Baked ziti and meatballs

Baked Ziti with Meatballs

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, eggs, milk, 1/2 cup of the Romano and the parsley, and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Add beef and gently combine, being careful not to overwork the meat. Shape into bite-size meatballs. Roll each meatball in flour to coat, shaking off excess.
  3. In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain pasta in a colander and set aside. If not using immediately, cover top with plastic wrap so that pasta does not dry out. Do not rinse pasta with water since you want to retain the pasta’s natural starches so that the sauce will cling to the ziti.
  4. In a large skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat. When almost smoking, add meatballs in batches and without moving or turning the meat, allow it to brown for about 3 minutes. Turn meatballs and brown other side. Continue to cook until all sides are golden brown. Remove meatballs to a plate.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the tomato sauce and ricotta and mix well. Add the cooked ziti and meatballs and toss gently.
  6. In a large greased baking dish, pour in pasta mixture. Sprinkle the mozzarella, Parmesan, and remaining Romano all over the top. Dot with the butter. Place baking dish on top of baking sheet covered with aluminum foil to collect any drippings from the dish. Bake until top is golden brown and bubbly, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Meatball Baked Ziti

Meatball Baked Ziti is a total comfort meal. An easy-to-make, richly flavored tomato sauce is combined with pasta, two kinds of mozzarella cheese, and flavorful meatballs for one dish of cozy deliciousness!

For those living in the Midwest, you know exactly what I’m talking about when I say it’s been a trying winter. So far, our girls have missed five days of school (plus a couple late starts) due to an abundance of snow, ridiculously icy roads, and extremely cold temps.

We’re talking about life threatening temperatures, where exposed skin can experience frostbite in less than 5 minutes. Where the temperature, when combined with the wind chill, makes for an experience that feels like 50 degrees below zero. It hurts. Literally.

You also know where I’m going with this, right?

Comfort food.

That’s where it’s at, for sure. (And lots of puzzles and games and closet cleaning!)

As if pasta and cheese and meatballs weren’t comfort enough on their own, I’ve combined them into one dish of cozy deliciousness. Meatball Baked Ziti, for the winter win!

* This is a sponsored post, created in partnership with Red Gold®.

Open up our pantry any day of the year, and you’re sure to find Red Gold Tomatoes. From my end-of-summer chicken chili that’s bursting with delicious garden harvest, to my winter-comforting creamy enchilada chili, I depend on the fresh tomato flavor from Red Gold.

In this meatball baked ziti recipe, I use a larger amount of crushed tomatoes, for well distributed tomato goodness. Plus diced tomatoes for more pronounced bites of tomato.

It’s always amazing to me, the difference between Red Gold’s tomatoes (top can) and other tomato brands.

Looking at the other brand’s can of whole peeled tomatoes (bottom can), you can see how the whole tomatoes are broken up and that there is still skin attached to every single tomato.

Compare the other brand’s tomatoes to those from Red Gold.

I’ve done this tomato comparison many times over the past few years. And the results are always the same. Red Gold’s tomatoes consistently have a much better appearance and texture. They’re whole and peeled and firmly tender.

It’s hard to tell from these photos, but even the tomato juice surrounding the tomatoes is better. It’s a bit thicker, with a deeper color.

Red Gold’s flavor scores considerably higher, too. The tomatoes have a more intense fresh tomato flavor. Oftentimes, I will pick up a hint of metallic taste from the can with other tomato brands, but I’ve never experienced that with Red Gold.

Red Gold Tomatoes has been family owned for 75 years, sustainably growing tomatoes on Midwest family farms. This company is truly passionate about their work, offering consumers the highest-quality, freshest, best-tasting tomatoes.

The meatballs in this easy baked ziti are flavorful and tender, with a combination of beef and Italian pork sausage.

I like to use a 1-1/2 tablespoon scoop to portion the meatballs, same as I do for Swedish meatballs. This just feels like the perfect meatball size to me.

The meatballs brown in a skillet, then simmer for a bit with the tomatoes on the stovetop, and finish cooking with the whole ziti mixture in the oven.

Now let’s talk cheese. I use two different kinds of mozzarella in this baked ziti with meatballs.

First, I cut block-style mozzarella into 1/2″ to 1″ sized pieces. Then I layer it into the heart of the baked meatballs and pasta. This low-moisture mozzarella gets all melty and gooey in the middle, giving you that awesome cheese pull with each forkful.

Second, I sprinkle the top with fresh mozzarella. I like to use a package of mozzarella “pearls”. But if you can’t find the pearls, you could just cube a larger ball of fresh mozzarella. I love the fresh milky flavor of this mozzarella, and the especially chewy texture it gets from the heat of the oven.

(If you were looking for baked ziti without ricotta, you came to the right place. No ricotta in this recipe!)

Meatball baked ziti is hearty, flavorful, and quite alot of fun. You just can’t go wrong with pasta, baked meatballs, and mozzarella cheese in a rich tomato sauce. Especially on a cold, wintry day!

Like this easy baked ziti recipe? Pin it!

For more recipes using Red Gold tomatoes, be sure to check out:

  • Cheesy Baked Gnocchi with Tomatoes and Sausage
  • Skillet Pizza with Sausage and Chili Garlic Tomato Sauce
  • Cheesy Pizza Soup
  • Chicken Caprese Cauliflower Nachos from Inside BruCrew Life
  • Italian Roasted Tomato Crostini from The Kitchen Whisperer
  • Spaghetti Meat Sauce {Slow Cooker or Stovetop} from The Seasoned Mom

Yield: 6 servings Prep Time: 25 minutes Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes


for the meatballs

  • 2 T. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 c. finely minced yellow onion
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. Italian pork sausage
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 c. bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

for the ziti and sauce

  • 12 oz. ziti pasta
  • 1 (28 oz.) can Red Gold® Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can Red Gold® Petite Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 T. dried Italian herb mix
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 3 T. chopped Italian parsley
  • 3 T. chopped basil
  • 12 oz. low-moisture mozzarella (block), cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella pearls (small balls)


  1. In a large skillet with tall sides, over medium to medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add onion and saute, stirring regularly. After 5 minutes, stir in garlic. Saute for another 3 minutes, stirring regularly, until onion is completely soft and translucent. Transfer onion and garlic to a plate and spread out to cool.
  2. To a large bowl, add beef, pork, and egg. Sprinkle bread crumbs, salt, and black pepper evenly over the top, followed by the cooled onion and garlic. Mix to combine evenly with your hands. You could also use a wooden spoon or stand mixer, but I prefer using my hands for the most evenly combined mixture.
  3. Using a 1-1/2 tablespoon measure (I like to use a 1-1/2 tablespoon scoop), portion meat mixture, roll into balls, and then transfer to a rimmed baking sheet.
  4. Using the same large skillet (no need to wash it), place it over medium heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Once butter is melted, swirl it around to coat the bottom of the skillet. Add meatballs. Brown meatballs on all sides, and cook for about 20 minutes total. Transfer meatballs to a platter or sheet pan.
  5. Preheat oven to 350° F. While meatballs are browning, cook ziti in a pot of salted boiling water, until just barely al dente. Drain and set aside.
  6. Place same large skillet over medium heat (do not wash it). Add crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes, and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan and stir them into the tomatoes. Stir in Italian herb mix, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer. Fold meatballs into tomatoes and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring a couple times. Stir in chopped parsley and basil, and then remove skillet from heat. Fold in drained ziti.
  7. Transfer half of ziti/meatball mixture to a large baking dish. Spread block mozzarella pieces over the top. Add remaining ziti/meatball mixture, spreading it out evenly. Top with mozzarella pearls. Cover dish loosely with foil (do not press foil onto the ziti/meatball mixture) and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the dish is hot and bubbling nicely. Remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes or so. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Sprinkle fresh chopped parsley over the top if desired. Serve hot.


from a farmgirl’s dabbles

Nutrition Information:


Serving Size:

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 722 Total Fat: 46g Saturated Fat: 23g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 21g Cholesterol: 209mg Sodium: 1756mg Carbohydrates: 21g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 6g Protein: 54g Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee accuracy. If your health depends on nutrition information, please calculate again with your own favorite calculator.

Be sure to check out Red Gold on their website. You can also find them on social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Red Gold sponsored this post. I am happy to be partnering with them again this year, bringing you delicious recipes bursting with fresh, rich tomato flavor. All opinions are 100% my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that help make this site possible.

We participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. See our disclosure policy for more info.

posted February 19, 2019 in Main Dishes, Sponsored Posts

Baked Ziti (Prep Time: 20 minutes!)


Baked Ziti is one of the pasta recipes that checks all the boxes for a delicious family meal. It’s delicious enough for company and always a favorite for Sunday supper. We use prepared marinara and a super-easy meatball recipe to keep it simplified and convenient!

I love the mini meatballs in the cheesy sauce- flavor explosions in each bite. A scoop of this delicious ziti pasta bake, a nice green salad, and a crusty chunk of bread might be the closest thing to culinary heaven I can think of! Full of classic Italian flavors, Baked Ziti always gets rave reviews, and everyone always wants seconds!

Let’s get started!

Jump To…

Why It’s Great!Recipe NotesRecipe VariationsSimilar Recipes

What I Love About This Recipe

Topping the list of what I love about Baked Ziti is the hearty, Italian flavor. You can’t have a good baked Italian pasta dish that doesn’t deliver on taste, and this recipe has it in spades! Of course, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Here are some other things I love about Baked Ziti

  • Mini meatballs!
  • Feeds a crowd
  • The cheesy, meaty sauce
  • The ‘WOW’ I get when I put it on the table

Easy Baked Ziti Recipe Notes

This is a nice and easy Baked Ziti Recipe. There’s nothing fancy about it except the taste! Here are a few more tips!

Cooking the pasta- I can’t stress enough that you need to follow good pasta prep techniques. You don’t want to end up with pasta mush at the end of the bake. Boil just to al dente and no rinsing!

Searing the meatballs- I use vegetable oil, generally canola, because of its high smoke point which makes it very safe to take to high heat. You want it HOT before you put your meatballs in! It should sizzle like crazy when the meat hits it. This quick cook seals in the flavor and moisture of the meatballs and is absolutely essential!

Baked Ziti Recipe Ingredient Notes

No time to make meatballs? No worries! Frozen cocktail meatballs are a great shortcut for this Baked Ziti Recipe.

Most jars of marinara sauce are 24 ounces, so 2 jars should do it. You might have a little left over. Put it in a ziplock bag and freeze it. It’ll be great dipping sauce for another time!

Ricotta: I use whole milk ricotta because I like the creaminess. If you don’t like ricotta, you can substitute a small curd, full-fat cottage cheese.

Pasta: I like Ziti for this pasta bake. It’s strong and sturdy and holds up well to mixing and baking. Other short cut pastas like penne or rigatoni are good options as well.

Ziti Pasta Storing Tips

Leftover Ziti Pasta will keep in a well-sealed container for 3 days. I suggest storing in a glass container to prevent the tomato sauce from reacting with the pan.

Can You Freeze This?

Baked Ziti freezes beautifully! I prefer to freeze it unbaked. Simply assemble as directed and allow to cool completely. Wrap well with cling wrap and foil. It will hold for about 3 months. You can freeze it baked or freeze leftovers- if there are any. The pasta texture isn’t quite as nice on a second go through the oven, but it’s still delish!

How To Make Baked Ziti Ahead Of Time

You can make this up to 3 days ahead of time and store it in the fridge. Simply assemble as directed, but don’t bake it. Wrap it in cling wrap or use a tight-fitting lid. Pop it in the oven when you’re ready for it! If coming straight from the fridge, cook time will be increased.

How Long Can You Keep This In The Fridge?

3 days is a good rule of thumb for fridge storage for this pasta bake.

Recipe Variations

From pasta salads to pasta bakes, variations on pasta creations abound. Their ‘anything goes’ flexibility is one of the things I love best about them. You can add, subtract, or substitute just about anything and you’ll still end up with something yummy!

Can I Make Baked Ziti With Sour Cream?

I really prefer the cheesy creaminess of ricotta, but you can make Baked Ziti with sour cream. A lot of recipes that include sour cream have layers. So, with this recipe, you could layer half the pasta mixture, spread on the sour cream, and then put on the rest of the pasta. Top with cheese and bake as directed.

Can I Make This Baked Ziti Vegetarian?

You can certainly make Baked Ziti vegetarian by simply omitting the beef. You can add bulk to the dish by adding mushrooms, zucchini, or any of your favorite veggies. If you’re looking for meat-free pasta bakes, I have to recommend my Five Cheese Ziti Al Forno. It’s the ultimate in cheesy, creamy indulgence, and you’ll never miss the meat!

Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti is packed with homemade mini meatballs, cheese, marinara sauce, and tons of flavor! It’s the total comfort food! Prep Time45 mins Cook Time45 mins Total Time1 hr 10 mins Servings: 8 Servings Author: Kathleen


  • 1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs large, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 3/4 cup Romano cheese grated, divided
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley chopped
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper to taste
  • all-purpose flour for dredging
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil


  • 1 pound dried ziti


  • 1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves julienned
  • 5 cups marinara sauce
  • 3 cups whole milk ricotta
  • 2 cups mozzarella, shredded
  • 1/2 cup parmesan, grated
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Make Meatballs:

  • Mix together bread crumbs, eggs, milk, 1/2 cup Romano, and parsley in a large mixing bowl. Add beef, salt, and black pepper and mix until everything is evenly combined, being careful not to overwork the beef.
  • Roll mixture into cocktail size meatballs then roll each one into flour then shaking off the excess.
  • Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat, in a large skillet, almost to smoking. Brown the meatballs in batches so as not to crowd the skillet. Continue to cook until all sides of the meatballs are brown. Remove browned meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate.
  • Cook ziti in well-salted water, according to package instructions, just to al dente. Drain. Do not rinse.
  • Mix basil, marinara sauce, and ricotta in a large bowl until combined. Add pasta and meatballs and gently fold until evenly combined.
  • Pour into a large baking dish and sprinkle the top evenly with mozzarella, Parmesan and remaining Romano. Dot with butter. Place baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 40-45 minutes or until the ziti is bubbly and the crust is golden. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.


Serving: 1/8 of the recipe | Calories: 702kcal | Carbohydrates: 62g | Protein: 40g | Fat: 31g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 132mg | Sodium: 1372mg | Potassium: 871mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 1395IU | Vitamin C: 14mg | Calcium: 532mg | Iron: 4.3mg DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? I’D LOVE TO SEE!Tag @GonnaWantSeconds or #gonnawantseconds on Instagram! © Gonna Want Seconds. Content and photographs are copyright protected. Sharing of this recipe is both encouraged and appreciated. Copying and/or pasting full recipes to any social media/website/blog is strictly prohibited.

More Ziti Pasta Recipes

This easy Baked Ziti is at the top of my list of Pasta Recipes, but I’ve got lots more! Ziti is a great pasta to use with a variety of different sauces and ingredients. Here are a few of my favorites!

  • Baked Ziti With Ricotta
  • Baked Ziti With Meat
  • Baked Ziti With Sausage


Baked Ziti has all the hallmarks of a great recipe, and I know it’s going to become a regular in your dinner rotation. I love the simple prep that translates to such an amazingly delicious, hearty meal. I can’t wait to hear how it works for you! Be sure to leave a comment below!

Source: Adapted Slightly From Giada De Laurentiis


Reader Interactions


  1. recipe credit: http://www.gonnawantseconds.com/2011/02/baked-ziti-with-mini-meatballs/


  1. Using your hands, shape the sausage into about 35 (1-inch) meatballs.
  2. In a deep 12-inch skillet or a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium. Working in two batches, fry the meatballs until golden all over, about 2 minutes per side, then transfer to a paper towel-lined sheet pan or platter. Cook the onion until softened, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano and red-pepper flakes, if using, and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and their juices to the skillet, gently crushing them. Stir in the meatballs, bring to a simmer and cook, 20 minutes. Gently fold in the spinach, tossing until it wilts. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add pasta and cook until 2 to 3 minutes short of al dente (it will finish cooking in the oven). Drain pasta.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, crème fraîche and half the pecorino. Season with salt and pepper. Stir half the meatball sauce into the ricotta mixture. Add pasta and toss together to coat. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish that’s at least 2 1/2 inches deep. Top with the remaining meatball sauce, the mozzarella and the remaining pecorino. Place uncovered baking dish on a sheet tray and bake until the cheese is melty and bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes.
  6. Turn heat to broil and cook until the cheese and pasta brown in spots, 1 to 2 minutes. (Don’t walk away; the cheese can burn very quickly!) Remove from oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Like this recipe?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *