Skillet Baked Ziti

We get a lot of reader questions about pots and pans, and one of the things I always tell people is that a good skillet is indispensable in the kitchen.  It’s the pan I use the most, and its versatility makes it quite the workhorse.  I love a good skillet meal, and especially one that can all be made in ONE pot.  Seriously, one stinking pot to clean up after dinner.  Awesome.  The pasta in Skillet Baked Ziti cooks right in the skillet and then it’s popped in the oven at the very end to melt the gooey cheese topping.

family friendly deliciousness

My whole family loves this, and though the serving size is 4, when I make it with sausage (optional) it’s more than enough for my family of 5 (3 of those being little people.)  Pair it along side a salad and some French bread, and you could very easily serve more.  Except for the fact that everyone will want seconds 🙂  Would you like to see the whole recipe come together?  Watch this quick video to get a great overview:

how to make this skillet baked ziti

If you want to make this meatless, the sausage is totally optional.  I like both the flavor and the bulk of the sausage, and it does stretch out the servings by quite a bit.  I pretty much use turkey sausage in any and every recipe that calls for Italian sausage, and you can use either the “sweet” or “hot” variety.  Remove it from the castings and cook it until it’s browned and cooked through.

Browned sausageThen add a generous amount of fresh garlic,

Smashed Garlic
and some red pepper flakes.  This isn’t a spicy dish- these just add flavor.  And no I did not dump those on my counter top on purpose.  I just figured if I spilled, I may as well make it pretty.  Spread the chili-flake-love

Red Chili Flakes
After those saute for a minute, add some canned tomatoes.  When you read the directions, you’ll wonder why we’re using whole tomatoes pulsed in a food processor as opposed to a can of crushed tomatoes.  I don’t know, except that I remember reading the reasoning behind it in an issue of Cook’s Illustrated, and when America’s Test Kitchen tells me something, I don’t argue.  That being said, if you have a can of crushed tomatoes, go for it.

canned tomatoesThen add some water; this is the cooking liquid for the pasta.

Adding WaterAdd the dried pasta right into the skillet.  My store was actually out of ziti (really) so I’m going with rigatoni.  Anything with little ridges is great because they help hold onto the sauce.

rigatoniIt’s important that your skillet have a lid at this point.  You’ll want to cover it up to trap in that moisture so the pasta can cook.  Peek in frequently and stir things around.  You’ll see the pasta isn’t completely submerged in the liquid so that’s why it takes longer than just boiling pasta in water.  It will absorb almost all of the cooking liquid.

finishing off the pasta

When the pasta is tender, add in a little cream.  Don’t even ask me if you can substitute something here, just live on the edge.  It’s not a ton, and it adds so much richness and creaminess.  There’s really no substitution without sacrificing major flavor.

Adding CreamAlso add in some chopped fresh basil,

Chopped oreganoand some shredded Parmesan cheese.  Use the real, shredded cheese, not the crumbly stuff in a can.

Shaved ParmLast quick step is to sprinkle some mozzarella on top and pop that skillet in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Skillet Baked Ziti from Our Best BitesIt’s comforting, and warm, and perfect for a chilly night.

Baked Ziti Dinner from Our Best BitesPair it with a simple salad for a filling, balanced dinner.  It would even be totally appropriate for company.  Everyone loves a good Italian dish!

Cheesy Baked Ziti from Our Best Bites

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Skillet Baked Ziti

  • Author: Kate Jones
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: Italian


This Skillet Baked Ziti adapted from America’s Test Kitchen is a fantastic one-dish dinner that your whole family will adore!



1 pound Italian sausage or Italian turkey sausage (“hot” or “sweet”)
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups water
12 ounces (about 3 3/4 cups) ziti pasta
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 ounce Parmesan chees, grated (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (fresh is best, but if you need to sub dried, use a heaping tablespoon of dried basil and add it in with the tomatoes)
ground black pepper
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)


Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 475 degrees.  Pulse the tomatoes with their juice in a food processor until coarsely ground and no large pieces remain, about 12 pulses.

Heat 12-inch or larger oven-safe skillet to medium high heat and add 1/2 tablespoon olive oil.  Remove sausage from castings and cook, crumbling with a spatula until browned and cooked through, about 3-5 minutes.  (If you’re not using sausage, just add a little more olive oil and start with the next step, sauteing the garlic and pepper flakes.)  Add garlic and red pepper flakes to sausage and cook for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant.   Stir in the processed tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes no longer tate raw, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the water, then add the pasta.  Cover, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring often and adjusting the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer, until the pasta ins tender, 15-18 minutes.

Stir in the cream, Parmesan, and basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the top.  Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the cheese has melted and browned, 10-15 minutes (or just until melted, like, 1-2 minutes).  Serve.


Note: This recipe is to be cooked in a 12 inch skillet.  I recommend using one slightly larger if you’re adding the sausage as well.  Make sure your skillet is oven proof (no plastic handles) and has a lid.

Keywords: baked ziti, ziti pasta, baked ziti with sausage


Cheesy Skillet Baked Ziti from Our Best Bites



  1. This looks delicious!! My family LOVES bakes ziti, but it usually trashes my kitchen from all the pots and pans–I am going to have to try this one!

    1. I actually used a stainless steel pan in this recipe. The one in the photo is from the Better Homes and Garden’s line. I have several, including some non-stick Calphalon, and the grand-daddy giant All Clad that I love.

  2. Yum! I remember that tidbit about whole canned tomatoes, too. I think it was that the whole tomatoes tend to be better quality compared to the crushed or diced tomatoes. Thanks for another great recipe!

  3. Made this for dinner tonight and it’s made the family favorites list! I even used substitutes for just about everything and it was still amazing!

  4. Made this last night and it was great! Question though, is there any reason you can’t just use crushed tomatoes instead of whole tomatoes? It would save another step and one less thing to clean. Thanks!

      1. So I did some checking on this issue. Here is a quote from an article from Cook’s Illustrated:In the test kitchen, we’ve often avoided using crushed tomatoes because the differences among leading brands are so dramatic. The textures vary from watery and thin to so thick you could stand a spoon in it. You might get peels or no peels; plentiful seeds or none; big, rough-cut chunks of tomato or a smooth, sauce-like consistency with no chunks at all.

        So they did a taste test and here are three that came up as recommended and are names that I recognize from the store:
        Muir Glen Organic Crushed Tomatoes
        Hunts Organic Crushed Tomatoes
        Progressive Crushed Tomatoes with added puree

        Hope this makes this dish even easier to make than it already is!

  5. I just made this for our dinner tonight and my samplings reveal it’s delicious. Unfortunately though it’s super liquidy…almost soup like. I’m guessing this is something related to the fact that everything I bake here (I recently moved to Orlando, FL) requires more flour. I haven’t figured it out yet but every thing I make here requires at least an extra cup of flour. I’ve lived all across the country and find each recipe turns out differently even when I follow the instructions to the T! The recipe was great, I’ll just remember next time to use half as much water.

    1. That may have been confusing–I realize this recipe doesn’t require flour. I’m just saying that everything here requires less liquid. I’m not crazy, I promise! 🙂

  6. I made this last night. It was so tasty. Even my picky nieces, who will eat nothing, enjoyed this meal. It feed 4 adults and 3 kids with leftovers. Will be making this again for sure!!

  7. This was totally awesome! I think it might be my new favorite dinner. I didn’t have a skillet big enough to cook the noodles in the same pan, so I just did them separate, and added them to the sauce. We loved it!

  8. I made this two nights ago and my husband is still talking about how god it was. I will definitely be making this again! Yummy!

  9. I made this yesterday and it was delicious! I halved the recipe, with sausage, and it fit perfectly in my 10″ skillet.

  10. Just made this for dinner tonight and it was so delicious! The cream really adds something special and how can you not love that it’s all done in one pan. Thanks for this my family has a new favorite 🙂

  11. I made mine meatless, used 1/8 t. red pepper flakes and 5 cloves of garlic and wow, totally delicious!!!! And the best part is there is plenty for tomorrow night too! 🙂 We are going to call this “pink pasta” and I plan on making it again and again! Thanks OBB for another keeper!

  12. This was soooo good! I made this for my family of six with the sausage, and it easily fed everyone and had leftovers for a couple more. Everyone loved it and not one complaint. This is for sure going into my rotation.

  13. We loved this last week! Even my girls 4 & 2 ate it all! We just made a change and we used regular sausage, since Italian is too spicy for my kids. But my husband was very impressed that it tasted so great! Thanks for another awesome recipe.

  14. thank you for a recipe so easy and fool proof that my husband made it! delish! And no huge mess of a kitchen to clean up! win, win, win

  15. This was fantastic ! I added some sauteed onions, bell peppers, zucchini. It did look a bit watery while the pasta was cooking for I took off the lid for the last 5 mins on the stove.

  16. I made this tonight for our family of six and it was a hit with everyone. This will be featured regularly in our dinner rotation. Thanks for a great and easy recipe!

  17. I’m wondering if I could assemble this dish, stick it in the fridge before church, then give it a stir and bake it when we get home?

  18. Easy, pretty fast (even for me), and soooo tasty. I made it for dinner last night and I’m contemplating eating it for breakfast this morning. I did use penne because I couldn’t find ziti, but man. I want to make it for dinner again STAT.

  19. i just finished making this-in between running kids to and from school, supervising homework, and several phone calls- and it smells amazing! I think that this will quickly become a go to meal for busy weekdays when I need to prep dinner in 10 minute increments!

  20. Apparently this is pretty adaptable – I like it with a half pound of regular pork sausage, and tonight I added a can of tomato sauce because I wanted to up the sauce level. AND I made it with bowtie pasta because it was a last minute meal change. SO.GOOD.

  21. My son and I really enjoyed this. It took me much longer to cook the pasta, I think I stirred too frequently and slowed it down. I ended up adding extra Italian seasoning and fennel since the sausage I used was not full of flavor. The easy cleanup was a nice bonus!

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