This Baked Ziti with Chicken is loaded with flavor, featuring a rich blend of seasonings and topped with a generous amount of cheese. This baked pasta casserole is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser for weeknight dinners or entertaining guests. It's surprisingly easy to prepare!
What is ziti? It is a type of pasta that is similar to penne but with a larger and slightly wider tube shape that is smooth, sort of like a short straw. Originating in Campagna, it is traditionally made from durum wheat semolina and was served at weddings in Italy.
What is baked ziti? Baked ziti is a classic Italian-American pasta dish made with ziti pasta, mixed with a tomato-based meat sauce similar to bolognese along with firm and soft cheeses.
It's baked until the cheese is melted and bubbly and is known for its comforting and cozy flavors, making it a favorite for dinner and potlucks. In simpler terms, it is no-fuss lasagna.
While lasagna consists of flat sheets of pasta layered with either red or white béchamel sauce, ricotta cheese, and mozzarella, baked ziti with chicken opts for shorter, tubular pasta tossed in marinara sauce and layered with various kinds of cheese. This method of preparation requires less time to assemble compared to lasagna.
For this baked ziti with chicken, I replaced the usual ground beef or sausage with chicken and used jarred marinara sauce for convenience. Ground turkey will also make a great substitute. Check out this meatless baked ziti recipe for meatless Monday.
Like most ground chicken recipes, you can even make the components ahead of time and bake them later for a stress-free meal.
This might look complicated with a long list of ingredients, yet it's still an incredibly simple baked pasta dish to make from scratch at home.
Why you'll love it?
- Surprisingly easy to make
- Uses jarred marinara sauce without spending hours in making a tomato sauce from scratch.
- Three types of cheeses for the ultimate comfort
- Rivals any restaurant dish for less cost
- Perfect to make ahead
Scroll down to the recipe card below for full information on ingredients and amounts.
- Ziti pasta - Ziti pasta is the classic choice for baked ziti with chicken, but penne serves as a perfect substitute. Other small-shaped pasta like farfelle, macaroni, and small shells would also work wonderfully in this dish.
- Chicken - While I typically use one pound of ground chicken for my ground chicken tacos, I find that 1 and ½ pounds work perfectly for this baked pasta casserole, especially when paired with one pound of ziti pasta.
- Marinara sauce - As in my homemade pasta dishes, I like to use Prego, tomato, basil and garlic variety.
- Ricotta cheese - A 15-ounce tub of ricotta cheese is just the right amount for this baked ziti with chicken recipe, eliminating the hassle of dealing with any leftovers.
- Mozzarella and parmesan - A classic pairing for more Italian-American pasta recipes.
- Seasonings - Like in the spicy chicken pasta, the jarred tomato sauce provides sufficient flavor, I enhance it by adding Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to ensure an extra burst of flavor.
- Aromatics - One cup of chopped onion and three cloves of minced garlic infuse the sauce with depth and aroma.
- Use penne or any short pasta instead of ziti.
- Stir in a dash of heavy cream into the sauce to make it more creamy.
- Add chopped fresh spinach into the sauce and stir until wilted.
- As in chicken broccoli pasta bake, blanched broccoli or sauteed eggplant will also be delicious layered into the baked ziti with chicken.
- Have leftover rotisserie chicken? Instead of using ground chicken in the recipe, simply add chopped rotisserie chicken during the final stage of cooking, along with the cooked pasta.
- Replace ground chicken with ground turkey.
How to make?
You can find full printable recipe below, but here is a quick overview of the procedure along with step-by-step photos.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees F, until cheese has melted and pale golden.
Pro tip: To prevent pasta from drying out, cover it loosely with foil while baking, ensuring the foil does not stick to the cheese. Bake for 15 minutes, then uncover and continue baking until golden and bubbly.
How to serve?
Baked ziti with chicken is typically served hot, straight from the oven. Serve with a side salad, garlic bread, or some crusty Italian bread, steamed or roasted vegetables to complete the meal.
Storage and Reheating
This baked ziti with chicken recipe easily feeds a hungry family or provides leftovers for the next day. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate for 4 to 5 days.
To reheat, simply place the baking dish back in the oven at a low temperature. Cover the pan with foil to prevent drying out while maintaining the dish's texture and flavor. For an extra touch of freshness, consider adding a layer of shredded mozzarella on top before reheating.
Arrange all the components in a disposable aluminum pan or freezer-safe casserole, seal it tightly with either a lid or aluminum foil, and freeze for up to 2 months.
When you're ready to cook, allow it to thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours before baking. Then, proceed with the baking instructions as usual. It's a convenient method to ensure a tasty meal is ready when you need it!
To make ahead, cook the pasta and sauce, then let them cool before assembling the chicken baked ziti. Top with cheese then refrigerate or freeze, then bake when you want to serve it. Add an additional 5 to 10 minutes of cooking time.
- Opt for a different pasta shape such as penne or rigatoni as an alternative to ziti pasta.
- I found that using 1 and ½ pounds of ground chicken yields the perfect balance for this chicken ziti pasta recipe. Nevertheless, using one or two pounds also produces excellent results.
- Cook the pasta al dente since it will further cook while baking.
Frequently asked questions
Baked ziti is typically cooked covered for first half of the baking time to prevent the top from drying out and then uncovered for the remainder of the baking time to allow the top to brown and become crispy. This ensures the dish stays moist and the cheese on top melts evenly.
Although they are both cylindrical-shaped pasta, ziti and Penne are not the same. Ziti is smooth, cut into short, hollow tubes with square-cut ends. On the other hand, Penne has diagonal cuts at the ends, resulting in a tube with a slanted or diagonal edge. While they can be used interchangeably in many recipes, they slightly differ in shape and texture.
To omit ricotta cheese from the recipe, simply follow the instructions as usual. However, it's worth noting that the creamy texture ricotta brings to the dish is unmatched!
If you'd like to explore other options, consider using alternatives like cottage cheese, mascarpone, cream cheese, or bechamel sauce. These substitutes offer the same irresistible creaminess that ricotta provides.
More pasta dishes
Baked Ziti with Chicken
- 1 pound Ziti pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ½ pounds ground chicken
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 2 garlic cloves chopped
- 5 cups marinara sauce I used Prego, tomato basil & garlic
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ¾ to 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 15 ounce ricotta cheese
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil
- 2 to 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ to ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Cook ziti for the recommended cooking time on the packet minus 2 minutes. Drain.
- Add olive oil into a large saute pan and place over high heat. When hot, stir in ground chicken, onion and garlic.
- Saute, breaking up the ground chicken with a spatula, until chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in marinara sauce, salt, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, black pepper and sugar. Reduce heat to medium, cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly. Remove pan from heat.
- Stir in cooked pasta, until evenly combined.
- Spoon in the ricotta and basil leaves, gently stirring just 2 to 3 times. Avoid fully mixing in the ricotta; we want it to remain distinct.
Assemble & Bake
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Spread half the pasta mixture into a 9 x 13 inch baking pan, sprinkle half the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Add the remaining pasta, followed by remaining mozzarella and parmesan.
- Cover the pan loosely with foil. Bake 20 minutes. Remove the foil, bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden. Sprinkle fresh basil leaves and serve hot!
Nutritional information, based on third-party calculations, should be seen as estimates, not guarantees, as various factors like product types, brands, processing methods, and more can alter the nutritional content in recipes.
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