Three Cheese Baked Ziti

by Andie Mitchell on February 14, 2011

Baked Ziti


You should know that I love Oprah. Love Oprah. Love Oprah. Love Oprah. And also, I love Oprah. Winfrey, for those of you who weren’t sure.

I know that I’m not alone. I get that in a hierarchical sense, she’s throned somewhere between Jesus, Santa, and the first person to finesse cocoa beans into chocolate. Given that lots of people think the world of Miss O, my reverence may seem commonplace, unspecial even.


Baked Ziti


I assure it’s not. Just shy of getting her likeness tattooed on the small of my back to prove my love, because that would be an affront to Gayle, and a distasteful one-up to Stedman, I’ll settle and tell you in plain speech: I respect her.

I’ve been watching for nearly a lifetime, after all. She’s been talking to me in my living room for 25 years, and that ever-presence, that constant 4pm companion, well it means something. No, not that I know her intimately. No, not that I hold her every word as the gospel (though she does have some points…). No, not that she’s infallible or perfect or pure or even altogether altruistic in her giving.

I have often disagreed with her, found her to be spinning a story in the wrong direction, and thought a show should have addressed more angles of a subject, but then I remember that she’s just one person doing the best she can.


Baked Ziti


And the fact is, she’s someone who has shared her feelings, her assessments of trends, news, and changing times, and much of her life, openly with millions. For better or worse, she’s opened the door to ideas and started conversations that might not have otherwise begun. I applaud her for that.

I’m grasping for the point I began the post with, but as is so often the case with my Oprah love rants, I’ve lost it. There was a point here, though…somewhere here…huh, I bet it’ll come to me…if you could just giiive meee ooonnne sec …no, really I’m sure I’ll rememb-

Ah, yes. Oprah went vegan for a week. About a week ago, actually. I sat on my couch as I usually do, watching my DVR’ed episode of Oprah speaking with Michael Pollan and Veganist Kelly Freston, half the time nodding, a quarter of the time shaking my head, full time eating from the pint of Haagen Dazs.

In between spoonfuls of cold chocolate cream, I told Daniel, “You know these are really points to consider…”

Spoonful of dairy.

“I mean, I don’t think it would be all that strange or difficult to cut out animal foods.”

Gulp of chamomile tea with a splash of cow’s milk.

“Don’t you think? I mean…wouldn’t be so hard, right? I love experimenting, already love beans, tofu, grains, tempeh, almond milk…”

Spoonful of dairy.

At some point, maybe toward the end of my commentary, Daniel turned to me and asked me the most important question he’s ever asked me.

“But Monkey, what about milk and yogurt and cheese and cream?”

I just about swallowed the spoon.

In my lap sat the cold hard, yet ultra-delicious, truth: I’m in love with dairy. I know, I’m revealing lots of loves today. Yogurt and milk and heavy cream and salted butter and cottage cheese and oh sweet sweet oblivion—cheese. Thinking about it now, I realize it might serve me well to buy a cow someday.

The easy part being that Daniel’s always asking that we get a pet.

The hard part being that hay needles are a bugger to vacuum.


Baked Ziti


Point is, the very consideration of living life without butter and milk and cheese sent me straight into the kitchen to make baked ziti. Almost as if I had to prove to the stars above that I was the best dairy eater around. No one treats it better than I do. Y’hear me? No one.

And so, without further ado: Baked Ziti.

This is such a cozy, soothing casserole. A Sunday supper type. Creamy, cheesy, gooey, oozy. Sweet tomatoes and sharp parmesan and silky ricotta.

I think that I, like many people, assumed that baked ziti has to be several million calories to taste good and that it’s a bit fussy to make, but really it’s neither of those things. With a few nutritious tweaks on my end, a generous portion comes out to be only 400 calories, which paired with a big green salad, makes for a filling and balanced meal.


Baked Ziti


Since baked ziti only requires five key ingredients (ziti, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and marinara), the key to making it unique, to taking it from so-so to superb is in the marinara. If you go the bottled, store bought route, make sure to buy one of really fabulous quality. I promise you that it matters which brand you buy, and generally speaking- the more you pay for the sauce, the better it tastes. Rao’s makes the best of any I’ve tried from the market, and it’s about $8 per bottle. Making one from scratch is really the best way to go- flavor-wise, budget-wise, and health-wise. And it just so happens that I have the best tomato sauce in my recipe box to share.

All credit goes to my adored step dad, PJ. It’s End of story. You can die tomorrow knowing that this is the one. Close the case. Finito. Finished. Done.

This is the one that I’ll ask for on my death bed, alongside PJ’s famous meatballs, assuming I still have my hungry wits about me and that Daniel still remembers to spoon feed me sauce and tapioca pudding when I’m unwell. I’ll put it in my will, to be safe.



Here we go.



Begin by sauteing half of a medium onion and a few cloves of garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan. Let them cook until very soft and golden brown. The more color they develop, the more flavor they’ll lend to the finished sauce.


Baked Ziti


Stir in one small can of tomato paste. This gives rich depth to the marinara, because the flavor is concentrated and sweet. You won’t be able to achieve quite as intense a flavor if you skip the paste and your sauce won’t be as thick.


Baked Ziti


Stir in one 28 ounce can of ground peeled or crushed tomatoes, along with a few heaping spoonfuls of sugar, oregano, salt, and pepper. Adding sugar to the sauce is something my family swears by, and it’s what makes this sauce, in particular, unique and lovely. I strongly recommend using the full amount called for. Now is not the time to skimp.


Baked Ziti

Bring the mixture up to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat and very lightly simmer it for as long as you possibly can stand. The longer the sauce spends on the stovetop, covered on low heat, the better the final outcome because the ingredients will blend and the flavors will concentrate. Give it at least 30 minutes, if that’s all you have.

Baked Ziti


When your sauce is ready, it’s time to assemble the baked ziti. To a large bowl, add 4 cups of cooked penne or ziti, 1 cup ricotta cheese, 2 cups of the marinara sauce, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Stir to mix well.


Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti

Spoon the mixture into 4 greased ramekins for individual servings or into a large greased casserole dish.

Baked Ziti

Sprinkle the tops evenly with 1/2 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup parmesan.

Baked Ziti

Bake for 15-20 minutest at 350 degrees F, or until the cheese has fully melted. Serve immediately.

Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti

(serves 4)

4 cups cooked pasta, penne or ziti

1 cup part skim ricotta cheese

2 cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade (recipe below)

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese, divided

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked pasta, ricotta, marinara sauce, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Stir to mix well. Pour into a greased casserole dish, or individual ramekins, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup parmesan. Bake for 15 -20 minutes, until the cheese has melted. Best when eaten immediately.



Marinara Sauce

(makes about 4 cups)

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup finely chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 28oz can crushed or ground, peeled tomatoes

1 5-6 oz can tomato paste

1 tablespoon dried oregano

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan completely. Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes, until browned. Lower the heat if they begin to burn. The more color that develops on the onion and garlic, the more flavor they’ll add to the finished sauce.

Once the onions and garlic are tender and caramel in color, add the crushed tomatoes and the tomato paste and stir until the mixture is smooth and well combined.

Add the remaining ingredients (oregano through pepper), stir, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Lower the heat to the lowest setting, cover and let cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the bottom does not burn.


Nutrition information for 1 serving of baked ziti:

Calories: 431, Fat: 12.9g, Cholesterol: 51.9mg, Sodium: 858.3mg, Carb: 56.1g, Fiber: 3g, Sugars: 0.2g, Protein: 22.7g

{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

MelissaNibbles February 14, 2011 at 1:39 am

Three cheese? I won’t even need a fork.


Lisa (Dishes of Mrs. Fish) February 14, 2011 at 3:31 am

I love ziti! Thanks for this great recipe to try!


johnny February 14, 2011 at 3:49 am

Another great recipe! Love your comentary on Orah. She does have a lot of good to say as long as she’s not worshiped! Oh, forgot to tell you, I JUST REACHED THE 10 lb LOST MARK!!! Another 60 to go and I’m there! You’re making it fun, THANKS! :)


Can You Stay for Dinner February 14, 2011 at 7:14 am

Congratulations Johnny!! What a fabulous success! Keep up the great work- you can do it!!


Lindsay @ The Lean Green Bean February 14, 2011 at 3:50 am

yum!!! my all-time favorite pasta dish from my childhood :)


Matt @ The Athlete's Plate February 14, 2011 at 5:16 am

One of my favorites!


Kace February 14, 2011 at 7:36 am

Saving this recipe for Lent; meatless Fridays will be upon us soon enough.


jackkaye February 14, 2011 at 7:49 am

Oh my goodness that looks soooo good. All that gooey cheese and yummy yummy tomato sauce (drool). Will definitely try this recipe, thanks for sharing! x


Michelle @ a whole lot of life February 14, 2011 at 10:58 am

THANK YOU for this delicious-looking marinara recipe.

Yesterday I moved into my very own apartment after living with my sister for seven months as I pieced my life back together after leaving an abusive relationship.

As I did the obligatory HUGE shopping trip and stood in front of the wall of bottled marinara sauce I seriously thought to myself “it’s about time to conquer making your own sauce, Michelle”. Lo and behold a beautiful recipe is sitting in my google reader this morning.

What are the chances?!

I can’t wait to try it! I’ll have to let you know how it goes.

Oh, and I must say that I admire anyone that lives a public life a la Oprah and my favorite bloggers. It’s not easy, but the change that accompanies making your thoughts, opinions, and struggles public has got to be worth it. What do you think?


Larissa July 30, 2012 at 10:43 am

I made this the other night and it was delicious! The only thing I did differently was mix some sauce with the pasta and ricotta cheese before adding sauce on top. I also would reduce the pepper a little since it came out a little too spicy for my family and I. The homemade marinara sauce was so tasty! I will be making it again for spaghetti. Thank you very much for sharing :)


jeanne February 14, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Baked Ziti is one of our new favs. BTW, did you say LOVED Ms. O? Happy V-Day!


Can You Stay for Dinner February 14, 2011 at 3:44 pm

L.O.V.E. Miss O :)


Stephanie @cookinfanatic February 14, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Cheesy saucy pasta is just too darn good, this looks great!


healthyteacher February 14, 2011 at 7:38 pm

So excited to try out this recipe!

PS. Oprah has been in my life since birth. Brandon and I watch Oprah every day when I come home from work. He may, whether possible or not, be even more excited than I am to see most of the time.

Fact, I read this while simultaneously watching Oprah interview the View ladies.


Can You Stay for Dinner February 14, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Hahaha, the View is my second favorite show and that episode warmed my heart like no other! So happy to hear you were multitasking in the best way :)


Lu February 14, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Reason #1 I will never be vegan: I will not give up cheese. Period. #2 Bacon.

I love Miss O, too.


RhodeyGirl February 15, 2011 at 6:14 am

This looks delicious!


Erica February 15, 2011 at 1:48 pm

I just need to say that I love that you are rocking the Market Pantry stuff in the ziti ingredients photo!


Jenna February 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm

This looks absolutely divine!
And since you brought it up, I can’t conceive of a world in which I didn’t eat animal products. I can see meat going–but not eggs and cream and cheese. Nope. I love it way too much!


barb7802 February 15, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Just another yummy recipe. This is on my can do list for tomorrow. Can’t wait.


Jillian February 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm

I made this recipe tonight for my fiance and I and it was amazing!!

I made the sauce earlier in the day and let it simmer for a good long while. Then throwing the rest together was super easy and the result was fantastic!

Yum Yum Yum

Thanks for sharing!


Can You Stay for Dinner February 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Thanks so much Jillian! I’m happy to hear you and your fiance had a nice meal!


Brianne February 21, 2011 at 5:29 am

Thanks for the great recipe! I made it this weekend for my family and they loved it. The sauce is so tasty and easy to prepare. I don’t know if I’m ever going to buy pre made marinara again when that sauce is so delicious. Keep up the great recipes.


Can You Stay for Dinner February 21, 2011 at 7:19 am

YAY! Thanks Brianne! You have no idea how happy this makes me :)


Ashly February 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I made this ziti for dinner last night and added spicy italian sausage to a portion of it for my meat loving fiance…it was delicious! I’ve made a few of your recipes now and they’ve all turned out great :)


Can You Stay for Dinner February 22, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Thanks so much Ashly! I love hearing feedback on recipes- so happy you liked it!


Kara March 1, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I made this marinara sauce for dinner, served over thin spaghetti. It’s delicious!! I used fire-roasted crushed tomatoes and they worked well. :) Great recipe!!


Bee March 23, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Andrea, this sauce is amazing. I had only diced tomatoes so I pureed them and squeezed out some of the water, also added a few shakes of “Italian Seasoning” in addition to the others. Next chance I get I’m making huge batches and freezing it.

Not blogging about this one though, since I think I’ve already blogged your recipes like three times–haha.


Can You Stay for Dinner March 23, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Thanks so so much! I’m happy you love it too :)


Amanda March 25, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Yep, totally rocked everyone’s world with this tonight@ HIGH FIVER INTERNET BEST FRIEND. You, once again, gracefully saved the day in the middle of an “I have absolutely no idea what to cook for dinner” night!


Can You Stay for Dinner March 25, 2011 at 3:06 pm

HUUUUGE smile! Thanks m’dear!!!


Ellen Renee April 12, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I had a young co-worker a few years ago who would eat a diet type of frozen 3 cheese ziti for her dinner at work. She just loved those things – I tried it once – not for me – BLAH – despise mushy pasta. I have stayed close to her even though she does not work with me any longer and she and her husband always want me to cook them something when we visit (she did not come from a home who cooked from scratch – I enjoyed sharing what I would prepare with her – she got a little spoiled). You had just posted the Baked Ziti recipe a couple of days before I knew we were going to be in her area of the state. I prepared this but did not bake it – left it for them to bake when they were ready to eat it. The next day I heard from them both exclaiming how much they enjoyed it. Just thought I would share that with you – I made it for my family also and we were equally enthusiastic about it. I could not believe how flavorful the sauce was with very little time commitment. Normally I spend the day making sauce (a big batch then freeze it) and I enjoyed yours as much. Thank you young lady – you are a treasure :o) (from someone old enough to be your momma!)


Melanie May 31, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Just made this for dinner tonight and it’s amazing!!! Just took the giant leap of mincing my own garlic versus buying the jar of minced garlic. Getting domesticated one step at a time!


Sharon July 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I make my marinara in a similar way. I try and cram mine full of “hidden” veggies. I add a box each of frozen chopped spinach and pureed, cooked summer squash (butternut would be delicious). Sometimes I add turkey sausage and some crushed red pepper flake and let the spice permeate the whole pot.

I always reserve a cup or two in the fridge, but that doesn’t last long with my boyfriend and I sneaking a spoonful every time we walk by!


Allison July 21, 2011 at 6:31 am

Trying this one this weekend with friends. I know pasta isn’t a popular choice in the summer, but our grill is broke and what can I say I love Italian.

You’ve inspired me…I’ve fallen in love with food blogs so I decided to start one of my own. Didn’t realize there were so many foodies like myself. It’s in the very beginning stages so I am open for any advice and thoughts.

Smore Brownies were a hit last week…I’ll let you know now making my own sauce goes…I’ve made my own Tomato sauce but not like this.


Liz August 6, 2011 at 10:18 am

Can I just say… where were you in 2003 when I got married! I grew up in a home where an average meal for dinner was spam casserole. That’s right, I said spam. Or to mix things up a bit, *tuna* casserole. Doesn’t that just make your mouth water? I’ve never attempted to recreate such fine dinning. To make things worse if you asked me how Mac and Cheese was made I would say, “Kraft makes it. You just get that box from the store.” It never occurred to me you could put real cheese in there and whip up your own sauce.

Well then I married my amazing husband and he mentioned we should have spaghetti for dinner. So I did the only thing I knew how to do. Went to the store, bought some high dollar ($0.99) sauce, noodles, and ground beef. I went to work makin’ dinner. I think he about vomited in his mouth upon entering the kitchen and proceeded to ask why I wasn’t “making” the sauce. I looked at him like an idiot and said I was “making” it, ya know… I put the meat in. (Since then I’ve come to have a love affair with Italian sausage. Can’t understand why no one told me about it from birth! Oh wait because we were eating SPAM.)

So he started taking over the cooking. UNTIL… I got some super idiot proof french bread and pizza dough recipes. I branched out with awesome calzones and meat pies that made my hubby about fall out of his chair when he tasted the deliciousness. Only then did I gain some confidence. Now I’m looking at your marinara sauce and wishing blogs and pinterest were around 8 years ago!

PS. I might have just read your entire exercise history. And emailed it to my sister. Sorry for the babbling, but I never actually read the blogs and I got sucked into yours! Thanks for sharing. Loved it.


Meg August 25, 2011 at 7:46 am

I made this recipe last night- followed it to a T. The results? PERFECTION. My boyfriend went back for thirds; I forced myself to stop after seconds. Luckily I have leftovers for lunch today. I plan to quadruple the marinara recipe so I’ll have it on hand. THANK YOU!


Sarah September 13, 2011 at 1:16 am

I made this marinara sauce not long ago and it turned out beautifully. Thanks!


Chi September 19, 2011 at 2:58 am

Yesterday, I decided to try my hand at making my own marinara sauce for the first time. I made a slight alteration to this recipe by adding bits of Italian sweet sausage (I browned the sausage with the onions and garlic then added the paste, crushed tomatoes, and so on).

This recipe is great! Delicious and easy to follow. Sweeter than I’m used to, but still good (I may try it with a tablespoon less sugar next time, and see if I like the results). Either way, I’m never using Prego again if I can help it! I also used this marinara recipe to make your baked ziti recipe last night. Also delicious.


Anne September 23, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Great recipe!!! Just made it tonight and it was delicious!! Only thing I added was about 2 tablespoons of red wine to the marinara sauce. Awesome! Thanks!


Chelsea November 15, 2011 at 5:44 pm

If you want to make the sauce a little healthier adding shredded/pulsified carrots is just as sweet and doesn’t change the flavor of the sauce!!!!


Charlotte Ferreux December 1, 2011 at 11:06 am

I love this recipe and blog…I posted it on my community foodie blog. Hope you can come check it out

Also, feel free to post you’re recipes or you’re favourite foodie tips on it whenever you like!


Camara January 7, 2012 at 5:45 am

I made your sauce last night for lasagna and it was a hit! Thank you I’ll never go back to Ragu again.


Shay January 10, 2012 at 11:24 am

yummmm i CANT wait to try this!! i wrote down a few of your recipes(this one, buffalo chicken wraps, meatloaf and broccoli and beef) i cant wait to tey them all! Headed to the grocery store tonigh..thanks again!! you.are.awesome!


Michelle January 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Your sauce is divine! Thank you for sharing. :)


Irina March 20, 2012 at 8:30 am

I’ve made this pasta sauce recipe many times now, and it’s always wonderful. I’ve always liked sweet pasta sauces, and this is my go-to sauce. I also like to brown some Italian sausage and mushrooms and throw it in there. Delicious!


Karen April 25, 2012 at 7:10 am

How big is a serving?
I am on WW and portion size is the key!


Jessica April 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I’ve made the marinara sauce at least 6 times since first stumbling onto the recipe, it is THE BEST! I add extra italian seasoning and use a whole onion – the sweet caramelized onion flavor really comes through, it’s divine.
Thanks, Andie!


Michele May 11, 2012 at 8:54 pm

I can’t wait to try this! I know it will be yummy!


Erin Motz June 5, 2012 at 4:15 pm

First, you are hilarious. I COMPLETELY understand your love, I mean moderate respect, for Ms. Winfrey. She’s my favorite person ever and everyone I know makes fun of me for hearting her so much. Whatevs. Anyway, this ziti looks outstanding and I’ll be making it ASAP! Like tonight. ;)


Rhonda July 7, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Just made this sauce and I have to say it is the best I have ever tasted and soo easy. This will be a new favorite in our house. Thanks so much for sharing!


Amanda July 14, 2012 at 6:03 am

I have made this several times now and I love it! It is my favorite pasta dish now!! Finally a recipe on Pinterest that is worth making!!! Thank you for posting! ;)


Dianad September 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm

who cares about u and Oprah–if I’m searching for recipes I don’t want a long commentary on ur personal interests on the tube!That’s for facebook!!! HOLY MOSES TOOK ME MY LUNCH HOUR TO GET TO THE RECIPE. i THINK U NEED A FRIEND TO TALK TO.


Sully_04 February 27, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Made this recipe last night (exactly.. with PJs marinara sauce).. AMAZING! I even prepared a 2nd batch and froze it for a later date! Andie, you are an amazing cook, baker, writer, etc! I’ve been following you since January 2013 and have made about 7-8 of your recipes.. ALL of them have been WONDERFUL! You have made me into a better cook with lots of variety! Thank you for being such an inspiration and sharing all this goodness!


Mary April 3, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Should I make any changes in cooking time or prep if I am making 2 casseroles (each to serve 8) a day ahead and cooking them together in the oven the next day ?


Andie April 3, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Hey Mary,

No, I think you can just follow the recipe as it is (doubling it for each casserole, obviously) and they’ll still turn out fine if prepped ahead of time! Cooking time should remain the same.

Hope they’re a hit!



teachermrw April 28, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Yummy! Very cheesy!


erin gates March 1, 2014 at 11:37 am

Hi there – Just wanted to let you know your photos no longer show up on this recipe! Which is a shame because they are awesome!


Germaine February 3, 2015 at 12:58 am

yes what happen to all the pictures… would have loved seeing them


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