Easy baked ziti casserole with a Greek twist, full of cheese and a hearty meat sauce!
We’ve been obsessed with baked ziti casseroles ever since The Sopranos. This award-winning crime drama centered around the Soprano mafia family had it all – intrigue, adventure, glamour and food! When mob-wife Carmela Soprano fed her family it was hard to focus on anything else. And one of her signature dishes was baked ziti – we were obsessed.
Although our parents make a great lasagna (we’ve got to share that recipe with you one day!), usually when they serve a baked pasta dish it is pastitsio. Believe us, we never complain! Pastitsio is a classic Greek meal for a reason. Bechamel, meat sauce, pasta…you can hardly go wrong! And yet, Carmela had us convinced that we needed baked ziti in our life, and you should never argue with the mob.
First step, find ziti pasta!
So, here’s the thing. The hardest part of this recipe might actually be finding the ziti. We don’t know about you, but where we live our regular grocery stores did not carry ziti. They have penne and rigatoni and little pasta shaped as wheels, but no ziti. How odd!
We finally travelled to an Italian market and found our ziti there. The man who was manning the pasta section (can we please apply for that job!) explained to us that there are very few pasta companies that make the short ziti we were looking for. He got that for us, and then also showed us a bag of Italian pasta where the ziti were long, like spaghetti. He explained that you can use the long ziti noodles and simple break them into the sizes you want. Who knew?! (Carmela, definitely knew!). We bought both pastas and used the short ziti in this recipe.
Use any combination of meat you like.
We make our baked ziti casserole with a combination of ground veal and ground pork. We often combine these meat when making things like our Greek meatballs, Greek-style spaghetti and meat sauce and our moussaka. However, you can certainly substitute any meat you like, including Italian sausage (casings removed).
Use a good quality tomato base for your baked ziti casserole.
Every year we make jars and jars of tomato sauce with our parents. It is nothing more than tomatoes cooked down until nice and thick, some basil, and a touch of olive oil. You can find our recipe and technique here. This is the tomato sauce that we use in our baked ziti casserole. If you don’t have homemade tomato sauce you can either use passata, or a marinara sauce that you purchase or make yourself. You can use our marinara sauce recipe, found here.
Give your baked ziti casserole a Greek twist with feta and mizithra!
We love all things Italian, but we thought that it would be fun to give our ziti recipe a bit of a Greek twist. Doing so is easy, just incorporate some Greek cheeses! Here we added feta to the meat sauce, and topped the layers of our casserole with grated mizithra cheese. Mizithra is a Greek whey cheese or mixed milk-whey cheese made from sheep or goats, or both. You can find it either as a fresh cheese, similar to Italian ricotta, and as a salt-dried grating cheese, which is what we use here, and in other recipes like our delicious spaghetti with olive oil and mizithra. What a great flavour these Greek cheeses add to the meal!
If you can’t find mizithra cheese…
that would be sad, but don’t fret too much! Simply substitue the mizithra for grated parmesan or grated romano. Even better, use a combination of the two.
Here are a few more comfort food recipes we think you’ll love:
We love hearing from you! If you have made our recipes, or if you have a question or comment, or simply want to say Hi!, please leave a comment below!
Baked ziti casserole
- 9 x 13 inch (3 quart) casserole dish (we use a glass lasagna pan)
To cook the pasta
- 1 pound ziti pasta
- 1 tsp salt
For the meat sauce
- 250 grams (9 oz, or 1/2 lb) ground veal
- 250 grams (9oz, or 1/2 lb) ground pork
- 1 cup onion diced
- 2 tbsp ( 30 mL) olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 garlic cloves finely diced
- 1½ cups zucchini cut in cubes (about the size of dice)
- 5 cups (1,250 mL) passata or homemade tomato sauce or marinara sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 245 grams ricotta cheese 8 ounces
- 100 grams Greek feta
- 5 fresh basil leaves thinly sliced
To assemble casserole
- 375 grams mozarella cheese divided
- 1 cup grated mizithra cheese divided; can substitute with grated parmesan or grated romano cheese
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook your ziti until it is almost done. Simply cutting a minute or two off of the cooking instructions on the package is sufficient. Once ready, drain and set aside.1 pound ziti pasta, 1 tsp salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
For the meat sauce
- In a large pot or Dutch oven set over medium high heat cook your meat and onion until the meat is completely cooked through and the onion is softened. Be sure to break the meat apart with a wooden spoon as it is cooking.250 grams (9 oz, or 1/2 lb) ground veal, 250 grams (9oz, or 1/2 lb) ground pork, 1 cup onion
- Move your meat and onions to the sides of your pot (so that you have an empty space in the center) and to the center add the olive oil, bay leaf and tomato paste. Stir the tomato paste continuously and cook for 1 minute. After the 1 minute, mix everything together.2 tbsp ( 30 mL) olive oil, 1 bay leaf, 2 tbsp tomato paste
- Add the garlic and zucchini and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring regularly.3 garlic cloves, 1½ cups zucchini
- Add the passata (or tomato sauce or marinara sauce) and the salt and pepper. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and discard.5 cups (1,250 mL) passata, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper
To assemble casserole
- Take 1 ladle full of sauce and spread it across the bottom of your 9 x 13 inch casserole dish.
- Add the crumbled feta to the rest of the meat sauce and spoon in the ricotta. Add the finely sliced basil leaves. Add cooked pasta and stir gently. You want all the ziti to be coated but you still want to have chunks of feta and ricotta visible.245 grams ricotta cheese, 100 grams Greek feta, 5 fresh basil leaves
- Transfer half of the pasta mixture to your casserole dish. Top the pasta with half of the shredded mozzarella and half of the grated mizithra (or grated parmesan or grated romano).375 grams mozarella cheese, 1 cup grated mizithra cheese
- Add the rest of the pasta mixture to the casserole dish and top with the remaining mozzarella and the remaining grated mizithra.
- Bake, uncovered, in the middle rack of your oven for about 25 minutes. If you would like, broil for approximately 2 minutes so that the top layer of cheese gets nice and browned (careful you don't burn it!).
- Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.