The classic Italian-American family dinner recipe. 5 cheese baked ziti al forno has an unusual combination of five cheeses...call it an amped up version of baked ziti with ricotta! Layer the sweet tomato sauce with ziti. Plus, it has no meat making it the perfect vegetarian recipe to serve at your next gathering.
Being an second generation Italian-American, I know a thing or two about pasta bakes. They are one of the best recipes to make for a friend in need of some comfort, a graduation party or family gathering. Or in our case, dishes like this baked ziti al forno gives you another alternative to lasagna at Christmas.
Pasta at the holidays is required, right?
Baked ziti...the lasagna alternative
This 5 cheese baked ziti celebrates a few Italian pantry ingredients. Layers of tomato butter sauce co-mingle with 5 cheeses and cooked ziti pasta. I promise — if you whip up a pan of this ziti pasta bake, your guests will be going back for seconds, thirds and...one cheesy last bite while washing the dishes.
Plus, baked ziti is easier to serve for a party because your guests can scoop out what they need instead of trying to cut and serve pieces of lasagna.
⇢ Other easy Italian recipes like this you'll ♥️: baked creamy goat cheese pasta, tomato and garlic one pan pasta, and classic cream sauce with fettuccine. Or give my one pan sausage pasta and serve with some crispy garlic bread!
Ingredient rundown for baked ziti
One of the best things about this cheesy pasta bake is how easy it is, especially because there aren't a ton of ingredients in it:
⇢ You can find the full ingredient list + measurements in the recipe card directly below.
Ziti vs penne vs rigatoni...what's the difference?
How they're the same
All three pastas are tubed pastas and are extruded pastas, meaning they pass through a shaped die (sometimes bronze) and are cut to length as they come through the die.
Ziti vs penne
Ziti is a little longer, thicker and is evenly straight across on the ends. Penne pasta, which is also a tube pasta, has ridges that hold sauce and angled ends. Penne is also used a lot in penne alla vodka.
Ziti vs rigatoni
Rigatoni essentially looks like a rectangle shaped pasta with ridges and like ziti, is evenly cut on each end. Ziti is smaller and narrower than rigatoni and usually lacks ridges.
Where to find ziti
To confuse things, some brands, especially Italian pasta brands, make ziti penne which is essentially a ziti with ridges.
How to make 5 cheese baked ziti
Here is what you'll do:
- Bring a large stock pot of water to boil and you achieve a rolling boil, add a healthy amount of kosher or sea salt. Pour in the dried pasta and stir immediately. Cook 2-3 minutes less than the package states.
- In another smaller pot, add a can of whole tomatoes (you can also use tomato puree or passata), a whole onion that's been peeled and quartered, and 5 tablespoons of butter. Bring to a low boil and lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
- Mix the ricotta with the egg, goat cheese and parmesan. Dust with a tich of nutmeg.
- After the pasta and sauce are cooked, add a ladle of sauce in the bottom of a 9x13" pan and top with pasta and then layering on the fresh mozzarella and ricotta mixture.
- Repeat ending with sauce. Sprinkle over fresh grated fontina and parmesan and bake until golden brown and the cheese is a little crispy.
How to cook pasta for a pasta bake
Undercooking pasta before baking for an al forno pasta recipe leaves you with pasta that is perfectly al dente!-Josie + Nina
Top Tips for Success, Storage, FAQ's...the ziti scoop you need to know!
- Bake uncovered until golden brown. Cover as needed towards the end of the cooking time so as to not get too brown.
- Broil the top, if needed
- Don't have ziti? You can use rigatoni or penne instead.
- Make the sauce up to 3 days ahead or defrost from frozen.
- You can use jarred sauce as well. Rao's Marinara is a great alternative.
Pasta bake can also be made and frozen. Reserve the top layer of cheese for right before baking. Defrost completely and then bake according to the recipe.
Store leftovers in the pan covered with foil. Alternatively, transfer to an airtight, covered container for up to 3 days.
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5 Cheese Baked Ziti al Forno (no meat)
- 1 lb ziti pasta, I use Barilla No. 74
- 1 double recipe of tomato with butter sauce, sauce recipe here
- ½ lb fresh mozzarella, cubed
- 4 oz of fontina, grated
For the ricotta mixture:
- 1 16 oz container ricotta
- 1 egg
- 3 oz goat cheese
- ½ cup parmesan cheese plus extra for topping.
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Cook the pasta in boiling, heavily salted water for 2-3 minutes less than the package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Mix the ricotta ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Toss a ladle or two of pasta with the sauce. Scoop 1 ladle of sauce in the bottom of a dish. Top with ½ the pasta and ladle on some more sauce. Sprinkle over ½ of the mozzarella cheese. Top with large plops of ricotta mixture (about 6).
- Repeat the layers. Sprinkle over grated fontina and extra parmesan cheese.
- Bake at 400˚for 40 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden.
- Serve with extra sauce.