Baked Ziti

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This easy baked ziti recipe is extra creamy thanks to smooth and tangy cream cheese. This baked pasta dish comes together quickly, leftovers stay moist and flavorful for days, and it can even be made ahead of time. Keep this dish vegetarian or see the recipe notes for suggestions on adding a meat component to this easy casserole.

An aerial photo of a bowl of baked ziti with a sprig of basil.

This Recipe for Baked Ziti is my favorite

Do you have a recipe (or recipes!) in your lineup that you make SO OFTEN, you could do it in your sleep? That the recipe is just burned into your brain and you don’t even need to look at it? For me, one of those recipes is this tasty pasta dish (others are my favorite chocolate cake, homemade whipped cream, and flaky pie crust).

Not only is it a family favorite in our house, but it’s also my go-to for dinner parties, holidays, and for gifting to families who have just had a baby, have a loved one in the hospital or recovering from a procedure, just moved into a new home, or could just use a reason to take weeknight dinners off of their mind for a bit.

Someone is using a serving spoon to pull a portion of baked ziti out of a casserole dish.

In fact, a girlfriend of mine jokes every time someone I know has a baby that it’s time for a baked ziti! And she’s right– it’s super easy, it (usually) leaves leftovers, it reheats beautifully, AND it’s freezable. It’s just… Well, my favorite!


Baked ziti is an Italian-American casserole made from tender ziti noodles baked in a red sauce and topped with shredded mozzarella cheese. While it’s called “baked ziti,” you can actually use any tube-shaped pasta you like for this dish.

I have used penne pasta, rigatoni pasta, and rotini pasta. You can use whatever pasta shape you prefer, have on hand, or is on sale. Another reason I love this recipe is that the cost of ingredients is quite low. It’s an awesome budget-friendly option!

Easy Baked Ziti ingredients

My favorite recipes are ones that have some flexibility with ingredient selection, and this baked ziti with cream cheese fits that criteria well. Here’s what you’ll need:

Aerial photo of ingredients for baked ziti with text overlay.

DRY PASTA: again, any tube-shaped pastas work well here. I suggest avoiding any pasta shape that’s too tiny like macaroni or long and thin like spaghetti. Larger individual tube pastas are your best choice.

CREAM CHEESE: you’ll need block cream cheese here, and preferably a low to full fat version. I have made this ziti with fat-free cream cheese and it’s just not nearly as creamy or as delicious. Casserole at your own risk, but you have been warned!

TOMATO SAUCE: I typically reach for a classic marinara sauce or one with Italian seasoning. There are so many jars of pasta sauce to choose from, but I find the best results with one that doesn’t have any tomato chunks or too many flavors going on.

DICED TOMATOES: I much prefer petite diced tomatoes for this recipe as the tomato chunks are smaller. Be sure you aren’t choosing diced tomatoes that have been salted, and be sure not to grab the one seasoned for Mexican food!

SHREDDED CHEESE: so many kinds of cheese to choose from! I typically lean into basic mozzarella cheese, but have often grabbed the bag with an Italian cheese mixture that includes Parmesan cheese and Romano cheese. If you want to shred your cheese fresh, that’s perfectly fine. But remember– this recipe is meant to be incredibly easy and low maintenance.

BASIL: this is totally optional and mostly there for color and a pop of flavor. Don’t go out of your way to purchase a special ingredient. 


As written, this is a meatless ziti recipe, but adding meat is very simple. Follow the recipe as is, then add about 2 cups of your preferred cooked/browned meat (like Italian sausage, ground beef, or ground chicken).

A serving spoon in a casserole dish of baked ziti.

Another option is to use your favorite meat sauce (here is my homemade meat sauce recipe).

How to make Baked Ziti with Cream Cheese

​Another thing that makes this the best baked ziti is that aside from cooking the pasta, you’re essentially just opening cans and containers and dumping ingredients together. It’s so quick!


Start by cooking the pasta in a large pot of salted water according to the directions on the box. I prefer to cook my pasta al dente since it will cook a bit more in the liquid in the casserole dish. Drain the pasta and set it aside.


While the large saucepan is still hot, add the cubed cream cheese and stir it with a spatula or wooden spoon until mostly melted.


Add the hot pasta, spaghetti sauce, and diced tomatoes (remember not to drain the tomatoes). Stir the mixture until the pasta is well-coated, then stir in half of the shredded cheese.


Pour the pasta mixture into a 2 quart casserole (I have also used a 9″ × 13″ baking dish or disposable casserole container), then sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese evenly over the top and bake for 25-30 minutes or until cheese bubbles.


This casserole only needs to bake for 25-30 minutes, unless you make it ahead of time, then I usually add about 5 minutes to the base baking time.


I love making this dish ahead of time, especially if I’m bringing it to someone’s house. That way, they can bake it right away or pop it in the freezer to make it another time.

To make this baked ziti ahead of time: follow the recipe as written through putting everything into a baking dish, then cover the ziti and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. Bake casserole cold from the fridge.

To freeze unbaked ziti: this ziti freezes well, up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight, if possible. Cut up and heat individual servings in the microwave or cover with foil and bake in a 300ºF (148ºC) oven for 20 minutes.

How to serve Baked Ziti

While this ziti is perfectly perfect as a standalone dish, serve it with a salad, garlic bread or dinner rolls, and/or a protein to make it a heartier meal. 

Storing Easy Baked Ziti with Cream Cheese

This baked ziti stores keeps very well in the refrigerator when covered tightly to insure it does not dry out.

One of my favorite things about it is how it lasts for several days. A lot of times, pasta bakes get dry and the pasta gets gross after a couple days. Not this baked ziti! There is so much moisture going on in this dish that you might think it’s too wet when it goes into the casserole. But it’s not. I promise.

You’ll be thankful for that liquid later!

Easy Baked Ziti Recipe FAQs

You do not need to cover this baked ziti while baking, unless the cheese is becoming too brown for your taste.

Your sauce may have been too watery from the beginning, or your pasta was well done when you added it to the casserole. Be sure to use al dente pasta before baking so that the pasta will absorb some more of the liquid.

You do not need to rinse pasta before cooking it.

Cooking the pasta al dente means just until it starts to soften with a firm bite. Since the pasta will cook in the baked ziti, you don’t want it to be too soft from the get-go.

Baked ziti is a mixture of noodles, sauce, cheese, and sometimes meat in a casserole dish. It is typically spooned onto a plate or a bowl. Lasagna is all of these elements but layered into a dish and eaten in slices.

Someone is using a fork to take a bite of baked ziti out of a dish.

Easy Creamy Baked Ziti Recipe

This easy baked ziti recipe is extra creamy thanks to smooth and tangy cream cheese. This baked pasta dish comes together quickly, leftovers stay moist and flavorful for days, and it can even be made ahead of time.
Prep Time20 minutes
Bake Time30 minutes
Total Time50 minutes
Recipe Author Lynn April
Servings: 10 servings


  • 1 box uncooked ziti1
  • 8 ounces (225g) block cream cheese softened to room temperature and cut into 8 cubes; any fat content2
  • 1-24 ounce jar (680g) pasta sauce3
  • 1-14 ounce can (411g) petite diced tomatoes4 undrained
  • 2 cups (226g) shredded cheese5 divided
  • fresh basil finely chopped; optional


  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF (177ºC). In a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. I prefer to cook my pasta al dente since it will cook a bit more in the liquid in the casserole dish. Drain the pasta and set it aside.
  • While the large pot is still hot, add the cubed cream cheese and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until mostly melted.
  • Add the hot pasta, pasta sauce, and diced tomatoes. Stir until pasta is well-coated. Stir in about half (I usually just do one big handful) of the shredded cheese until evenly dispersed.
  • Pour the pasta into a 2 quart casserole (I have also used a 9×13" baking dish or disposable casserole container). Sprinkle remaining shredded cheese evenly over the top and bake for 25-30 minutes or until cheese bubbles. Remove from oven and allow to cool 15 minutes before serving. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator, covered or wrapped tightly, up to 1 week. Baked casserole freezes well– up to 2 months. Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Cut up and heat individual servings in the microwave or cover with foil and bake in a 300ºF (148ºC) oven for 20 minutes.
  • Make ahead: this casserole can be assembled and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Add an extra 5 minutes to the baking time.


  1. Pasta: I have made this recipe with ziti, penne, and rigatoni. You can really use any type of tube-shaped pasta or any short noodle. Box amounts vary– aim for a 13-16 ounce box. 
  2. Cream cheese: I prefer full-fat or low-fat cream cheese. I do not love this recipe with fat free cream cheese. Be sure to use the block cream cheese and not tub or whipped cream cheese. 
  3. Pasta sauce: I typically use an Italian-spiced sauce and one without chunks. You can also use a meat sauce.
  4. Petite diced tomatoes: I have used diced tomatoes but much prefer the size of bites with petite diced tomatoes.
  5. Shredded cheese: I usually use mozzarella or an Italian blend shredded cheese. You can shred it yourself, but this recipe works great with pre-shredded cheese. 
Did you make this recipe?Mention @freshaprilflours on Instagram or tag #freshaprilflours!

Nutrition Disclosure

All nutritional values are approximate and provided to the reader as a courtesy. Changing ingredients and/or quantities will alter the estimated nutritional calculations.

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 260kcal | Carbohydrates: 36g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 20mg | Sodium: 320mg | Potassium: 197mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 182IU | Vitamin C: 0.5mg | Calcium: 204mg | Iron: 1mg

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  1. SO MUCH YES!!!! This looks SO delish – I’m going to have to make this for Anthony’s family. I made his parents some baked ziti freezer meals when his mom got her knee replaced a few months ago, which they loved, but your recipe looks about a million times better. They (and we, obvi) will be over the moon for this!!!! So fun e-partying with you, girlfriend. Can’t wait to party in person, soon 🙂

  2. Oh wow!!! I love Italian food, but would you believe that I’ve NEVER had baked ziti? I know. Crazy. I actually got pretty excited when you said both you and your husband are Italian. I know this is kind of a random question (and probably a weird one at that) but can either of you speak the language? I’m studying Italian…

    1. NEVER?! Oh, Aria– you must!! It’s so easy and so tasty! We do NOT speak Italian, but I know a handful of phrases from growing up with my grandmother and her siblings. Not enough to get by, though! How cool you’re studying it though!!

    2. Well it looks really good! Who doesn’t love cream cheese and pasta? YUM!! I’m totally making this, I promise! That’s pretty cool! Y’all must have a really interesting heritage. Italian is such a beautiful language, and I love it.

  3. Ooohhhhh baked pasta is definitely a treat in our house too, and this one is super duper comfort food! I love that this can be frozen too, what a wonderfully kind idea to give it to people who have just had babies, or need a little extra love in their life at the moment.
    This would be such a great dinner party idea, and along with a big fresh salad 😉 it would be an indulgent treat for when friends are coming to dinner for a special occasion! So great feasting with you online, I can’t wait for our next real life feast 🙂

  4. This is a perfect holiday dinner!! It looks so cheesy and delicious. Also – I totally noticed that you used penne, hahaha! But I actually was like I love that, b/c I always have penne in the house but rarely have ziti!! Hooray for our fun holiday party!!

  5. 5 stars
    I LOVE this recipe. It is so easy, filling, and delicious. I’ve also shared the recipe with other family members who love to make it as well. It is so easy to add whatever protein you want or you can keep it as a vegetarian dish. Either way, you’re in for a fabulous meal!

  6. 5 stars
    This has become one of my favorite recipes to make for new moms. Comfort food at its finest ♥️. The cream cheese makes it so good! (I too, have RARELY used ziti – I never have it! But has worked well with a variety of other noodles)

  7. 5 stars
    This recipe is great! It’s simple, doesn’t require too much measuring (recipe is pretty true to available items on the grocery shelves), and is perfect for a small meal for two with leftovers, but is large enough to feed a family of four.
    The cream cheese provides a different tangy sweetness to the dish – but because there’s no specific sauce listed, a person can really make this dinner to their own specific tastes – marinara, spicy Italian, tomato & basil. We’re excited to test out a different sauce for the next time we bake it.