Easy Baked Ziti Recipe with Cream Cheese
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This easy casserole goes from start to eating in far less than an hour. Perfect for entertaining or a quick dinner idea.
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?
That’s how I am with my chocolate cake and my baked ziti. I can make you a whole meal plus dessert blindfolded! Cool, right? #wifematerial
It’s funny though, we almost never eat pasta in our house, which is kind of funny considering we are both Italian and, I mean, who doesn’t love pasta, amirite??? It’s just not a staple, and it’s more of a treat.
But the reason I have this baked ziti burned into my brain is because it is my absolute go-to when someone I know is in need of a meal (think: new parents, people with sick kids or family members at home or in a hospital).
A girlfriend of mine jokes every time one of my friends has a baby that it’s time for a baked ziti! And she’s right– it’s super easy, it makes a ton, it’s reheatable, AND it’s freezable. It’s just… Well, my favorite!
Now before I get into how easy peasy this is, let’s address the one thing you may be judging me about (or maybe you haven’t noticed??)… This is clearly not ziti. It’s totally penne. And I don’t even care, because you know why?
What is baked ziti?
Baked ziti is an Italian-American casserole made from tender ziti noodles baked in a red sauce and topped with shredded mozzarella cheese.
Easy Baked Ziti ingredients
Probably nobody Googles “baked penne,” and to be honest, I’ve used all kinds of noodles for this bake… Ziti, penne, rigatoni, rotini. It’s super versatile. All you need is one box of your pasta of choice.
You’ll also need a few other things that are easy to find and (possibly BEST OF ALL) inexpensive. You’ll need…
•one block of cream cheese (any fat– although fat free is not my favorite in this recipe– you’ve been warned!)
•a jar of pasta sauce (I like to use tomato basil or some other kind of Italian spiced)
•a can of diced tomatoes (I prefer petite– smaller chunks!)
•and shredded cheese of your choice.
All of this goes into a pot (saving some of the cheese for the top, of course) before it gets dumped into a casserole. So easy.
Oh, and then some basil if you’d like to make things pretty right before you serve it!
The other easy peasy thing about this recipe is that you can add meat if you’re looking to make your baked ziti the star of the show. Just add 2 cups of cooked meat (chicken, beef, turkey) before it goes into the casserole and bake as usual.
How to make Baked Ziti with Cream Cheese
STEP 1 Start by cooking 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.
STEP 2 While the large pot is still hot, add the cubed cream cheese and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until mostly melted.
STEP 3 Add the hot pasta, pasta sauce, and diced tomatoes. Stir until pasta is well-coated. Stir in half (1 cup) of the shredded cheese until evenly dispersed.
STEP 4 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.
How long to cook baked ziti?
This casserole only needs to bake for 25-30 minutes, unless you make it ahead of time, then I usually add 5 minutes to the base baking time.
How to serve Baked Ziti with Cheese
Since the holidays are all about entertaining, I’ve teamed up with 4 of my favorite food bloggers to bring you a whole spread! You’ve got your main dish here, but click around the blogosphere to see what my friends are up to!
•cocktail from Leah @ Grain Changer: Jolly Holly Cocktail
•appetizer from Cate @ Chez Catey Lou: Parmesan Cheese Toast with Brown Sugar Bacon
•side dish from Amy @ Thoroughly Nourished Life: Holiday Kale, Apple, and Wild Rice Salad
•dessert from Jess @ Sweetest Menu: Peppermint Bark Chocolate Cupcakes
Whether or not you decide to put all of our dishes on your table this holiday season, know that we are all about the easy, so it will take you no time at all to throw together a simple party. Or, pick one and take it with you to the next gathering you head to!
I’ll tell you what… This baked ziti is seriously a staple in our kitchen, despite how rarely we actually consume it. I strongly encourage you to take this recipe and keep it tucked away for when you’re stuck on something to make for dinner (that will last a few days), need something to take to a potluck, or want to put an easy meal together for a friend in need.
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
Should baked ziti be covered when baking? You do not need to cover this baked ziti while baking, unless the cheese is becoming too brown for your taste.
How do you make baked ziti not watery? 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.
Should you rinse pasta for baked ziti? You do not need to rinse pasta before cooking it.
What’s the difference between baked ziti and lasagna? 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.
The holidays aren’t just about entertaining but also giving. The gift of a home cooked meal can warm someone’s heart more than an object, sometimes. And I think creamy, cheesy, flavorful pasta is the perfect way to get that heart as warm as possible!
Happy entertaining, friends!
Recipe for Baked Ziti with Cheese
- 1-13.5 ounce box pasta of your choice I prefer ziti or penne
- 8 ounces block cream cheese softened to room temperature and cut into 8 cubes; any fat content
- 1-25 ounce jar pasta sauce I prefer a basil or Italian spiced
- 1-14 ounce can petite diced tomatoes undrained
- 2 cups shredded cheese divided (I prefer mozzarella or Parmesan)
- fresh basil or parsley finely chopped
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large pot, 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.
- 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 half (1 cup) of the shredded cheese until evenly dispersed.
- Pour the pasta into a 2 quart casserole (I have also used a 9x13" 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 oven for 20 minutes. Make ahead: casserole can be assembled and refrigerated up to 12 hours. Add an extra 5 minutes to baking time.
All nutritional values are approximate and provided to the reader as a courtesy. Changing ingredients and/or quantities will alter the estimated nutritional calculations.
Did I read that recipe correctly? I get to eat pasta AND cream cheese! Umm hello best recipe ever! Gorgeous girl!
RIGHT?! Love that combo!
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 🙂
Haha, well I hope you give it a try and it gets the Monica approval! See you Saturday!!
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…
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!!
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.
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 🙂
I totally agree with you, Amy! I think we put together a nice little party– kudos!
This looks sooo delish, Lynn! I should try this sometime! 🙂
It’s SO good, and super easy!
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!!
Hahaha, I love that about you, Cate!!
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!
Thanks so much, Sarah! A personal fav in our house, too!
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)
I agree– the cream cheese is the kicker!
The best. Easy to make. My kids devour it every time. Leftovers are incredible. Yes, yes, yes!
Love love love this. Thanks, B! xoxo
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.
Thanks so much, Leigh! This is a total fav in our house. I’m so glad you enjoyed it so much 🙂