forget the kindness we were extended when we were showered with meals after her birth. Since then, I’ve made this meal dozens of times for my family and friends, and it always receives rave reviews. Try it and see if this it isn’t your favorite baked ziti, too!
Three Cheese Baked Ziti Ingredients
- Dried ziti pasta – If you can’t find ziti, any short tube-shaped pasta will do.
- Fresh mozzarella – The buttery texture and delicate taste of fresh mozzarella is what sets this ziti apart
- Cottage cheese – This is the hidden ingredient of the dish. It hides behind the creaminess it adds, so don’t skip the cottage cheese!
- Parmesan cheese – nutty and rich, this adds a kick of flavor. Grate a little extra to pass at the table.
- Jarred marinara sauce – A good one is key here. Some of my favorites are Pasta Jay’s marinara, and Rao’s. Wait for a sale at the grocery store, and stock up!
- Dried spices – easy peasy! You’ll need kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, dried oregano, garlic powder, onion powder and crushed red pepper flakes.
- Butter – Ever tried a buttery tomato sauce before? Yum!
- Fresh parley – A sprinkle of parsley on top adds a little brightness.
Baked Ziti vs. Lasagna
Baked ziti is ziti pasta (or a similar tube-shaped pasta), tossed with marinara sauce and cheese, and then baked. Similarly, lasagna is a baked pasta, but it uses sheets of pasta and it is layered with the cheese and tomato sauce. Although equally delicious, all this layering is what makes lasagna much more time consuming. I usually reserve lasagna for a weekend affair, unlike this three-cheese baked ziti.
Need a ziti substitute?
I usually buy a few boxes of the Whole Food’s house brand ziti to have on hand. You can always substitute penne pasta or rigatoni if needed. A short, tube-shaped pasta is best.
How to Make Three Cheese Baked Ziti
1. Prepare pasta
Preheat oven to 350o. In large pot, boil pasta in salted water until al dente (even less if planning to freeze before baking). Drain pasta with a large colander, and return drained pasta to pot. Add butter and toss cooked pasta with butter until butter melts and pasta is evenly coated.
2. Add ziti sauce
To the buttered ziti noodles, add marinara sauce, half of parmesan, and cubed mozzarella. Stir in pepper, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, and mix until well combined. Stir in cottage cheese.
3. Assemble and bake
Oil a 9 by 13-inch baking pan. Transfer ziti and sauce to baking dish, using rubber spatula to be sure no sauce is left behind! Cover top of pasta with sliced mozzarella and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Bake, uncovered, until lightly browned and hot, about 30 minutes. Top with minced fresh parsley, freshly ground pepper and more parmesan, if desired.
What goes well with three-cheese baked ziti
Serve this baked ziti with a simple green salad, or some easy roasted green beans! Maybe a little bread to make it a true carb fest?
Can I make three-cheese baked ziti ahead?
Yes! Just cover dish and place assembled, unbaked ziti in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Bake, uncovered at 350 degrees until bubbly and hot throughout, about 45-50 minutes.
Storing & Freezing Baked Ziti
How long will baked ziti keep in the refrigerator?
Any leftovers will keep well in the fridge for up to three days. Reheat baked ziti, covered with a silicone lid, in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. You can also reheat in the oven at 350 until heated through, but keep it covered with foil so it doesn’t brown too much on top.
How to freeze baked ziti
Baked ziti is a wonderful freezer meal! To freeze, after transferring sauce and pasta to oiled baking pan, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and then a layer of foil. It can be stored in the freezer for up to two months. To cook frozen baked ziti, just thaw in the refrigerator overnight, remove plastic wrap and foil and bake at 350 until bubbly and hot, about 45-50 minutes.
Three-Cheese Baked Ziti
- 1 pound ziti pasta
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1 28 ounce jar marinara sauce
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese half cut into 1/2-inch cubes; half thinly sliced
- 12 ounces whole milk cottage cheese
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese divided
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley minced
- Preheat oven to 350o. In large pot, boil pasta in salted water until al dente, tender but still slightly firm. Drain pasta with a large colander, and return drained pasta to pot. Add butter and toss cooked pasta with butter until butter melts and pasta is evenly coated.
- To the buttered ziti noodles, add marinara sauce, half of parmesan, and cubed mozzarella. Stir in pepper, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, and mix until well combined. Stir in cottage cheese.
- Oil a 9 by 13-inch baking pan. Transfer ziti and sauce to baking dish, using rubber spatula to be sure no sauce is left behind! Cover top of pasta with sliced mozzarella and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Bake, uncovered, until lightly browned and hot, about 30 minutes. Top with minced fresh parsley, freshly ground pepper and more parmesan, if desired.