Easy One Skillet Baked Ziti

One Skillet Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce is the perfect, easy comforting pasta dish. Baking it in a single skillet makes for quick preparation and very minimal clean up. Perfect for a weeknight dinner!

baked ziti with meat sauce in cast iron skillet

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Easy Baked Ziti Recipe

Today I needed something super easy for dinner that could also be made ahead of time and would reheat well and still taste good. Some things just don’t taste very good reheated, you know?

This Easy One Skillet Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce checks all the boxes:

  • It is super easy.
  • It doesn’t have a lot of clean up.
  • It can be made ahead.
  • It actually tastes good reheated.
  • It tastes good and all the kids will like it.

As soon as 3:15 hits today, our day is going to be borderline insane. Some nights I don’t know when I’d even be able to make dinner since we have to eat in shifts tonight.

I pick Logan and Madeline up from school at 3:15, then drive Logan to the field the middle school soccer team practices at for Monday practice that starts at 3:30.

I pick Kayden up from robotics team at 4:30. Then I pick Logan up from the park at 5:00 from practice, swing by the high school and get Kendall from volleyball practice immediately after. Then we head home, but it doesn’t stop there.

I have to feed Kayden and Kendall because Kayden then goes to football practice at 6:00. Kendall goes back to the high school by 7:00 because she has open gym for basketball (basketball team tryouts for high school are in about a month).

Kayden gets picked up at about 7:15 from football. Kendall gets picked up at 8:00 from open gym. Somewhere in there I’ll feed myself, Kevin, Logan and Madeline.

I’ll have a kid on dinner dishes duty because I’ll be too busy driving to clean up, and cross my fingers that the kids will manage to get their homework done.

Because my day is actually not that crazy at all until I start the pick up/drop off cycle, I decided I might as well snap a few pics of this baked ziti recipe with meat since I was making dinner during the day anyway.

baked ziti with meat sauce in cast iron skillet

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Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce Ingredients

Besides being a one pot pasta recipe, this baked ziti with meat sauce also requires very few ingredients. Here’s what I used to make this easy baked ziti with ground beef:

For the complete ingredient list and detailed instructions, scroll to the bottom of this post for the FREE printable recipe card.

How to Make Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce

I sautéed 1/2 of a medium yellow onion, diced, before adding the ground meat. Brown your ground meat of choice — I used 1/2 lb. each of ground turkey and ground Italian sausage.

Originally this recipe called for 1 lb. of ground beef, but I love the flavor that is added by using half ground beef or turkey and half ground Italian sausage.

Then, you’ll stir in garlic, water, spaghetti sauce, and some seasonings. To take this easy baked ziti with meat sauce to next-level goodness, use my Best Ever Homemade Classic Marinara Sauce instead of using store-bought spaghetti sauce. It will give the recipe tons of extra flavor!

I like to keep my homemade marinara sauce in the freezer so it is on hand whenever I need a quick dinner. The marinara isn’t hard to make, but it is time consuming, so I usually make a double batch and use two large pots to prepare it. That leaves me with several containers in the freezer to use over the next few months.

Add the uncooked pasta, cover with a lid, and cook until the pasta is cooked through. The added water is absorbed into the pasta as it cooks so the dish doesn’t come out watery at all.

This time I stirred in 1 3/4 cup of chopped zucchini at this point (since we had some hanging around in the fridge. I also used a penne pasta because that is what we had and it was similar enough in shape to ziti.

After the pasta is cooked through, sprinkle some cheese on top and bake until melted!

baked ziti with meat sauce in cast iron skillet

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Can I Use Another Type of Meat in This Baked Ziti?

Absolutely! You could use chicken breast chunks, ground turkey, or sliced or ground Italian Sausage, or a mixture of a variety of meats. I think recipes like this are really forgiving and can be tweaked based on what you have on hand. I love recipes like that!

I have not texted this Easy Baked Ziti with pork or any kind of seafood, though I imagine it might be good with some sautéed shrimp. I would probably saute the shrimp on the side (with my chili garlic oil!) and serve it with the ziti rather than baking the shrimp in the skillet with the pasta.

Easy Variations of This Baked Ziti Recipe

You can keep this baked ziti with meat sauce as simple as you’d like, or you can play around with it based on what you have on hand. Here are some of my favorite ideas to customize this skillet ziti recipe:

Make it a One Dish Dinner by Adding Vegetables

Adding in some sautéed mushrooms, onion, zucchini, and red bell peppers would be great in this dish. Those vegetables go really well with Italian flavors, and then you have a full one dish meal in this Easy One Skillet Baked Ziti.

I recommend sautéing the vegetables first, then setting them aside in a bowl while you brown the meat, and then add everything back in. That way you are only dirtying one pan because you’re reusing the same one for multiple steps in the recipe.

Making this ziti a one dish dinner is perfect for nights when you don’t want a lot of kitchen clean up or don’t have time to make a variety of side dishes!

Make it Mexican!

If you’re really feeling creative, you can swap out all of the Italian spices and use your favorite Tex-Mex Flavors, substituting enchilada sauce for the Italian pasta sauce and suddenly you have a completely new meal.

Depending on what you prefer, try red enchilada sauce or green enchilada sauce. For red sauce, I like this Homemade Chile Gravy Enchilada Sauce. My favorite thing to use for green enchilada sauce is this recipe for Easy Roasted Salsa Verde.

For a Tex-Mex version of this Easy Baked Ziti, I recommending using all ground beef,  ground turkey, or bite sized cubed chicken breast. You can also use my favorite Crock Pot Mexican Chicken. I like to keep containers of that in the freezer to help me out on busy days.

If you’re up for adding extra ingredients, try adding things like green chiles, corn, black beans, onions, or red bell peppers. Then, swap the cheese for pepper jack or Monterrey jack. And add chopped fresh cilantro in place of parsley for the garnish.

Make it Into Baked Chicken Parmesan Ziti

Prepare the recipe according to the original instructions, swapping chicken tenderloins or cubed bite sized pieces of chicken breast that you’ve seasoned with Italian seasoning blend and some garlic powder.

Brown the chicken and cook through first, then proceed with the recipe. Easy One Skillet Baked Ziti becomes a quick cheater version of a chicken parmesan casserole.

Can I make this a Vegetarian Baked Ziti?

Yes, you can definitely make this a vegetarian baked ziti recipe! Just omit the meat and add in a variety of vegetables to replace the amount of meat you’ve omitted. I recommend zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, and yellow squash. Make sure you saute the vegetables before adding.

Because cheese is allowed in vegetarian diets this recipe will work fine without additional modifications aside from the meat. If you’re looking for a vegan version, you’d need to omit the cheese and look for a vegan cheese to use as a replacement for the parmesan and mozzarella.

How do You Make Gluten-Free Baked Ziti?

Simply use your favorite gluten-free pasta in place of traditional pasta to make this a gluten-free baked ziti. You shouldn’t need any other modifications to adapt this recipe.

There are many great gluten-free pastas on the market these days!  I happen to really like Trader Joes Organic Brown Rice and Quinoa PastaJovial Gluten-Free Pasta also gets really good reviews.

Though if you use pre-shredded cheese, make sure that there is no flour or any gluten containing ingredients added. Usually pre-shredded cheese is dusted in a caking agent to prevent clumping in the package.

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What to Serve with Baked Ziti

If you’re looking for side suggestions to go with this recipe, I recommend a big green salad. It doesn’t have to be fancy at all. We often use mixed greens, lettuce, cucumber, shredded carrot, and tomato for a basic side salad. Check out these 3 Simple Salad Dressing Recipes to go along with your salad.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little less basic, I would recommend my Copycat Olive Garden Salad Recipe to serve along side this Baked Ziti.

More Easy Dinner Recipes:

Looking for a few more easy dinner recipe ideas to get you through those busy weeknights? Check out some of these favorite recipes, or browse the recipe index archives for even more great recipe ideas:

We’ve combined two of our recent dinner time favorites – Chicken Enchiladas and Chili – into this new recipe for Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Chili. Tender chunks of chicken, black beans, diced tomatoes, and corn simmer in a creamy, cheesy, enchilada flavored chili base for a creative take on a bowl of chili.

Dinner just got super quick and easy thanks to this Fall Sheet Pan Pork Tenderloin meal featuring roasted pork, carrots, golden beets, red onion, Brussels Sprouts, and parsnips.

In this Creamy Orange Almond Chicken and Rice, golden brown chicken breasts are smothered in a creamy orange almond sauce and served alongside an almond rice pilaf for a simple and comforting recipe

Italian Chicken, Mushroom, and Zucchini Skillet is a super easy dinner recipe for busy school nights. It features pan seared chicken tenderloins, zucchini and sliced mushrooms in garlicky herbed tomato sauce.

CrockPot Mexican Chicken is the perfect shredded chicken recipe for your next Mexican recipe. Packed with flavor and super tender thanks to hours in the crock pot, this recipe is sure to please!

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What are your favorite easy one skillet weeknight recipes?

Easy One Skillet Baked Ziti

Easy One Skillet Baked Ziti

Yield: serves 8
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Easy One Skillet Baked Ziti is the perfect, easy comforting pasta dish - and baking it in a single skillet makes for quick preparation and very minimal clean up. Perfect for a weeknight dinner!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound ground Beef or Turkey
  • 1/2 pound ground Italian Sausage
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced Garlic
  • 24 ounces Best Ever Homemade Classic Marinara Sauce
  • 2 cups Water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried Oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper, Crushed
  • 3 cups uncooked Ziti Pasta
  • 2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh Parsley, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Add the ground beef or turkey and Italian sausage to a large skillet. Make sure that the skillet has a good fitting lid and plenty of room to accommodate the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Brown the meat, breaking up into smaller bits, over medium heat.
  4. Drain any excess fat after the meat is cooked through. Stir in the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  5. Stir in the Best Ever Homemade Classic Marinara Sauce water, basil, oregano, and red pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then add the uncooked pasta. Stir well.
  6. Cover the skillet with a lid, and reduce the heat to low. Cook the mixture at a slow simmer for about 15-20 minutes (stirring occasionally so the pasta doesn't stick), or until the pasta is tender.
  7. Remove the skillet from the stove, set aside the lid, and stir in 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and all of the parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella over the top of the pasta.
  8. Place in the preheated 350 degrees F oven and cook until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 5 minutes.
  9. Garnish with fresh parsley, if desired.

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Nutrition Information
Yield 8 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 433Total Fat 23gSaturated Fat 10gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 13gCholesterol 89mgSodium 1111mgCarbohydrates 24gFiber 3gSugar 8gProtein 30g
GoodLifeEats.com offers recipe nutritional information as a courtesy and is an estimate only. This information comes from online calculators. Although GoodLifeEats.com makes every effort to provide accurate information, these figures are only estimates.

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