Pasta al Forno (or baked ziti as many call it) is a classic Italian dinner that is perfect for a cozy family gathering!
Pasta al Forno
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If you come from an Italian family, one of the mainstays at any family gathering is baked macaroni. Tender pasta in a chunky tomato sauce with ground beef, creamy ricotta cheese and mozzarella that bakes into the most perfect, golden brown crust.
Easy baked ziti tends to be a go-to for any family gathering as it’s seriously easy to throw together and and can totally be doubled or tripled for a large crowd (although this recipe easily feeds 8-10 people!).
Using Tuttorosso tomatoes for the very best quality sauce
Longtime readers know that in my family, sauce is sacred. I grew up eating sauce made with Tuttorosso tomatoes because they pride themselves in making the freshest, best-tasting, Italian inspired tomato products in the world- they are the best-selling Italian inspired canned tomato brand in the USA, afterall!
Their Steam Sealed Flavor-Loc™ system protects the fresh, vine-ripened flavor so you don’t get the "canned" taste and their is nothing artificial in any of their products. Tuttorosso prioritizes sustainability, NON-GMO ingredients and Non-BPA lined cans. It’s quality you can taste and see.
Tips for making this baked ziti recipe
- Do not, I repeat, do not add sugar to the sauce. Tuttorosso tomatoes already have such delicious, sweet flavor and sugar will ruin your sauce. To cut back on the natural acid that that tomatoes bring to the table, I add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. I know that might sound weird, but this was my Grandma’s secret tip to making the perfect sauce. Trust me, it works!
- Cook the pasta 3 minutes short of the package directions for al dente pasta. The reduced cooking time helps prevent overcooked pasta since the pasta will cook more while baking.
- Don’t rinse the pasta after draining. The starch that’s left on the pasta will help the sauce stick to it.
- The ricotta is an optional addition. I like it because it adds a creamy quality. You can also mix it in with the sauce and pasta prior to putting the pasta into the baking pan if you’d prefer but feel free to omit it if you don’t want the creaminess.
- I bake this covered for the first half of the cooking time to help bring it to temp quicker and then remove the cover and add the mozzarella and parmesan cheese for the remaining cooking time so that it still gets that amazing crust we all fight over.
Frequently asked questions about making this pasta bake
- What does al forno mean? In this case, al forno means food that has been baked in the oven.
- Can baked ziti be made ahead? Yes! I’d assemble it all ahead and refrigerate and then bake it just before you want to serve it. You may need to bake it a bit longer to make sure it is heated through (above 145 degrees).
- Can I substitute the beef for Italian sausage? Absolutely, just remove the sausage from it’s casings and add it when you’d add the ground beef.
- Can you freeze baked ziti? Yes! I’d encourage you to freeze before the baking step and double wrap the top in foil. It should keep for u to 3 months. Be sure to thaw before baking.
- How long does baked ziti last? This will last up to 4 days covered in the refrigerator.
- How do you reheat the leftovers? I typically use the microwave but baking it covered in the over in another option.
- Can I use a different pasta? Sure! I bet this would be especially tasty made as tortellini al forno!
Make it a meal:
A few great recipes to round out and complete this meal would be:
- Three Cheese Garlic Bread
- Roasted Beet Salad
- Summer Bounty Strawberry Salad
- Four Ingredient Chocolate Mousse
- Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Cookie Bars
- Large saute pan
- Wooden spoon
- Chef's knife
- Cutting board
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Large pot
- 9" x 13" pan
Pasta Al Forno (Baked Ziti)
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 28 ounce cans Tuttorosso Crushed Tomatoes Chunky with Basil
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 pound uncooked ziti
- 1 ¼ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- ⅓ cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated or shredded
Optional ricotta mixture
- 1 8 ounce container Ricotta cheese
- ½ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- ¼ cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated or shredded
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat and bring a large pot of hot water to a boil and salt the water liberally once boiling.
- Once heated add onions and a garlic to the pan with the oil and saute stirring often for 2-3 minutes stirring often to soften it- be careful not to burn the garlic.
- Add ground beef and saute until brown, using a wooden spoon to break it up, around 5 minutes. Drain if needed.
- Add 2 cans Tuttorosso Crushed Tomatoes Chunky with Basil, baking soda, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes.
- While sauce simmers, boil ziti 3 minutes less than the package directions for al dente and drain. Immediately return to the pot.
- Place a couple spoonfuls of sauce at the bottom of a 9" x 13" pan.
- Mix ¾ of the sauce with the pasta until well combined. If using ricotta, mix all ricotta mixture ingredients in a medium bowl.
- Place ½ the pasta mixture into the 9" x 13" baking pan. If using ricotta, add dollops of ricotta mixture evenly over the top of the pasta.
- Layer the remaining pasta evenly over the pan and top with remaining sauce.
- Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and top with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Bake uncovered for another 20-30 minutes or until hot and bubble. Serve immediately.
If you tried this recipe please comment and rate it 🙂 I love hearing your feedback and answering your questions! And if you make this please tag me on Instagram with @thelifejolie so I can share it <3
Other delicious Italian-inspired dinners include:
- Weeknight Bolognese Sauce
- Spicy Sausage Pasta with Rapini
- Grandma's Baked Eggplant Parmesan
- Cheesy Baked Ravioli Casserole
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