Easy Baked Ziti made with savory ground turkey in a pool of zesty tomato based marinara sauce makes the perfect weeknight dinner.
Easy and delicious pasta dishes that are simple to make and ready in under 45 minutes are my jam. So, when you’re pressed for time and want dinner on the table in under an hour, this is the recipe for you. Although this recipe is simple and doesn’t require much effort or many ingredients, it’s very satisfying and nutrient dense.
I use the following ingredients:
- Ground turkey (ground chicken, or beef works too)
- Whole wheat or whole grain penne pasta (for added fiber)
- Mozzarella cheese (or your choice of cheese blend)
- Parmesan cheese (for added flavor but optional)
- Store bought or homemade tomato based pasta sauce (choose your favorite store brand to save time)
I often pair it with a fresh green salad drizzled in a light vinaigrette dressing to make it an even more wholesome meal.
HOW TO MAKE BAKED ZITI WITH GROUND TURKEY
- Brown turkey in frying pan and add chopped onion and minced garlic to meat with kosher salt and pepper for added flavor
- After meat has browned, add your favorite tomato based pasta sauce and allow the meat mixture to simmer. This is a great time to do a taste test to ensure that your meat mixture is well seasoned. For added flavor add a dash of Italian seasoning.
- Boil water and season with a big pinch of salt and allow the pasta to cook just until al dente (it’s important to not overcook your pasta since the ziti will also go into the oven to bake).
- Add the pasta to the meat sauce (Be mindful of the sauce to pasta ratio as you do not want your pasta to absorb all of your meat sauce which could result in a dry pasta dish).
- Pour the pasta into a prepared baking dish (that has been rubbed with a little softened butter to prevent sticking)
- Add a generous amount of mozzarella cheese or other cheese blend.
- Cover baking dish loosely with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees until cheese is bubbling
- Remove aluminum foil and continue cooking for an additional 5 to 7 minutes if you prefer a slightly brown crusty top
CAN YOU MAKE BAKED ZITI AHEAD OF TIME
You can absolutely make baked ziti ahead of time. Here, are 2 ways:
- Brown the turkey, cook the pasta until al dente, shred the cheese and store all ingredients separately in an airtight container and place in fridge until the next day or two. When you’re ready to bake, remove all ingredients from the fridge and assemble the baked ziti and bake accordingly.
- Assemble the baked ziti in the baking dish and cover the baking dish tightly with plastic wrap and store in fridge for a day or two. Then, bake accordingly.
HOW DO YOU STORE BAKED ZITI OVERNIGHT
You can store baked ziti overnight in the following ways:
- Remove ziti from the baking dish once it has cooled, and store in an airtight container and place in the fridge as leftovers for the next day.
- After the ziti has baked, leave the ziti in the baking dish AND cover the baking dish tightly with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.
HOW LONG DO YOU COOK BAKED ZITI THAT WAS REFRIGERATED
Cooking baked ziti that was refrigerated depends on 2 things:
- If you’re cooking baked ziti that was made ahead – This may require more cooking time due to the cold temperature of the dish. This may require an additional 10 minutes to the normal cooking time.
- If you’re warming up baked ziti from the night before as leftover – This will require less cooking time since the ziti is already cooked, and you’re “heating up” at this point. This may require 10 to 15 minutes in the oven at 375 degrees.
TIP: When taking baked ziti out of the refrigerator, allow it to sit on the countertop for at least 10 minutes before cooking in the oven. This allows for the baked ziti to cook more evenly throughout. You have less chance of taking the ziti out of the oven and some parts are hot while other puts are warm or cold.
SHOULD I COVER BAKED ZITI IN THE OVEN
Yes, you should cover baked ziti with aluminum foil before placing it in the oven. This is true whether or not you’re cooking baked ziti or warming it up as leftovers.
If you do not cover the baked ziti with aluminum foil, it will cook the top layer faster than the rest of the baked ziti which can also result in uneven cooking. In addition, it will make the pasta noodles on top hard and dry.
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Easy Baked Ziti made with savory ground turkey in a pool of zesty tomato based marinara sauce makes the perfect weeknight dinner
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1.5 lbs ground turkey ground chicken or ground beef
- 2 cloves minced garlic optional
- 1/2 cup chopped onions
- 2 tsp salt add more or less to taste
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 24 oz pasta sauce your favorite store brand marinara or tomato based pasta sauce
- 1/4 cup red wine optional
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese more or less
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese more or less
- 1.5 cups uncooked penne pasta or your preferred shape of pasta noodle
- chopped parsley optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Shred cheese. Set aside.
Prepare a baking dish by rubbing a little butter around the inside of the dish to prevent any sticking. Shred cheese. Set aside.
Boil water and cook pasta noodles according to packaging or just until al dente. When done, drain pasta. IMPORTANT: Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Set aside
Place frying pan over medium-high heat, add olive olive. When oil is hot, add ground turkey as it starts to brown add chopped onion, minched garlic. Season with salt and pepper and continue to brown turkey until no longer pink.
Open a jar of your favorite pasta or marinara sauce and add to browned turkey. Taste sauce to make sure it is seasoned to your liking if not add salt and Italian seasoning as needed. Add wine and cook until alcohol has burned off and taste test again.
If sauce is too thick for your likig, add a little pasta water to loosen the sauce. Add pasta to sauce and stir until combined (be sure to pay attention to the pasta/sauce ratio). Pour into your prepared baking dish. Layer the top with grated cheese. Place foil over the baked ziti and bake in the oven until cheese is melted, gooey, and bubbly.
If you like the top to be slightly browned, remove the foil and continue baking for a few extra minutes until the top is slightly browned. Sprinkle the top with parm and chopped parsley (optional).
Serve immediately and ENJOY.
**Please note: Nutritional values serve as a guide only as values may vary.
Be mindful of the sauce to pasta ratio as you do not want your pasta to absorb all of your tomato-based sauce which could result in a dry pasta dish which you definitely do not want.
Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water to loosen the sauce if it's too thick.