This baked ziti with sausage is a favorite at my house. In this easy recipe we use Italian sausage to make the pasta sauce. It’s a wonderful ingredient that adds a ton of flavor so we can keep the rest of the ingredient list to a minimum. Then of course there’s the cheese…a lot of cheese! This pasta dish will become a family favorite for sure.
The sauce for this Italian sausage baked ziti is not from-scratch. We cheat a little by using jarred pasta sauce and canned tomatoes, but we add onions and a bunch of garlic for extra flavor. Then the sauce is simmered for a little while to give it that homemade taste.
I love using Italian sausage in recipes. The sausage brings a ton of flavor to the party so you can cut down on the number of ingredients needed, saving both time and money. It’s an affordable ingredient that doesn’t disappoint. Italian sausage sandwiches, Italian sausage spaghetti and Italian sausage lentil soup, are just some of the great recipes that use this versatile ingredient.
This site contains affiliate links to products. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
- Olive Oil – we used extra virgin because it’s what we had on hand but regular and extra light will work too.
- Aromatics – onions and garlic add extra flavor and give the Italian sausage sauce that homemade taste.
- Italian Sausage – we use mild Italian sausage links with the casings removed and torn into pieces, you can also use bulk sausage and if you like it spicy use hot Italian sausage.
- Tomatoes – use canned diced tomatoes, regular or fire roasted. You can also use canned whole tomatoes and chop them up with kitchen shears.
- Pasta sauce – use your favorite brand but make it a meatless variety so nothing is competing with the sausage.
- Pasta – Ziti, it’s in the name
- Salt – for the pasta water, we use kosher salt
- Cheese – Mozzarella and parmesan cheese
- Garnish and serving – chopped parsley, parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper for a little zing, if desired.
Tips to make the best baked ziti
- Don’t overcook the pasta; cook it only to al dente. It will continue cooking once it’s drained plus it’s going into the hot sauce. If the ziti is overcooked it will get mushy
- Break up the Italian sausage before cooking it. Large pieces will be difficult to break up once they hit the hot pan.
- All sausage is different and some may be fattier than others. If you feel that the sausage has rendered too much grease, drain some. An easy way to do this is to take the pot off the heat. Mound the sausage to one side of the pot and gently tip it so that the excess oil pools on the other side of the sausage. Use a ladle or a large spoon to scoop some out.
- Once you cook the pasta reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water before draining it. You can use the pasta water to loosen the sauce a little bit if it’s too thick. Just add a little at a time while stirring until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Keep the sauce at a simmer after it’s covered. Lower the heat a little bit if it’s boiling too vigorously. This is especially important after the sauce starts to thicken. Also, give it a good stir occasionally to keep it from sticking and burning on the bottom.
Many of the ingredients to make this popular pasta casserole are pantry staples so the prep work is quick and easy.
- Remove the casings from the Italian sausage. Use a sharp knife tip and run it along the sausage lengthwise. Remove the casing and tear the sausage into small pieces. This will make it much easier to break it up when it hits the hot skillet.
- Dice the onion
- Mince the garlic
- Shred the mozzarella and parmesan cheese if you’re not using pre-shredded. We grated the parmesan but purchased pre-shredded mozzarella for convenience.
- Chop the parsley, if using
- Gather and measure out the remaining ingredients.
How to make baked ziti with sausage
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot or a large, deep skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but nowhere near smoking, add the onions. Cook them for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
Next, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
Add the sausage to the pot and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook for 5-6 minutes until the sausage is browned. Stir frequently, while breaking up any large sausage pieces using a wooden spoon or a spatula.
Add the chopped tomatoes and pasta sauce to the pot and stir well. Bring the sauce to a simmer, lower the heat to medium-low and cover.
Cook the sauce for 40-45 minutes to let it thicken and allow the flavors to come together. Stir the sausage tomato sauce occasionally, especially as it starts thickening. Keep it at a simmer, if it starts boiling too vigorously lower the heat a bit.
Preheat oven to 350°F
While the sauce cooks, start the pasta. Cook the ziti to package directions for al-dente. Drain the ziti well and set aside.
Build the ziti and sausage casserole
Combine the ziti and the sauce in the larger of the two pots. Gently stir to mix well.
Use a large, oven proof casserole dish or baking pan (9×13).
Spoon half of the pasta mixture into the casserole dish. Sprinkle with half the mozzarella cheese and half the parmesan cheese. Add the remaining pasta and top with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
Place the casserole dish on a rimmed baking sheet, just in case it bubbles over. Bake the pasta for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted. Garnish the Italian sausage baked ziti with a little chopped parsley and serve with extra parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper, if desired.
You may also like these recipes:
- Baked Spaghetti
- Chicken and Broccoli Casserole
- Chicken and Rice Casserole
- Ravioli Bake
- Italian Sausage Parmigiana
Baked Ziti with Sausage
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 Small Onion finely diced
- 3-5 Garlic Cloves minced
- 1 pound Mild Italian Sausage casings removed and torn into pieces or use bulk sausage
- 1 28 ounce Can Diced Tomatoes we used fire roasted tomatoes (you can also use canned whole tomatoes, chopped them using kitchen shears to make quick work of it)
- 1 24 ounce Jar Pasta Sauce (use your favorite brand and meatless variety)
- 1 pound Ziti cooked to package directions for al-dente
- 1 tablespoon Salt for the pasta water – we use kosher salt
- 2 cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
- ½ cup Grated Parmesan Cheese plus extra for serving
- Chopped Parsley for garnish, optional
- Crushed Red Pepper for serving, optional
- Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot or large, deep skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the onions. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Add the sausage to the pot; raise the heat to medium-high. Cook for 5-6 minutes until the meat is browned, stirring frequently and breaking any large pieces with a wooden spoon or a spatula.
- Add the tomatoes and pasta sauce the pot, stir well.
- Bring the sauce to a simmer, lower heat to medium-low and cover. Cook the sauce for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep the sauce at a simmer. Lower the heat if it’s boiling too vigorously.
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- While the sauce cooks, start the pasta.
- Bring a large pot of water to a full boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook the ziti to package directions for al-dente.
- Drain the pasta well and set aside. (If desired, reserve about a cup of the pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce if needed.)
Build the ziti and sausage casserole
- Combine the ziti and the sauce in the larger of the two pots. Stir gently.
- Use a large, oven proof casserole dish or baking pan (9×13).
- Spoon about half of the ziti pasta mixture into the casserole dish.
- Sprinkle the top with half the mozzarella cheese and half the parmesan cheese.
- Add the remaining pasta and top with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
- Place the casserole dish on a rimmed baking sheet, just in case it bubbles over. Bake the pasta for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted.
- Garnish with a little chopped parsley and serve with extra parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper, if desired.