This meatless baked ziti with ricotta and mozzarella features a vegetable-laden tomato sauce with carrots, celery, onion, and kale. It’s an easy vegetarian recipe that’s great for a crowd. Plus, you can assemble it in advance and even freeze it for later.
I’m a sucker for a good pasta dish. After all, I am 50% Italian! So I think it’s about time I put together a baked ziti recipe for all of you. I also finally posted a vegetable lasagna (with white sauce), so be sure to check that out if you’re in a baked pasta mood!
OK, back to this dish. Baked ziti is so easy to make. You really just need ziti, sauce, cheese, and maybe some meat. My version of baked ziti takes it up a notch, but it’s still very easy. I left out the meat and just couldn’t help but to incorporate vegetables!
The vegetables in the dish are fairly subtle. I cut them into tiny pieces and let them simmer in a jar of tomato sauce until softened. It’s like a shortcut bolognese sans meat. (By the way, check out my Hidden Veg Pasta Sauce if you’re looking for something similar that does have meat). Then, as you probably guessed, I used that veggie-loaded sauce for the ziti.
Sure, this step adds about 25 minutes to the usual prep time. But trust me, it’s so worth it. You’ll still get the creamy, cozy deliciousness of baked ziti but with a nutritious twist. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Ziti: Use penne or rigatoni if you can’t find ziti.
- Chopped kale, carrot, onion, celery, and garlic: I don’t recommend making too many substitutions for the vegetables if you can help it, because the flavors of carrot, onion, and celery in particular pair very well with tomato sauce. You could use chopped spinach in place of kale, though.
- Tomato sauce: Use about 5 cups of a homemade or jarred tomato sauce. My favorite store-bought brands are Cucina Antica Marinara or Rao’s Homemade Marinara. My Canned San Marzano Tomato Sauce would also work very well in this meatless baked ziti.
- Ricotta cheese: I use whole milk ricotta, but you can substitute a lower fat version or use cottage cheese in place of it if desired.
- Mozzarella cheese: You can cut fresh mozzarella into small cubes or use pre-shredded mozzarella.
- Parmesan cheese: Use freshly grated parmesan (from a block of aged parmesan) or pre-shredded parmesan. Both work well.
- Egg: A beaten egg helps hold the cheese mixture and pasta together.
- Fresh parsley: I love to sprinkle chopped parsley on top of vegetarian ziti before serving!
Here’s a preview of the easy steps for this baked ziti. The full recipe card with more details and ingredient quantities is at the end of the post.
Chop the vegetables into small, bite-size pieces. The smaller the pieces, the quicker they will cook down in the tomato sauce. Pour the tomato sauce into a saucepan or pot, add the veggies, and cook on medium heat for 20 minutes until the veggies are softened.
Boil the ziti for 2 to 3 minutes less than what’s directed on the package.
Mix together all of the ricotta and half of the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses with a beaten egg.
Cover the ziti with the cheese mixture.
Once the veggies have softened in the sauce, spoon about half of the sauce into the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish.
Put the pasta and cheese mixture on top.
Cover with the rest of the sauce.
Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan cheese on top. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes until the cheese is bubbling.
Storage and Reheating
Leftover meatless baked ziti will last in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. You can reheat individual portions in a baking dish covered with foil for 15 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees F. Alternatively, you can heat them in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, but the oven works best. Keep in mind that reheated ziti may be drier than when it’s freshly made.
Baked ziti can be frozen uncooked or cooked. To freeze it before baking, assemble the entire recipe in a freezer-safe dish such as a foil pan or glass dish that is marked as freezer-safe. I like this Oxo 3 Quart Baking Dish for freezing casseroles.
Wrap the assembled ziti, including the pan, in plastic wrap followed by foil. Label and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Remember to remove the plastic wrap, but then put the foil back on, before baking.
To freeze cooked baked ziti, let it cool completely then slice it into individual portions. Wrap each portion tightly in plastic wrap then foil. Place them in a freezer bag or container. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating. Follow the instructions in the section above.
Yes, most baked ziti recipes call for an egg to be mixed with the ricotta. This helps bind the ricotta so that the dish stays together better. You can omit the egg if needed. The cheese may just ooze out a little more easily when cutting up portions.
Be sure to use plenty of tomato sauce for meatless baked ziti to prevent it from getting dry. I recommend using about 5 cups, which is more than the standard 24- or 32-ounce jars of tomato sauce. Get 2 jars and measure out 5 cups.
Since this baked ziti is loaded with vegetables, it actually serves as a complete meal on its own. However, it pairs very well with a light side dish such as a salad, steamed green beans, or roasted broccoli.
I’d love to hear how you like this recipe! Rate/review using the stars on the recipe card or in the comments, and follow the Veg World on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Looking for something totally different? Browse the recipe library.
Meatless Baked Ziti with Vegetables
- 5 cups tomato sauce - jarred or homemade
- 1 carrot - chopped into small pieces
- 2 stalks celery - chopped into small pieces
- 1 yellow onion - diced
- 2 cups finely chopped lacinato kale - from about 10 leaves
- 2 cloves garlic - minced
- 16 ounces dried ziti
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1 egg - lightly beaten
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley - for serving
- First, prep the vegetables and gather the ingredients. Get out a 13×9 baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Pour the tomato sauce into a pot or large saucepan. Add the vegetables and cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the veggies are softened to your liking. Remove from heat.
- In the meantime, boil a pot of salted water. Cook the ziti about 2 to 3 minutes less than the package suggests. It will continue cooking in the oven, so you don't want to make it too soft. Drain and rinse the ziti.
- In a large bowl, mix together all of the ricotta, 1 cup of the mozzarella, ½ cup of the parmesan, and the beaten egg.
- Put the cooked ziti in the bowl and stir well to coat it in the cheese mixture.
- Pour half of the sauce into the bottom of the baking dish. Spoon the ziti and cheese mixture on top and spread it out with a spatula. Pour the rest of the sauce on top of the ziti layer. Then, sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan cheese on top.
- Cover the dish with foil. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, remove the foil, and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling.
- Remove from the oven and let it sit for about 5 to 10 minutes. Garnish with the chopped parsley before serving. Cut into servings and enjoy!
- Leave a rating or review by tapping the stars on this recipe card (above) or in the comments section (at the end of the post)!
- You can assemble the recipe up to 24 hours in advance. Cover with foil, and keep in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake it. Let it sit out at room temperature while the oven preheats.
- You can also freeze the ziti unbaked. Assemble the recipe, let it cool, then wrap in plastic wrap followed by foil. Label, and freeze for up to 3 months. Let it thaw in the fridge overnight before baking according to recipe instructions. Remember to remove the plastic wrap before baking (but put the foil back on).
- Leftovers will last in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. Reheat individual portions in a baking dish covered with foil for 15 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees F.
Enjoy your ziti! – Lizzie