Skillet Baked Ziti

I love a good skillet meal, and especially one that can all be made in ONE pot.  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. This family friendly dinner is great served with a side salad and a slice of garlic bread.

how to make this skillet baked ziti

If you want to make this meatless, the sausage is optional.  I like both the flavor and the bulk of the sausage, and it does stretch out the servings by quite a bit.  You can use ground turkey sausage here if you like, 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.

Red Chili Flakes
After those saute for a minute, add some canned tomatoes.  This recipe calls for using whole tomatoes, pulsed in a food processor as opposed to a can of crushed tomatoes.  The recipe comes from Cook’s Illustrated, and if you follow America’s Test Kitchen, you know there’s always a long scientific reasoning behind it. That being said, if you have a can of crushed tomatoes, I’d say don’t let that stop you from making this, I’m sure it would be just fine.

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.  It adds richness, depth, and substance to the sauce.  I personally wouldn’t substitute it with anything else.

Adding CreamIt’s finished off with some fresh basil and parmesan cheese and then placed in the oven just to melt it all together.

Skillet Baked Ziti from Our Best BitesIt’s comforting, 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

Skillet Baked Ziti

5 from 2 votes
This Skillet Baked Ziti adapted from America's Test Kitchen is a fantastic one-dish dinner that your whole family will adore!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings4 servings

Ingredients

  • 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
  • Salt
  • 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)

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

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.
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: baked ziti, baked ziti with sausage, ziti pasta
Author: Sara Wells
Did You Make This Recipe?Snap a picture, and hashtag it #ourbestbites. We love to see your creations on our Instagram @ourbestbites!

Cheesy Skillet Baked Ziti from Our Best Bites

woman in denim shirt holding a salad bowl
Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. Love Love Love. My family practically licks their plates. Thanks so much for this family favorite.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Holy cow-I think this is the only dinner I’ve ever made that all six kids have eaten without complaint. Thank you! Its easy and delicious!!!

  8. 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!

  9. 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 🙂

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

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. 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!!

  14. 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! 🙂

  15. 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. Glad you liked it Christy! Check out the paragraph in the post right above the pic where I put in the tomatoes. I address this very issue 🙂

    2. Sorry I missed that! I actually looked at the photo and thought, that looks just like a can of crushed tomatoes, lol!

      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!

    1. Yes, that’s correct. You don’t want to cook giant links of sausage, you want crumbled sausage, so you have to remove the casings they come in.

  16. Yum! I have a pound of bulk hot Italian sausage in my fridge right now! Dinner 😉

  17. 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!

  18. Oh YUM! One dish – sold. Pasta & cheese – double sold! LOL Thanks, ladies! Looks fantastic.

  19. 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!

  20. This look delicious, and so much easier! So…I have to ask, what brand skillet do you use? And, nonstick or not? Thanks!

    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.

  21. This looks great! Love new skillet recipes and especially ones that take one pan.. Less clean up makes me SMILE 🙂

  22. 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!