My Kids First Casserole – Easy Baked Ziti

This recipe is a standard in most homes. It is simple and can be made with jarred sauce if you like rather than mixing up a quick sauce. I love this recipe because it gives the kids lots of cooking techniques in one dish. Dicing, browning meat, boiling pasta to al dente, and baking the casserole. Both of my kids made this for their first casseroles.

Verdict: I love this recipe with extra sauce and cheese on top as desired. We are a saucy family so we like ours with extra sauce so it is not dry at all. If you like sauce I would make extra it is simple to make an extra 1/2 batch and you can freeze any extra for your next meal.

I served this with a green side salad and green beans to complete the meal.

Easy Baked Ziti

  • Print


  • 12 ounces ziti or penne pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced finely
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 4 cups tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup pasta water
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, freshly shredded
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • fresh chopped basil for garnish as desired


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick spray. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain (reserving 1/2 cup of starchy water) and return pasta to the pot.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add onions cook until they start to turn translucent. Stir in garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds until fragrant.
  3. Add ground beef to the skillet; season with paprika, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Cook ground beef for 5 minutes, or until browned, breaking the meat into small pieces as it cooks. Drain off any excess fat if necessary.
  4. Stir in the tomato sauce. Stir in the reserved water and bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust spices to your taste.
  5. Add about 2 cups of the beef sauce to the cooked pasta; stir to combine. Transfer pasta to previously prepared baking dish. Add several tablespoons of ricotta over the pasta. The mounds of ricotta should be small and spread out around the pan. Pour remaining sauce over the pasta. Top with cheeses.
  6. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until cheese is completely melted and mixture is bubbly. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes. Garnish with chopped basil and serve.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. I made ziti this past weekend and froze a portion of it. I love ziti, although I use mozzarella and parmesan cheeses in mine as well as Italian sausage and plenty of sauce.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Spices and herbs really step up a pasta dish. 🌿🍅

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, I know what I’m having for dinner tonight! Sounds delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. koolaidmoms says:

      Thank you! Hope you like it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.