If you're looking for an easy comfort food casserole, give this baked ziti with spinach a try. It's filled with layers of pasta, marinara sauce, and spinach, with a gooey, cheesy layer of ricotta in the middle.
Baked ziti makes a perfectly unfussy, uncomplicated meal. It doesn't require any special assembly skills - it is messy, cheesy, saucy, and delicious.
The entire family will love this baked ziti. Plus, it's filled with nutrition-packed baby spinach, making it just a little bit healthier than your average casserole.
And since it's made with just a few simple ingredients, it is quick to prepare and toss in the oven. Make baked ziti for a weeknight meal with the family, or enjoy leftovers by yourself all week long.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Pasta - Ziti can be substituted with rigatoni or penne, as long as you use the same amount in weight. For this recipe you'll need one 16 ounce box.
- Baby spinach - Can be substituted with regular spinach , kale, or chard if desired.
- Marinara sauce - I used a homemade marinara sauce, but any store bought marinara or spaghetti sauce you have on hand will work. Most store bought jars range in size from 24 to 28 ounces - any will work in this recipe.
- Cheeses - You'll need shredded mozzarella, freshly shredded parmesan, and ricotta cheeses.
- Seasoning - Salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning add flavor to your baked ziti. Homemade Italian seasoning or store bought works well. Italian seasoning can be substituted with a combination of Italian herbs you have on hand, like oregano, basil, marjoram, rosemary, and sage.
What size pan to use
For this recipe, you'll need a 3 quart baking dish. I recommend using a 9x13 casserole dish.
If needed, you can also separate your baked ziti between two smaller baking dishes, about 1 ½ to 2 quarts in size, like two 8x8 square pans.
Can I make this ahead?
Baked ziti with spinach can be assembled up to a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator. You can either cook your noodles ahead and store them, or completely assemble your casserole and store.
Make sure it is covered and tightly sealed while refrigerating. Transfer it from the refrigerator to the counter top while your oven preheats.
How to prevent a dry baked ziti
No one wants a dry baked ziti! Let's take a look at a few of the common reasons why baked ziti can turn out dry, and how to prevent it.
- Not enough sauce - make sure you're using about 24 ounces of marinara sauce. You can even add up to a cup of extra sauce if you'd like a very saucy casserole!
- The pasta wasn't cooked long enough on the stove top. If the pasta is undercooked, it will continue cooking in the oven, soaking up moisture in the casserole.
- You forgot/omitted the cheese topping - this helps to insulate your pasta and prevent it from drying out on top.
- The casserole was baked for too long - 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit should be long enough to warm your casserole.
- If you're reheating your casserole straight from the refrigerator, it will likely need an additional 10-15 minutes of baking time. I recommend covering with foil for half of your baking time to prevent drying out.
If your casserole looks dry on top - maybe some of the pasta was exposed without sauce or cheese - simply give your casserole a stir before serving. This will incorporate the dry noodles into the sauce and cheese layers below.
Baked Ziti with Spinach
- 16 ounces ziti uncooked
- 4 cups baby spinach
- 24 ounces marinara sauce
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese divided
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a stock pot, bring salted water to a boil and add ziti. Cook to al dente according to package directions. Drain well.
- In a large bowl (or the stock pot used to prepare your pasta), add cooked ziti, spinach, and marinara sauce. Toss to coat and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, add ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and half of your mozzarella cheese. Stir to combine.
- In a 9x13 baking dish, add half of your ziti mixture and spread into an even layer. Next, add all of your ricotta mixture and spread into an even layer. Top with remaining ziti mixture. Sprinkle top of casserole evenly with reserved mozzarella cheese.
- Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted across the top and casserole is bubbling around the edges.
- Baked ziti can be assembled up to a day ahead. Cover and store, unbaked, in the refrigerator. Remove casserole from the refrigerator to bring to room temperature while oven preheats and follow directions above for baking.
- Leftovers will keep for 2-3 days in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
- To make this dish vegetarian-friendly, look for a parmesan cheese made with vegetable rennet, or labeled as vegan/vegetarian parmesan cheese.