How to Make the Best Baked Ziti for a Crowd
Folks will RAVE over this easy, cheesy and delicious baked ziti that will feed up to 20 people and is make ahead AND freezer friendly.
This Best Baked Ziti for a crowd truly is a winner. It won first place in a “Chopped Competition” that Zane and I entered with some friends. It is always a HUGE hit when we serve this to guests. It is one of our “go to” dishes to serve at a small group gathering or party.
What kind of bake ware do you use for baked ziti?
Every year, I make and freeze this for holiday company and entertainment. This recipe makes 2 casseroles (ranging from 9 x 13; 10 x 13; 11 x 13). If you only need one, just bake one and freeze one. I love bakeware that goes from freezer to oven to table. I recommend this rectangular Le Crueset and this one from Emile Henry. When dividing this up to freeze and bake for the holidays, I like to use this red oval Emile Henry baking dish to add a festive touch.
What is baked ziti, and how is it different from lasagna?
Baked ziti is a pasta-based casserole where you layer pasta, meat sauce, cheese, and a ricotta/egg/sour cream mixture. It is similar to lasagna but much easier to make (and just as yummy).
- The meat sauce: The meat sauce in this baked ziti couldn’t be easier. It consists of ground beef simmered in prepared jarred pasta sauce (and a few seasonings). Don’t worry; it isn’t boring. There are lots of flavors going on in this dish, so the meat sauce needs to be simple.
- The cheeses. This recipe calls for ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and provolone. I use sliced plain (not smoked) provolone and shredded mozzarella. Whole or part-skim ricotta will work, but I prefer whole. Fresh parmesan is a must, and the higher the quality, the better.
- The pasta: I use either ziti or penne; DeCecco is my favorite. I never rinse pasta. When it is al dente (firm to the tooth), I remove it from the stovetop, drain it immediately, and toss it with a few splashes of EVOO so it won’t stick together. Layering the ziti is super easy. I shared the process in the video below.
How do you make baked ziti ahead of time?
This baked ziti can easily be made ahead and frozen. For taking to the beach or lake, I usually do a disposable aluminum pan. For guests or entertaining, I serve the ziti in stoneware casserole dishes that are designed to go from freezer to oven to table. In the video below, I show how I prep the baked ziti for freezing.
What type of sausage do I use for baked ziti?
For this dish, I use hot Italian sausage. I used one link and crumbled it up in the baked ziti. Crumbling it up helps to spread it evenly throughout the ziti and it is SO delicious. If you want a milder type of sausage, that will work too but using a hot Italian sausage will add some extra flavor to the dish.
What kind of sauce do I use for baked ziti?
I use a jarred sauce for this baked ziti and I recommend just using whatever sauce you prefer most! You’re going to add the meat and a few seasonings to the sauce and cook it all together, so the type of sauce isn’t super important. More important than the sauce is the contents you add to it.
How do you know when baked ziti is done cooking?
You’ll know the baked ziti is done cooking when the cheese on top starts to get golden brown and begins to bubble. If baking from frozen, let the ziti thaw before you cook it, and set the oven at 350 and bake until bubbling.
Do you freeze baked ziti before or after baking?
You make the ziti per the recipe below up to the point of baking (but do NOT bake). Wrap and freeze the assembled but unbaked ziti. In the short video below, I show you the three things I use to freeze baked ziti and how I use them. Note: The video was recorded on my instagram so will be a vertical shot with the black box in the sides:-(
How do I cook baked ziti from frozen?
Allow 2-3 days for ziti to thaw in the fridge before you plan to bake. It bakes better fully thawed. Remove the freezer wrap from the ziti. Place foil loosely over ziti for the first part of baking; remove the last 15 or 20 minutes of baking.
What sides do I serve with baked ziti?
- Bread: Crusty artisan bread is a must with this yummy, cheesy Italian dish. I love Costco’s rosemary olive oil bread. Fresh baguettes are also great. I always put out herbed dipping oil along with tiny bowls for guests to have their own portions.
- Salad: I often serve ziti with this Easy Peasy Baby Bleu Salad or this Greek Chopped Salad.
- Dessert: My Quadruple Chocolate Bundt Cake is a cake mix creation that looks and tastes from scratch. It can be made weeks ahead, glazed, and frozen.
This best baked ziti for a crowd is definitely a crowd pleaser. If you make this and have any questions , feel free to contact me in the comments. I try to get back quickly when I hear from anyone!
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Best Baked Ziti for a Crowd
Delicious party sized baked ziti with meat sauce, pasta, and 3 cheeses.
- 2 pounds dry ziti or penne pasta
- 1 cup chopped onion (frozen is fine)
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 hot Italian sausage link, crumbled (optional)
- 4 (26-ounce) jars spaghetti sauce
- 3/4 pound (12 oz) sliced provolone (not smoked)
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 (16-oz) carton whole milk ricotta cheese
- 3/4 pound (4 cups) mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/2-1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 TB Italian seasoning (optional)
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add ziti pasta, and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes; drain.
- In a large skillet, brown onion and ground beef over medium heat. Add spaghetti sauce, and simmer 15 minutes.
- In medium bowl, stir together ricotta, sour cream, egg & Italian seasoning.
- Spray one jumbo or two large aluminum foil pans with cooking spray.
- Layer ingredients as follows:
- Half of the sauce
- Half of the ziti
- Half of the Provolone cheese,
- Half of the mozzarella
- Layer remaining sauce, ziti, provolone & mozzarella.
- Spread all of ricotta/sour cream mixture on top.
- Sprinkle parmesan on top.
- Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly.
- IF FREEZING:
- Assemble (but do not cook) ziti.
- Wrap well, label, and freeze.
- TO COOK FROM FROZEN:
- Place in fridge to thaw a few days before serving.
- Bake at 350 until bubbly.
- Allow to rest at least a half hour before serving.
Nutrition InformationYield 20 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 345Total Fat 21gSaturated Fat 11gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 8gCholesterol 99mgSodium 558mgCarbohydrates 10gFiber 1gSugar 3gProtein 27g
So happy you enjoyed it!!!
Fantastic recipe ! Made exactly as instructed.
Hi Leona! The recipe as shown on the blog is for a crowd. If you want to feed 4-5, you can definitely make half!!!
Thank you for this recipe!! It looks really good! I am going to be making this tomorrow and if there’s 4 adults and 5 kids, do you think making half of this recipe will be enough? Thank you!
Hi Dana! You cook the pasta and assemble the ziti up to the point of baking (but dont bake). Freeze. When ready to serve, thaw in fridge and bake per instructions.
I want to serve for a gathering on Boxing day, Dec 26.
Question: Do you mean in instructions #15. Do not cook ziti – as in boil before freezing? Or cook and assemble but do not bake? I want to freeze for a few days. And I’m confused.
That makes me so happy!!!! The ziti is always a hit in our circles as well!!!
My daughter’s sorority was having a pasta dinner to raise money for their philanthropy. I made your “ziti for a crowd “ and it was a huge hit!!! My daughter mentioned it was the only dish that was totally eaten up! It was a delicious! Thank you for sharing your recipe and will definitely make it again!
Hi Julie, you can definitely prepare a day (or two) ahead. I pull from fridge, let sit for about half an hour to an hour to get the chill off. Then I bake. It takes 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes depending on the oven. I cover the first 45 minutes and uncover the rest. Hope you enjoy!!!