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Close up of Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti With Meat Sauce

by Karen D. Insignares
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Lasagna – Work = Baked Ziti

If you’re ever feeling like lasagna, but not in the mood for all the work, baked ziti is your babe. It’s very similar but without all the assembly necessary and it doesn’t need ricotta, al though you could put a few dollops to get that creamy factor in this dish. 

Though this recipe is technically baked penne, it’s the same concept. Kind of.. I mean penne and ziti noodles are both designed to hold as much meat sauce as possible. I got these noodles on sale, could you blame me for making the switch? Didn’t think so. You know how it is! In fact, I would even use macaroni elbows if I didn’t have another option.null

overhead photo of baked ziti in casserole and a plate full

Cooking Tips and Substitutions

The Pasta

For a baked ziti you’re “supposed” to use ziti noodles. In it’s essence, you just need a noodle that’s going to cradle that meat sauce. I’ve used macaroni in a pinch, so I wouldn’t stress having ziti on hand. In fact, this time I used penne noodles because it was only a $1.

Close up of Baked Ziti

The Cheese

You can get pretty flexible with what cheese you use on top. It’s usually cheaper to buy blocks of cheese and shred it yourself, but sometimes that’s not the case. If you store has something on sale, give it a shot! I’ve tried this recipe with monetary jack and pepper check cheese and it tasted great! In a pinch, I would consider using parmesan cheese if I didn’t have anything els, just don’t expect that awesome ooey gooey cheese pull texture.

The Sauce

I don’t typically make my recipes really very saucy. I tend to go light on tomato sauce because I’m prone to getting acid reflux. You should always feel free to add more or less sauce. If you do add more sauce, be sure to taste for salt levels. You may need to add more salt and a bit more sugar to cut the acidity of the tomato sauce. You could also use pre-made seasoned sauce and forget about adding the Italian seasoning.null

Baked Ziti with meat sauce

Baked ziti is an easy week night dinner that easily replaces your lasagna craving. Penne noodles combined with a fragrant tomato based meat sauce is topped with a heaping pile of shredded mozzarella cheese and baked until oozing. Get the recipe for this delicious baked penne pasta.
Recipe by Karen D. Insignares
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time1 hr
Servings: 6 people


  • 16 oz penne pasta ($1.09)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil ($0.15)
  • 1/2 large onion, diced 1 1/2 cup ($0.40)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced ($0.15)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided ($0.02)
  • 1 1/2 lb ground beef ($4.28)
  • 1 tablespoon complete seasoning ($0.03)
  • 2 tablespoon Italian seasoning ($0.06)
  • 16 oz tomato sauce ($0.98)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar ($0.02)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper ($0.02)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese ($1.20)


  • Set a large pot of water to boil and season with enough salt so that it tastes like the ocean. Add penne pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
  • Add olive oil to a large pan at medium heat and then sauté diced onions for 5-7 minutes until tender and translucent. Add minced garlic and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and sauté until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add in ground beef and complete seasoning and occasionally stir until the ground beef cooks through and you can no longer see any pink. Add in the Italian seasoning, tomato sauce, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and black pepper. Bring the sauce to a simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  • Combine the meat sauce and pasta and add into a baking or casserole dish, I used two loaf pans. Top with mozzarella cheese and leave in the oven until the cheese is nice and melted. I like to leave it in the oven until the cheese starts getting those little bubbly brown spots, about 10-15 minutes.

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