Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Sausage

Easy baked ziti made with ground sweet Italian sausage, melted ricotta, and mozzarella cheese.

Introducing my easy, baked ziti recipe with sausage, ricotta, and fresh mozzarella. It’s hearty, and cheesy, and comes together in a single cast iron skillet without the need to boil the pasta before baking!

Baked ziti in a cast iron skillet topped with fresh melted mozzarella and ricotta cheese.

This is one of my favorite recipes thanks to its simplicity and rich flavor. There is something magical about cooking pasta within a tomato sauce. The texture is a little different because noodles soak up more of the flavors as they cook—similar to lasagna.

This recipe is really easy to make and comes together in a single cast iron skillet with less than 15 minutes of active cooking. It can be prepped and made ahead and baked when ready to eat. The final result is a cheesy pasta and sausage dish with melted mozzarella and chunks of warm ricotta. A true crowd-pleaser that’s hearty and comforting for all ages.

If you enjoyed this recipe, also check out my skillet lasagna, creamy pasta shells, and simple cheesy baked gnocchi! A few of my other absolute favorite skillet Italian dishes are my gnocchi bologneseskillet chicken parmesan, and my skillet eggplant parmesan.

Why This Recipe Works

  • No-boil pasta recipe: the trick to no-boil pasta is adding about 2 cups of water to the tomato sauce before baking. The ziti will soak up the water and fully cook, leaving you with a sauce that has the perfect consistency.
  • Simple and delicious: this recipe is broken down into two basic steps. Browning the sweet Italian sausage on the stove, adding all remaining ingredients to the skillet, and baking in the oven until the noodles are tender.

Ingredients

uncooked baked ziti ingredients laid out on a cutting board.
  • Ziti or penne: any tubular pasta should work here. Remember, no pre-cooking the pasta.
  • Ground sweet Italian sausage: if you can’t find ground Italian sausage, you can buy uncooked sausages and easily slide the pork out of the casing. Spicy Italian sausage is delicious too.
  • Marinara/tomato sauce: make your own marinara or use your favorite jarred red sauce. Here is my favorite easy, scratch tomato sauce.
  • Ricotta cheese: the ricotta adds creaminess to the entire dish plus it serves as an additional topping.
  • Fresh mozzarella cheese: I always use a fresh mozzarella ball for this recipe, however, you can substitute low-moisture mozzarella or shredded mozzarella.
  • Butter: butter adds phenomenal richness to the dish, especially if using jarred tomato sauce. Adding butter to jarred marinara is one of my favorite flavor-enhancing kitchen hacks.

See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities below.

How to Make Baked Ziti

Step 1.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Step 2.

Heat butter over medium heat in a cast iron skillet, add garlic, and saute for 1 minute.

Step 3.

Add ground sausage, breaking up with the tip of a spatula into small chunks. Cook until just browned, about 7-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Browned cooked ground sweet Italian sausage cooking in a cast iron skillet.

Step 4.

Add marinara, water, chopped basil, and 1/2 cup of ricotta. Stir until fully incorporated.

Tomato sauce, fresh basil, and ricotta cheese simmering in a cast iron skillet.

Step 5.

Mix in uncooked ziti. Be sure the ziti is evenly distributed to the edges of the skillet and fully submerged (use a spatula to pat it down). It’s okay if a few are floating on the surface. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Adding dry ziti noodles to a watered-down tomato sauce in a cast iron skillet.
Dry ziti noodles in a tomato sauce in a cast iron skillet.
A cast iron skillet covered with aluminum foil.

Step 6.

Remove the skillet from the oven and give the entire dish a quick stir/toss to evenly mix sausage and ziti together. Top with mozzarella strips and tablespoon-sized dollops of ricotta.

Tossing cooked ziti in a sausage-based tomato sauce in a cast iron skillet.
Baked ziti topped with uncooked fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese.

Step 7.

Return to oven at 500°F or high broil. Bake uncovered for 5-7 minutes or until the cheese is fully melted and starting to brown. Top with fresh basil and serve. Note, the broiler method may only take a few minutes.

Baked ziti in a cast iron skillet topped with fresh melted mozzarella and ricotta cheese.

Tips & Tricks

  • I like to finish this dish using my oven’s broiler to give the cheese a golden melted finish. This sears some of the noodles around the edges and makes them a little crispy.
  • If you don’t have ricotta, add 1/3-1/2 cup of heavy cream to the tomato sauce instead of the ricotta. This is a good substitute for the creamy texture.
  • This recipe works best in a cast iron skillet because they have higher walls. A 12-inch skillet allows you to fit this entire recipe perfectly. If you cut the portions in half, a 9 or 10-inch skillet will work. You can also use a Dutch oven for larger quantities.
  • If you only use 1/2 pound of ground sausage or omit the sausage altogether, you only need 1 1/2-2 cups of water as opposed to 2 1/2.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you cook pasta without boiling?

Yes, baking pasta fully submerged in a watered-down tomato sauce will cook pasta al dente, leaving you with a regular consistency sauce/marinara.

Can I make this vegetarian?

Yes, you can leave out the sausage completely and adjust the recipe to 1.5-2 cups of water.

Can I make this with ground beef?

Yes, I’ve made this recipe with a 50-50 mix of ground beef and pork and also beef only. My favorite meat to use is sweet Italian sausage but beef works well too.

Do you have a favorite jarred marinara/tomato sauce?

I like Rao’s or Victoria marinara.

More Pasta Recipes

Enjoy this recipe? If you made this recipe, please leave a ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ star rating in the recipe card below & a review in the comments!
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Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Sausage

  • Author: Shawn Williams
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 50 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 4-6 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Cuisine: Italian

Description

Easy baked ziti made with ground sweet Italian sausage, melted ricotta, and mozzarella cheese.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 pound ziti or penne, uncooked
  • 1/21 pound ground sweet Italian sausage
  • 24 ounces marinara/tomato sauce
  • 2 1/2 cups water (see note)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese, divided
  • 46 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into strips
  • 68 basil leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Additional basil for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Heat butter over medium heat in a cast iron skillet, add garlic and saute for 1 minute.
  3. Add ground sausage, breaking up with the tip of a spatula into small chunks. Cook until just browned, about 7-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add marinara, water, chopped basil, and 1/2 cup of ricotta. Stir until fully incorporated.
  5. Mix in uncooked ziti. Be sure the ziti is evenly distributed to the edges of the skillet and fully submerged (use a spatula to pat it down). It’s okay if a few are floating on the surface. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the skillet from the oven and give the entire dish a quick stir/toss to evenly mix sausage and ziti together. Top with mozzarella strips and tablespoon-sized dollops of ricotta.
  7. Return to oven at 500°F or high broil. Bake uncovered for 5-7 minutes or until the cheese is fully melted and starting to brown. Note, that the broiler method may only take a few minutes. Top with fresh basil and serve.

Notes

If you only use 1/2 pound of ground sausage or omit the sausage altogether, you only need 1 1/2-2 cups of water as opposed to 2 1/2.

I like to finish this dish using my oven’s broiler to give the cheese a golden melted finish. This sears some of the noodles around the edges and makes them a little crispy.

If you don’t have ricotta, add 1/3-1/2 cup of heavy cream to the tomato sauce instead of the ricotta. This is a good substitute for the creamy texture.

This recipe works best in a cast iron skillet because they have higher walls. A 12-inch skillet allows you to fit this entire recipe perfectly. If you cut the portions in half, a 9 or 10-inch skillet will work. You can also use a Dutch oven for larger quantities.


Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1/8
  • Calories: 643
  • Sugar: 13.5g
  • Sodium: 884mg
  • Fat: 25.7g
  • Saturated Fat: 11.2g
  • Carbohydrates: 74.6g
  • Fiber: 5.6g
  • Protein: 29.5g
  • Cholesterol: 68mg

Keywords: baked ziti, baked ziti with ricotta, baked ziti with sausage