Baked ziti is an Italian-American dish that tops many people’s lists when it comes to their favorite comfort foods. With the classic must-have ingredients of pasta, tomato sauce and melted cheese, baked ziti has a flavor and texture combination that rarely lets you down. Typically, baked ziti includes wheat-based ziti or penne, but this vegetarian baked ziti recipe is not only meatless, it’s also gluten-free — thanks to the use of brown rice pasta.
Not all baked ziti recipes are equal. This meatless baked ziti is loaded with antioxidant-rich veggies, spices and fresh herbs. Baked ziti has been referred to as “basically a short-cut lasagna, with fewer ingredients and less hassle.” (1) It’s true — this recipe is super easy to make, and its leftovers can make meal planning for the week so much easier, and healthier too!
What Kind of Pasta is Ziti?
Ziti, pronounced “zee-tee”, is an Italian word that literally means macaroni of the bride or bride’s macaroni. (2) Ziti is a medium-sized and tubular shaped pasta. It is usually smooth on the outside, unlike rigatoni, which has ridges on the outside and is larger than ziti. What about penne vs. ziti? Penne is similar in size to ziti, but has ridges on the outside and diagonally-cut ends. (3)
Why are there so many shapes of pasta? Ziti is just one of many options when it comes to the world of pasta. Different shapes actually make a significant difference when it comes to what sauce you are pairing with the pasta. For example, ziti is typically suggested for use with thick or chunky sauces. Ziti is also a top choice for baked pasta dishes, pasta salads and stir fries. (4)
You can use either penne or ziti in this recipe, depending on what you prefer. Either way, the overall taste of your baked ziti will be the same. If you’re not a fan of brown price pasta, you can also use gluten-free lentil pasta or another option you enjoy.
Baked Ziti Recipe Nutrition Facts
- 302 calories
- 10 grams protein
- 9 grams fat
- 42.5 grams carbohydrate
- 6 grams fiber
- 4 grams sugar
- 536 milligrams sodium
- 4,181 IUs vitamin A (84 percent DV)
- 32 milligrams vitamin C (53 percent DV)
- 188 milligrams calcium (19 percent DV)
- 2.6 milligrams iron (14 percent DV)
- 254 milligrams potassium (7.3 percent DV)
- 2.6 milligrams niacin (13 percent DV)
- 2.6 micrograms vitamin K (3.3 percent DV)
- 0.03 milligrams vitamin B6 (1.5 percent DV)
So, is this a healthy, nutrient-rich version of baked ziti? I think the answer is clearly “yes!” Per serving, it provides well over three quarters of most people’s vitamin A needs — plus, over half of vitamin C requirements. These are two key antioxidants when it comes to having a strong immune system. This recipe also contains significant amounts of other key nutrients like calcium, iron, potassium and niacin — along with some vitamin K and B6, as well.
Here’s a look at some of the top health benefits associated with several of the main ingredients used in this baked ziti recipe:
- Brown rice pasta: Brown rice is safe for people looking to avoid gluten. It also contains a high amount of plant lignans (what helps to form plant cell walls), and when consumed, lignans may help to guard against a number of diseases including heart disease. (20)
- Tomato or marinara sauce: I’m sure you already knew that tomato sauce can thank tomato nutrition for its health-boosting properties. Tomatoes are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants, especially lycopene, which scientific research has linked to prevention of certain types of cancer — such as lung, prostate and stomach cancer. (21)
- Spinach: This leafy green is a top choice when it comes to nutrient-dense foods. Research has shown that compounds found in spinach may even lower the risk of complications due to diabetes. (22)
- Pecorino romano: Since it is a type of cheese made from goat’s milk, pecorino romano provides goat milk benefits. For example, cheese made from goat’s milk is known for being much easier to digest than cheese made from cow’s milk. The goat’s milk used to make pecorino romano cheese is also so nutritious that researchers have called it a “functional food” that “has many nutrients that make it similar to human milk”. (23)
How to Make Baked Ziti
Before you start chopping the vegetables for this easy baked ziti recipe, make sure you have your oven preheating to 375 F and your pasta water boiling. Don’t forget that the pasta needs to be cooked according to package instructions prior to being baked.
Once you have all of your ingredients ready to go, grease your baking dish to prevent your baked ziti casserole from sticking to the bottom.
How to make baked ziti really isn’t hard. This recipe only takes about 10 minutes or so of active work, and the rest is just effortless cooking time. Plus, this is baked ziti without meat, which means less work and less cleanup. Let’s get started.
First, add the cooked ziti to the baking dish.
Now you can begin adding in all of the vegetables, starting with the raw spinach. You’ll be stirring everything together at the end, but it’s not a bad idea to spread the ingredients around as you go.
Now, the cauliflower rice.
The cherry tomatoes and squash can go in next.
Add the goat cheese crumbles and spices.
Pour in the marinara sauce and stir until everything is well combined.
Now it’s time to top it all off with some delicious buffalo mozzarella and pecorino romano.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.
Allow the baked ziti to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Top with fresh, chopped basil or whole basil leaves and serve.
Vegetarian Baked Ziti Recipe with Goat Cheese
- 3½ cups brown rice pasta, cooked
- 1½ cups spinach
- ½ cup cauliflower rice
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 yellow squash, chopped
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced
- 1 teaspoon Italian herbs
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ cup goat cheese crumbles
- 2-3 cups marinara sauce
- 4 ounces buffalo mozzarella
- ¼ cup pecorino romano, shredded
- 5-6 large fresh basil leaves, chopped
- preheat oven to 375 F.
- In a 9×13 greased baking dish add the pasta, spinach, cauliflower rice, zucchini, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese crumbles and spices.
- Pour marinara sauce, stirring until well-combined.
- Top with buffalo mozzarella and pecorino romano.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes.
- Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- Top with fresh, chopped basil