5 Cheese Baked Ziti al Forno (no meat!)

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.

overhead shot of a full pan of baked ziti with bowl and spoon of parmesan cheese nearby

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?

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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!


What is al forno?

You might hear baked mostaccioli or pasta recipes being referred to as al forno. Al forno (or to the oven in Italian) refers to dishes that are baked in an oven. Makes sense, right?


Ingredient rundown for baked ziti

white bowl of uncooked ziti pasta pointing to a pan of red sauce and wooden board with 5 different kinds of cheeses, basil and salt.

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:

  • Ziti pasta. Ziti is a smooth tube shaped pasta that is cut evenly on each end. Read more about ziti pasta below.
  • Double batch of tomato, butter and onion sauce recipe. One of our favorite simple pasta sauces…ever! Marcella Hazan knew what she was doing when she created what she called “tomato sauce III”.
  • 5 cheeses. Ricotta is the headliner along with some fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, creamy fontina cheese and fresh grated parmesan. A great combo!

⇢ You can find the full ingredient list + measurements in the recipe card directly below.

How to make 5 cheese baked ziti

a strainer with cooked onions sitting over a saucepan of tomato sauce.
Tomatoes simmering with onions and butter…so good!
white bowl with ricotta in it and parsley and eggs nearby
Mix ricotta with goat cheese, egg, parsley, and a touch of nutmeg.
white baking pan with Italian red sauce at the bottom and a bowl of cooked ziti
Ladle some sauce on the bottom of the pan so the pasta doesn’t stick!
white pan with ziti noodles covered in red sauce and layered with spoonfuls of ricotta cheese
Top with ziti coated with some sauce and layer on the cheese.
white pan with unbaked pan of baked ziti with ricotta cheese and parmesan on top
Repeat the layers and add more sauce, ricotta and then fontina and parmesan.
closeup of a pan of baked ziti with cheese on top
Bake until golden.

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 9×13″ 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.

Top tips for baked pasta dishes

a corner of a white baking pan cheese topped baked ziti
  • Undercooking pasta before baking for an al forno pasta recipe leaves you with pasta that is perfectly al dente!
  • 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 as needed to achieve that golden,crispy crunch.

Ziti vs penne vs rigatoni…what’s the difference?

dried penne and ziti spilling onto a white background

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

Ziti can sometimes be harder to find and two of my favorites are DeCecco’s ziti and the ziti by Barilla.

To confuse things, some brands, especially Italian pasta brands, make ziti penne which is essentially a ziti with ridges.

Make ahead, storage and freezing

Make ahead

  • 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.

Storage

Store leftovers in the pan covered with foil. Alternatively, transfer to an airtight, covered container for up to 3 days.

Freeze

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.


Made this recipe?

I’d love it if you’d share your review and leave a star rating and comment!


a corner of a white baking pan cheese topped baked ziti
5 from 1 vote

5 Cheese Baked Ziti al Forno (no meat)

The classic Italian-American family dinner recipe. 5 cheese baked ziti 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.
Prep Time:30 minutes
Cook Time:40 minutes
Total Time:1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 8

Ingredients
 

For the ricotta mixture:

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

Baking tips
Bake uncovered. If it gets too dark, cover until finished cooking. Broil the top as needed.
Storage
Store leftovers either directly in the baking pan or in an airtight, sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Make ahead suggestions
Make the sauce separately and either freeze for up to 3 months or refrigerate for up to 3 days. You can mix the ricotta blend together ahead as well and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Course: Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Lori Murphy
Did you make this recipe? Tag @josieandnina or tag #josieandnina!

5 from 1 vote (1 rating without comment)

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