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This easy baked ziti is comforting, delicious and perfect for feeding a crowd! It combines tender ziti noodles and vegetables with a ground turkey marinara sauce all topped with mozzarella cheese.
If you’re looking for a comforting, hearty dish that’s both easy to make and a crowd-pleaser you’ve come to the right place because this easy baked ziti recipe is just that!
It’s a fantastic option for those busy weeknights when you want a satisfying meal without too much fuss, or for those occasions when you need to feed a crowd. The combination of tender pasta, flavorful ground turkey, and rich, cheesy goodness makes this dish irresistible. Plus, the addition of fresh veggies like zucchini and bell pepper adds a nutritious twist to this classic Italian-American favorite.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Delicious – The combo of pasta with a ground turkey tomato sauce, veggies and lots of cheesy goodness is so tasty! It’s guaranteed to be a hit with both adults and kiddos.
- Feeds a crowd – This baked ziti recipe makes a huge batch so it’s the perfect dinner for feeding a crowd and doubles as a great meal prep recipe.
- Comforting – This baked ziti is the definition of comfort food!
- Healthier – I used ground turkey instead of ground beef, added veggies and used less cheese than classic baked ziti recipes. It’s a tough lighter, but still delicious!
- ziti pasta – the star of the show, ziti is perfect for holding onto all the delicious sauce and cheese.
- olive oil – for sautéing the veggies and ground turkey.
- yellow onion – brings a subtle sweetness and depth to the dish when cooked.
- zucchini – adds a fresh, slightly sweet touch, and a great way to sneak in more veggies.
- red bell pepper – for a pop of color and a slightly sweet flavor.
- garlic – a must for that aromatic, savory depth that’s key in cooking.
- ground turkey – a leaner alternative to beef that still packs a ton of flavor. I used 93% lean ground turkey, but feel free to use leaner ground turkey if desired.
- Italian seasoning – this blend of herbs like oregano, basil, thyme, sage and rosemary brings the classic Italian flavors to the dish.
- salt and ground pepper – two essential seasonings!
- baby spinach – a great way to add some greens, wilting perfectly into the sauce.
- marinara sauce – I used Rao’s marinara sauce, but feel free to use your favorite brand or make homemade sauce.
- cottage cheese – instead of ricotta cheese I went with cottage cheese for a lighter, protein-packed option that adds creaminess to the sauce.
- parmesan cheese and fresh mozzarella cheese – two essential ingredients for baked ziti. I recommend using freshly shredded cheese instead of pre-shredded cheese for the best results.
- fresh basil – the perfect fresh herb to serve with this dish.
How to Make
Step 1: Heat the oven to 375°F and prepare a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.
Step 2: Cook the ziti pasta until al dente, drain it, and place it in the baking dish.
Step 3: In a skillet, sauté onion, garlic, and bell pepper in olive oil. Add ground turkey, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper, cooking until the turkey is fully cooked.
Step 4: Add chopped zucchini and half the marinara sauce to the skillet. Simmer until the zucchini softens, then turn off the heat and stir in the spinach to wilt.
Step 5: Pour the remaining marinara sauce over the pasta in the dish. Add the turkey mixture, cottage cheese, and parmesan. Mix well and top with mozzarella cheese.
Step 6: Bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbly. Optionally, broil for 2-3 minutes for a golden top.
Step 7: Remove from the oven, let it cool slightly, and serve with fresh basil.
Tips for the Perfect Baked Ziti
- Don’t overcook the pasta: Cook your pasta al dente as it will continue to cook in the oven. Overcooked pasta can become mushy.
- Let it rest: Allow the baked ziti to rest for a few minutes after removing it from the oven. This helps it set and makes serving easier.
- Season well: Don’t forget to season each component – the meat, the sauce, and the cheese mixture. Layering the flavors is key to a delicious baked ziti.
- Cheese matters: Use freshly shredded cheese for the best melting quality. Pre-shredded cheeses often contain anti-caking agents that can affect how they melt.
- Customize your veggies: Feel free to add or substitute vegetables based on your preferences or what you have on hand.
Substitutions & Notes
- Trying Different Pasta: This recipe is all about ziti, which perfectly holds the sauce and cheese. If you swap it with another type of pasta, just keep in mind that the texture and sauce distribution might change a bit. Penne could work as a close substitute, but I’d say stick with ziti to keep the dish authentic.
- Dairy-Free Ziti: Given that this recipe relies heavily on dairy (cottage cheese, parmesan, and mozzarella), making it dairy-free would be challenging. If you’re up for an experiment, though, try plant-based cheese alternatives and let me know how your vegan version turns out!
- Adding a Meat Alternative: The ground turkey adds a great flavor and texture to this dish. If you’re considering an alternative, ground beef or Italian sausage can replace ground turkey for a different flavor.
- Cheese Choices: I would try to keep the cheese selection as mentioned in the recipe, but if you prefer ricotta cheese over cottage cheese, it could make a good substitute for its creaminess.
- Adding a Kick: If you’re a fan of spice, consider adding some red pepper flakes to the turkey as it cooks, or even some chopped jalapeños with the veggies.
What to Serve with Baked Ziti
This pasta dish is hearty and filling on its own, but it pairs wonderfully with a variety of sides to make a well-rounded meal. Here are some suggestions:
- Salad: A simple green salad can add a refreshing contrast to the rich pasta. Try this kale caesar salad for something tasty, yet simple. This caprese salad and antipasto salad don’t have any greens but both would make for a wonderful side dish to this baked ziti.
- Roasted veggies: You can never have too many veggies, am I right?! A baking pan full of your favorite roasted vegetables would be the perfect side to this pasta. Some options: roasted broccoli, roasted sweet potatoes or air fryer brussels sprouts.
- Garlic Bread: Garlic bread is a classic accompaniment to pasta dishes. Opt for whole grain bread for a healthier twist.
Make Ahead of Time
Planning ahead can turn making a dish like baked ziti from a lengthy process into an easy, breezy, ziti experience. If you’re prepping for a busy weeknight dinner or a large gathering, these make-ahead tips for your baked ziti will not only save you time but also help make your dish as delicious as if it were made fresh.
- Assembly in Advance: One of the beauties of baked ziti is that you can put it all together a day before you need it. Just cover your assembled but unbaked ziti and pop it in the fridge. When you’re ready, bake it as directed, perhaps adding a few extra minutes to the cooking time since you’re starting from cold.
- Partial Cooking: If you want to cut down on baking time the day of serving, you can precook the pasta and the meat sauce. Store them separately in the fridge, then combine with cheese and bake when you’re ready.
- Reheating the Baked Ziti: Reheating is easy. Cover the baking dish with foil to keep the moisture in and reheat in the oven until it’s piping hot all the way through. The time will vary but expect around 20-30 minutes.
How to Store Leftovers
This baked ziti makes a huge batch so it’s perfect for meal prep! Here’s how to store leftovers:
- In the fridge: Allow the ziti to cool to room temperature. Then cover the baking dish with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, or transfer the leftovers to an airtight container. It will last 4-5 days in the fridge.
- In the freezer: Baked ziti freezes beautifully. Once cooled, transfer to a freezer-safe container or wrap the baking dish well in plastic wrap and aluminum foil. It can be frozen for 1-2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
- Reheating: Reheat in the oven at 350°F until it’s heated through. If it’s frozen, extend the heating time, and consider covering with foil to prevent the top from drying out.
More Pasta Dishes to Try
- Creamy Pumpkin Pasta
- Cottage Cheese Pasta
- Ground Turkey Pasta
- One Pot Pasta
- Lasagna Soup
- Turkey Bolognese
Be sure to check out the full collection of dinner recipes on EBF!
Easy Baked Ziti
- 1 lb ziti pasta
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, chopped
- 1 medium zucchini, chopped into small chunks
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 3-4 large garlic cloves
- 1 lb ground turkey
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground pepper
- 2-3 cups baby spinach
- 48 oz marinara sauce
- 1 cup cottage cheese, full-fat or low-fat
- ½ cup freshly shredded parmesan
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 8oz block
- Fresh basil, for serving
- Preheat oven to 375 F and spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray
- Cook pasta until al dente, drain and add to casserole dish
- Add oil to a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion, garlic and pepper for 2-3 minutes. Add ground turkey, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and cook 6-7 minutes until turkey is cooked through, breaking up the pieces with a wooden spoon as it cooks.
- Add zucchini and half of the sauce (24 oz) to the turkey mixture. Bring to a simmer and cook for 4-5 min until zucchini starts to become tender.
- Turn off heat and stir in spinach until it wilts.
- Pour remaining sauce (24 oz) over pasta in the baking dish, then add the turkey and veggie mixture, cottage cheese and parmesan. Stir to combine.
- Top with mozzarella
- Bake uncovered for 20-25 min, until bubbly. Broil for 2-3 min, until cheese gets golden brown.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.