Hearty and filling Meatless Baked Ziti does not skimp on flavor! It is filled with rich tomato sauce, veggies and lots of cheese.
Meatless baked ziti is a perfectly tasty weeknight meal that will leave you and your family happy with full bellies. To round out this dinner try serving it with Oven Roasted Broccoli, or add some meat with Italian Meatballs, and finish off with Grilled Peaches with vanilla ice cream.
No meat meal
I have been trying to incorporate more meatless dinners into the rotation. I love the idea of meatless Monday, but really I like to throw a dish like this in a couple of times a week.
Not only does going meatless help with the grocery bills, it’s good for your health! This ziti may be going meatless, but by no means does it skimp on the flavor! It is packed with veggies and cheese for our hearty dish.
Not looking to go meatless? Not a problem. You can easily add in some cooked Italian sausage, ground beef, or chicken to round out this dish if you so choose. Either way, it is sure to be a tasty meal!
How to make baked ziti
PREP. Preheat the oven to 350.
VEGGIES + SAUCE. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and salt, and cook until the vegetables are soft. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Lastly, add the spaghetti sauce and water, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low and simmer while the pasta is cooking.
PASTA. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the ziti to the pot and cook for 6 minutes, then drain.
CHEESE. In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese.
LAYER. Layer half of the ziti in a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Spread half of the tomato sauce over the top of the pasta. Spread or sprinkle half of the cheese mixture over the top of the sauce. Repeat the layers, ending with the cheese mixture.
BAKE. Cover the pan with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.
Prepare your veggies beforehand and incorporate them into the sauce when putting it all together.
To save time, buy pre-shredded/chopped veggies.
Here are some additional variations and additions you could consider for this meatless baked ziti recipe.
Spinach is a wonderful addition to this dish due to its mild flavor and high nutrient content. You can use either fresh or frozen spinach, but each requires a slightly different preparation method:
Fresh Spinach: Rinse the leaves well and pat dry. You can roughly chop the spinach if the leaves are large. Add the spinach to the skillet after the other vegetables are cooked and just before you add the tomato paste. Spinach wilts quickly, so it only needs to be cooked until it’s wilted and bright green, which takes about 2-3 minutes.
Frozen Spinach: Thaw and drain the spinach before using, making sure to squeeze out any excess water as this can make your pasta dish watery. You can add the drained spinach directly to the sauce after the tomato paste has been stirred in.
Mushrooms add a fantastic meaty texture and umami flavor to the dish. You can use any kind of mushrooms you prefer – button, cremini, or portobello would all work well.
Rinse the mushrooms well, pat them dry, and slice or chop them. In the recipe, after you’ve sautéed the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and salt, add the mushrooms and cook until they’ve released their water and become brown and tender. This should take about 5-7 minutes. After the mushrooms are cooked, you can continue with the recipe as written, adding the tomato paste, etc.
Bell Peppers: You can add a mix of red, yellow, and green bell peppers for a burst of color and flavor. Dice them finely and sauté with the onion and garlic to soften before adding to the sauce.
Zucchini: This summer squash can add a mild flavor and pleasing texture to your baked ziti. Dice or grate it and cook it along with the onions.
Eggplant: Roast cubes of eggplant in the oven, then add them into the sauce. This will provide a meaty texture and absorb the flavors of your sauce well.
Artichokes: You could incorporate marinated or fresh artichoke hearts into your ziti for a Mediterranean twist.
Olives: Black or Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced, can add a salty, tangy flavor that pairs well with the tomato sauce.
Sun-Dried Tomatoes: These can be chopped and stirred into the sauce, adding a concentrated, tangy tomato flavor.
Broccoli or Cauliflower: Small florets of either can be lightly steamed before being added to the sauce, adding a nice texture and nutritional boost.
Chickpeas or Lentils: For added protein, consider adding cooked chickpeas or lentils. These legumes can make the dish heartier while keeping it vegetarian.
Fresh Herbs: Stir in some fresh basil, parsley, or oregano at the end of cooking for a fresh burst of flavor.
Spices: Experiment with spices like crushed red pepper flakes for heat, smoked paprika for a hint of smokiness, or fennel seeds for a slightly sweet and licorice-like flavor.
Cheese Variations: You could try using different types of cheese for the cheese mixture. Consider using a smoked mozzarella for a different flavor, or adding a bit of Gorgonzola or blue cheese for a tangy twist.
Important Note: Remember, when adding more ingredients, you might need to adjust the quantities of the other ingredients, particularly the sauce, since some of the additional vegetables will release some water. So, adjust as needed to ensure the pasta is well-coated and the dish isn’t dry. You might also need to add a little extra salt to season any additional vegetables. Also, consider the cooking times and methods for each added vegetable to ensure they’re cooked properly.
STORE leftovers covered in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-5 days. Reheat individual servings in the microwave.
To FREEZE, cover the ziti, baked or unbaked, in multiple layers of plastic wrap and foil. Keep it in the freezer for up to 2 months. Let it thaw in the fridge and then either bake or reheat as normal.
To make ahead, assemble the ziti in the pan, cover the pan with the foil, and keep it in the fridge for 24 hours. Then it is ready to be baked as normal for dinner the next day.
Serve this baked ziti with:
- Almond bacon brussel sprout salad
- Strawberry avocado spinach salad
- Best ever cheesy garlic bread
- Cheese breadsticks
Meatless Baked Ziti Recipe
for the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion - diced
- 1 medium carrot - shredded
- 1 stalk celery - diced
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 24 ounce jar spaghetti sauce
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 pound dried ziti pasta
for the cheese filling:
- 8 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese - shredded
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese - shredded
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and salt, and cook until the vegetables are soft. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Add the spaghetti sauce and water, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low and simmer while the pasta is cooking.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the ziti to the pot and cook for 6 minutes, then drain.
- In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese.
- Layer half of the ziti in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread half of the tomato sauce over the top of the pasta. Spread or sprinkle half of the cheese mixture over the top of the sauce. Repeat the layers, ending with the cheese mixture.
- Cover the pan with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.