Baked Ziti with Ground Chicken has layers of pasta, jarred marinara sauce and three types of cheeses, cooked together to a golden perfection. It is perfect for feeding a crowd or halved for a small family.
Baked Ziti with Ground Chicken
Baked ziti is an Italian American Classic for a reason. It is loads of carbs, tomato sauce and cheese! How can that be not good, right? In simpler terms, it is a NO-FUSS Lasagna.
This casserole is very similar to the original, made with ground chicken instead of ground beef or sausage and uses jarred marinara sauce for convenience. This recipe easily feeds a hungry family or provides leftovers for the next day.
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 incredibly simple to make from scratch at home.
This iconic dish is sure to become a new homemade family favorite. It's so cheesy and comforting with no fancy ingredients.
WHY YOU'LL LOVE THIS RECIPE?
- Cheesy goodness - When it comes to cheeses, more is always better right? This dish is made with three types of classic Italian cheeses like Ricotta, Mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Restaurant worthy - It rivals any restaurant dish for less cost.
- Convenient - It is made with jarred marinara instead of spending hours in making a tomato sauce at home. Choose A good jarred sauce that you enjoy!
- Make ahead - This is perfect to make ahead and it reheats and freezes well. Cook once and enjoy for days!
WHAT IS ZITI PASTA?
Originating in Campagna, it is a hollow pasta in the shape of a smooth tube, sort of like a short straw. It is similar to bucatini but are much thicker but smoother than penne. It is traditionally served at weddings in Italy.
WHAT IS BAKED ZITI?
It's a classic Italian American baked pasta made with tomato based meat sauce similar to bolognese. The dish has three key components - cooked pasta, savory meat sauce and cheese filling. It is then finished with more mozzarella on top, which melts for an ultimate cheesy goodness.
Some recipes use all beef, others pork and some Italian sausages. Ground turkey or chicken is more healthy homemade substitutes. This version I make is a classic one – except with a chicken twist!
Can I use leftover rotisserie chicken instead?
Sure can! Skip the ground meat in the recipe and stir in chopped rotisserie chicken at the final stage along with cooked pasta.
CAN I ADD VEGETABLES?
Yes! We like to sneak in cooked vegetables whenever possible. But, today we decided to recreate a classic version. If you were to add veggies, fresh spinach will be a go-to! Add chopped fresh spinach into the sauce and stir until wilted. Broccoli or cooked eggplant will also be delicious.
HOW LONG TO COOK?
This casserole with ricotta is basically cooked, so the actual baking is only to melt the cheeses and blend the flavors together. Cook it uncovered at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until the top looks bubbly and browned. We like to broil for the last couple of minutes to give a charred look.
Should I cover while it’s baking?
It is optional! Some folks like to cover so the pasta "steams" without drying out. If you wish to cover the dish, then loosely wrap with foil so it doesn’t stick to the cheese, baked for about 15 minutes and then uncover and continue baking until bubbly and golden.
- Ziti is a pretty common pasta shape in most areas, but you can substitute penne or any short pasta if you can't find it.
- Add more red pepper flakes for SPICY kick.
- Stir in some heavy cream into the sauce to make it more creamy.
HOW TO MAKE AHEAD?
After pasta is tossed with the sauce, let cool completely. Assemble as instructed, cover well with foil, refrigerate and bake when you want to serve (add an additional 5 to 10 minutes of cooking time).
HOW TO HALVE THE RECIPE?
Simply halve all the ingredients, proceed as per the recipe instructions and use a 9x9 square baking dish instead. We like to bake the whole casserole and store leftovers for a busy night.
- Pasta - The classic Ziti pasta but penne can be used instead.
- Chicken - Ground chicken or use turkey.
- Marinara sauce - I used Prego, tomato basil and garlic
- Cheese - Ricotta, Mozzarella and Parmesan
- Aromatics - Onion, Garlic and Basil. Classic aromatics to give a great savory base.
- Seasonings - Italian seasoning (it comes in a single jar and has a blend of dried herbs), Salt, Pepper, Red pepper flakes (they don't make it spicy, but you could double or omit them entirely)and Sugar.
PRO TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- Use a different pasta shape : Penne pasta or Rigatoni can be used instead of ziti pasta.
- We found that 1 and ½ pounds of ground chicken was perfect for this chicken ziti pasta. However, one pound works just as well.
- Broil for the last couple of minutes. This gives a slightly charred look to the cheese and is more of presentation purposes.
- Cook the paste al dente as it will continue to cook when it bakes.
How to make?
- Cook pasta - Cook pasta according to package instructions and drain.
- Make meat sauce - Saute ground chicken, chopped onion and garlic in some olive oil, until chicken is no longer pink (make sure to break lumps with the spoon when stirring). Stir in marinara sauce, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes and sugar. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the sauce is thickened slightly. Add dollops of ricotta cheese and give a couple of gentle stir (making sure that ricotta is not fully combined). Stir in pasta and chopped fresh basil.
- Assemble - Spread half the pasta into a large casserole dish, top with half the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Repeat process for the remaining half pasta and cheeses.
- Bake - Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes (you can broil for an additional 2 minutes, to give a charred look.
What should I serve with baked casserole?
Here are a few suggestions for side dishes to serve:
HOW TO STORE LEFTOVERS?
The dish can be stored in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. For convenience, I like to divide the leftovers into smaller portions and store in seperate containers. I can simple re heat one or two portions in the microwave (adding a sprinkling of mozzarella on top before re heating freshens it a bit - a little extra cheese ain't gonna hurt!) when needed.
HOW TO REHEAT?
To Reheat Baked Ziti use either the microwave or pop it back in the oven on low, slow heat. Reheating baked ziti doesn’t change the texture or the flavor, but adding an extra layer of shredded mozzarella to the top freshens it up just a bit!
HOW TO FREEZE?
Here’s a great way to have dinner ready when you need. Assemble everything up until it’s time to bake in a disposable aluminum pan or freezer safe casserole, seal well with a lid or aluminum foil, pop it in the freezer and freeze for up to 2 months.
Let it defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours before baking! Then follow, the baking instructions.
Frequently Asked Questions
The casserole is baked uncovered, until the cheeses have melted.
Ziti and penne are both tubular pastas. However penne is a little narrower and the ends are cut diagonally when compared to ziti which is broader with the ends cut straight.
Absolutely! Just skip the ricotta cheese in the recipe and proceed as per instructions. However, the creaminess that ricotta offers to the dish is hard to beat!
Lasagna uses flat sheets of pasta layered with red or white bechamel sauce, ricotta cheese, and mozzarella. Whereas, Ziti uses short, tubular pasta which is tossed with marinara sauce then layered with different types of cheese, taking less time to assemble. Both bake in a casserole dish until hot, and the cheese melts.
The best substitute is cottage cheese, which has a soft curd texture. Mascarpone also works well since it’s creamy and gives a more velvety consistency as it heats up in the casserole.
What to make with a pound of ground chicken?
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Baked Ziti with Ground Chicken
- 1 pound Ziti pasta cooked according to package instructions
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 and ½ pound ground chicken
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 2 garlic cloves chopped
- 5 cups marinara sauce I used Prego, tomato basil & garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 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
- ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 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 fully cooked (about 5 minutes).
- Reduce heat to medium-high, add marinara sauce, salt, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, black pepper and sugar. Stir occasionally and cook for about 5 minutes, until sauce has thickened slightly. Take off heat.
- Spoon in ricotta and give a gentle stir couple of times (we don't want the ricotta to completely mix in). Stir in cooked pasta and chopped basil leaves, just until pasta is coated with the sauce (don't over mix).
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 remaining pasta, followed by remaining mozzarella and then finish of with remaining parmesan.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until cheese has melted and pale golden.
- (Optional step - Switch the oven to broil and let cook for an additional 2 to 4 minutes for a more charred look).
- Remove from oven and place on a wire rack and cool for a few minutes before serving.
Storage instructions:The dish can be stored in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. For convenience, I like to divide the leftovers into smaller portions and store in seperate containers. I can simple re heat one or two portions in the microwave (adding a sprinkling of mozzarella on top before re heating freshens it a bit – a little extra cheese ain’t gonna hurt!) when needed. Freezing instructions: After pasta is tossed with the sauce, let cool completely. Assemble as instructed, cover well with foil and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight and bake when you want to serve (add an additional 5 to 10 minutes of cooking time). Make baked ziti ahead of time: After pasta is tossed with the sauce, let cool completely. Assemble as instructed, cover well with foil, refrigerate and bake when you want to serve (add an additional 5 to 10 minutes of cooking time). To make Half the recipe: Ingredients: ½ pound (or 8 ounces) ziti pasta 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 pound ground chicken ½ cup onion 1 garlic clove 2 and ½ cups marinara sauce ½ teaspoon each salt and Italian seasoning ¼ teaspoon each red pepper flakes, ground black pepper and sugar 7 ounces ricotta cheese 1 and ½ cups mozzarella cheese 6 tablespoons parmesan cheese Proceed as per the recipe instructions and use a 9×9 square baking dish to make the recipe.
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