Baked Ziti with Pesto Ricotta

Up close shot of Baked Ziti with Pesto Ricotta

Last Updated on January 14, 2024 by Jacqueline Rafidi

Baked ziti with pesto ricotta – tender, yet slightly crisp baked pasta with a drool worthy cheese pull, savory meat sauce and herby basil pesto sauce

Hot Baked Ziti with Pesto Ricotta right out of the oven

This easy baked ziti recipe comes together pretty quickly for a weeknight meal, especially if you’re using a prepared, store-bought pesto and a jar of your favorite marinara sauce. It’s easily one of my favorite pasta dishes.

There’s definitely many types of cheese in this, but each one really serves a purpose! I do think the fresh mozzarella is optional but when I have it, I always add it in. 

Making this baked ziti with pesto ricotta

First, you’ll want to bring a large pot of salted water to a boil

While waiting for the water to boil, work on the sauce. Add the olive oil to a large skillet on medium heat. Add in the ground beef and cook breaking apart into small pieces. Once that is fully cooked through, add in the diced onions and cook until the onions soften a bit. Then add in the chopped garlic and mix until fragrant.

If the water is boiling at this point, add the pasta, cook according to package directions till 2 minutes less than al dente, then drain.

Once everything in the skillet is cooked and combined, add in the red wine and let that reduce by about half. This allows the amount of liquid to reduce and really condenses the flavor in the sauce. Then, add the marinara and tomato sauce and Italian seasoning. I like to add about ¼ cup water into the jar and swish it around between the jar and can to get everyyy little bit of sauce out of each container – again, not too much water so the sauce doesn’t become too liquidy. Taste the sauce, then add salt and black pepper as needed. 

meat mixture with red wine being poured in for the Baked Ziti with Pesto Ricotta

Preheat the oven to 375F as your assemble the baking dish

Start the ricotta mixture by adding the ricotta cheese, egg, pesto, chopped parsley, Parmigiano, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to a small bowl. Mix it all together and set aside.  

Ingredients for the ricotta mixture of the Baked Ziti with Pesto Ricotta

To a 9×13 baking dish, add a bit of sauce, then half of the cooked pasta. Top with grated parmesan, grated mozzarella cheese, rip off some small pieces of the fresh mozzarella and add that in along with dollops of half the ricotta/pesto mixture. Finally, add a few ladlefuls of the sauce and repeat the process one more time starting with the rest of the cooked pasta, the cheeses and ricotta mixture. Add a bit more of the sauce on top and do a couple quick tosses of the pasta in the baking dish to combine everything but still leaving large dollops of the ricotta. 

Layering the Baked Ziti with Pesto Ricotta

Top the whole baking dish with a generous amount of the grated low moisture mozzarella in an even layer and some pieces of the fresh mozzarella (if using) and a sprinkle of Italian seasoning. Place the whole prepared baking dish in the oven uncovered for 30 minutes and broil for 5 to get the top golden and crispy. Wait 5-10 minutes before serving and enjoy!

Prepaed Baked Ziti with Pesto Ricotta right before being baked

If you want a bit of heat, add some red pepper flakes on top when serving. I like to serve this with a quick salad. Store the leftovers in an airtight container once its at room temperature.

Subtitution Options:

​- Although this dish is known as baked ziti, I prefer to use rigatoni pasta vs ziti pasta. The rigatoni has ridges that scoop up some of the sauce and get the cheese all stuck in the middle making each bite more delicious. But feel free to use any tubular pasta of your choice.
-You could likely substitute the ricotta cheese for cottage cheese. I have not tried it, but if that’s what you have on hand, its worth a shot!
-Switch the ground beef for Italian sausage (removed from its casing) or even ground turkey for a leaner option
-Add in some frozen or fresh spinach to the meat mixture and let it cook down to add more greens!
-Use your homemade sauce and homemade pesto for even more flavor! 
-I prefer to use freshly grated cheese here vs pre-shredded cheese because the pre-shredded ones from the grocery store tend to have a powdery coating which keeps it from really melting the way I like. It’s an extra step but well worth it.

This easy recipe is bound to become a weeknight favorite. I know you’re going to love it!

More Pasta Recipes to love:

Shrimp and mascarpone pasta with arugula
Butternut squash mac and cheese
Peanut noodle salad

When you make this baked ziti with pesto ricotta, comment down below and rate this recipe to let me know your thoughts! Also, share a picture or tag me on Instagram @thebitewithjackie, I love seeing your remakes!

Plated Baked Ziti with Pesto Ricotta with a cheese pull

Baked Ziti with Pesto Ricotta

Al dente and slightly crispy pasta, a heavenly cheese pull and savory tomato sauce and pesto combine to make this amazing weeknight meal
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Italian
Servings 6

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lbs rigatoni or ziti pasta
  • 4-6 oz block low moisture mozzarella some for in the pasta and some for the top, grated
  • 4-8 oz fresh mozzarella optional – use as much or as little as you like
  • Fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano

For the sauce:

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium yellow onion diced finely
  • 4 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 24 oz favorite marinara sauce or jar sauce of choice I use Raos
  • 7 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the ricotta:

  • 8 oz whole milk ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 Tablespoons prepared pesto
  • Handful of fresh basil chopped
  • Handful of fresh parsley chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
 

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  • While waiting for the water to boil, work on the sauce. Add the olive oil to a large skillet and heat to medium. Add in the ground beef and cook breaking apart into small pieces. Once fully cooked through, add in the diced onions and cook until the onions soften a bit. Once softened, add in the chopped garlic and mix until fragrant.
  • If the water is boiling at this point, add the pasta, cook 2 minutes less than package directions, then drain.
  • Once everything in the skillet is cooked and combined, add in the red wine and let that reduce by about half. Then, add the marinara and tomato sauces and Italian seasoning. Add about ¼ cup water into the jar and swish it around between the jar and can to remove any excess sauce. Add it into the skillet along with salt and pepper to taste. Let this simmer for 5 minutes and turn off the heat.
  • Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • Start the ricotta mixture. In a small bowl, add the ricotta cheese, egg, pesto, chopped parsley, Parmigiano, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Mix it all together and set aside.
  • To a 9×13 baking dish, add a bit of sauce, then half of the cooked pasta. Top with grated parmesan, grated mozzarella, rip off some small pieces of the fresh mozzarella and add that in along with dollops of half the ricotta/pesto mixture. Finally, add a few ladlefuls of the sauce and repeat the process one more time starting with the rest of the cooked pasta, the cheeses and ricotta mixture. Add a bit more of the sauce on top and do a couple quick tosses of the pasta in the baking dish to combine everything but still leaving large dollops of the ricotta.
  • Top the whole baking dish with a generous amount of the grated low moisture mozzarella and some pieces of the fresh mozzarella (if using) and a sprinkle of Italian seasoning. Place this in the oven uncovered for 30 minutes and broil for 5 to get the top golden and crispy. Wait 5-10 minutes before serving and enjoy!
Keyword Baked pasta, Baked Ziti, pasta, pesto pasta

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