This easy, make-ahead freezer friendly Best Baked Ziti for a Crowd makes two party size casseroles layered with pasta, cheeses, Italian meat sauce and a ricotta topping.
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 our friends William and Marilyn at a Birmingham library. We had a blast, and this dish was a hit!!!
Every year, I make and freeze this for holiday company and entertaining. This recipe makes 2 casseroles (9 x 13; 10 x 13; 11 x 13). If you only need one, just bake one and freeze one.
What is baked ziti? Baked ziti is a pasta based casserole where you layer pasta, meat sauce, cheeses, 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 stove top, drain immediately, and toss with a few splashes of EVOO so it won’t stick together.
Layering the ziti is super easy. I shared the process in a few photos below. Remember: you are layering cooked ingredients (meat sauce and pasta) but freezing the dish BEFORE baking.
Make ahead: This dish can be made ahead and frrozen. For casual cooking or taking this to the beach or lake, I do aluminum foil casserole pans from Dollar Tree. For entertaining, I freeze the ziti into stoneware casserole dishes that are designed to go from freezer to oven to table.
Do I freeze ziti cooked or uncooked? 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.
How do I thaw and cook ziti? 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 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! As always, thanks so much for stopping by. Wishing you a joyful, blessed, and savvy day!!!
- 2 pounds dry ziti pasta
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 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.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 426 Total Fat: 24g Carbohydrates: 13g Protein: 37g