Pesto Baked Ziti

I know for most of you life is hot and sweaty and it is high summertime and you are probably wondering what business I have posting a baked casserole-type dish. Let me tell you why: because this baked pasta dish is worth turning on the oven for even mid-June. Seriously. And you can trust me on that since I live in a house-without-A/C and really avoid oven usage in the summer months (it could totally be baked in this beauty, too, of course).

My friend Kim (posts on the comment thread of almost every post here as Kim in MD) told me about this recipe and because I am powerless to resist trying recipes she tells me about, I had to make it even amid the heat. It is ridiculous. In a really, really good way. The flavors are so different and unique for a baked ziti dish that it makes you want to make it for everyone you know so they can experience the awesomeness, too. And isn’t it pretty to look at? So pretty.

Pesto Baked Ziti

The pesto in the sauce adds a flavorful boost that tempts me to add pesto to anything and everything from here on out forevermore, and the fantastic accent of spicy (or mild, if you choose) lean turkey or chicken sausage and creamy ricotta and cheese is divine. Plus, there’s a healthy amount of spinach to make us all feel good about eating cheesy pesto pasta.

Make it. You’ll love it. (And if you just can’t bring yourself to eat pasta in the summer; bookmark this baby because while I eat it every Sunday from here to August, you’re going to want it come fall.)

Pesto Baked Ziti

What To ServeA steamed veggie (or for something fancier this Creamy Confetti Corn with Bacon)
Divine Breadsticks or a really, great dinner roll like these Fluffy Whole Wheat Rolls
Cottage Cheese

One Year Ago: Orange Creamsicle Cookies
Two Years Ago: Lemon Ice
Three Years Ago: Oatmeal Coconut Chewies

Pesto and Sausage Baked Ziti

Yield: Serves 6-8

Pesto and Sausage Baked Ziti

I like to use lean turkey or chicken sausage - the kind that comes in removable casings and is not precooked. If you can't find this type of sausage, you could probably substitute another kind of bulk pork sausage just take care to drain any excess grease and be sure to use uncooked sausage (not the precooked, kielbasa variety). Also, you can sub rigatoni or penne for the ziti. If you are working out of a larger bag/tub of spinach, the 9 ounces is about the equivalent of 5-ish cups of spinach. That seems like a lot but it will wilt down in the recipe. You can use homemade or storebought pesto but if you choose storebought, make sure you like the flavor because the pesto flavor really comes through.


  • 1 pound ziti noodles
  • 1 pound Italian turkey or chicken sausage, casings removed
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup pesto
  • 9 ounces baby spinach
  • 15-ounces ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9X13-inch baking pan and set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the ziti and cook until al dente. Drain.
  3. While the pasta is boiling, in a large 12-inch skillet over medium heat, add the turkey sausage, onion and garlic and cook until the sausage is cooked through, adding a bit of salt and pepper to taste (the amount will depend on the seasonings in the sausage). While it cooks, break up the sausage into smaller pieces. Drain any excess grease if needed.
  4. Add the diced tomatoes, pesto and salt and pepper to taste (I added about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper). Simmer for 10-12 minutes. Add the spinach, stirring until it cooks down a bit into the hot sauce, 1-2 minutes.
  5. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 cups of the mozzarella cheese and 1 1/4 cups of the Parmesan cheese.
  6. In the prepared baking dish, pour in the drained noodles. Dollop the ricotta mixture over the top of the noodles. Spread the sauce over the top and sprinkle with remaining cheese (1/2 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan).
  7. Bake until heated through and golden around the edges, about 20 minutes. Let stand 5-7 minutes before serving.

Recipe Source: slightly adapted from the Food Network by way of my friend Kim in MD (best food advice giver ever!)

41 Responses to Pesto and Sausage Baked Ziti

  1. Kaylee says:

    Hi Mel!

    I’m making this for a freezer meal during my kitchen renovation and was wondering what you would recommend for a baking time if I put it in the oven straight from the freezer.

  2. Tammy says:

    Could you substitute cottage cheese for the ricotta cheese?

    • Mel says:

      I think that should work ok, Tammy – cottage cheese has a little more water to it so the pasta dish might be slightly saucier.

  3. Sharon says:

    Our family LOVES this recipe. We took it to a Christmas party, and it was a hit there too. Thanks for all your yummy recipes!

  4. Holly W says:

    Mel and Kim in MD, Just wanted you to know every time I make this, it gets great reviews. I’ve taken it into other families and they love it too! Thanks for such a yummy recipe!

  5. Deanna F says:

    Pesto and spinach – how can you go wrong? This was so good! I brought some leftovers for lunch and based on the smell alone, everyone at my Bible study wanted the recipe.

  6. MamaLlama says:

    Oh my holy cows, was this ever fantastic!! Just made for the first time tonite, and I’ve got to say this was the most delicious baked ziti recipe I have ever tasted. Thanks SO much for the recipe!!

  7. Danswifey says:

    Hi Mel. Thanks for posting this recipe. We made it the other night and it was awesome. We loved how flavorful it was and how each bite was a different combination due to the layering of the ingredients. 😀

    FYI, I was searching under your pasta and pork sections and also using the search bar and this recipe wouldn’t pull up. I don’t know if it was just me or what but I thought I’d tell you. I had to go back through your archives to find it.

  8. Nilsa says:

    Can this be a make-ahead dish?

    • Mel says:

      Nilsa – I haven’t tried it as a make-ahead dish but I think it could be made beforehand – I’d undercook the pasta so it doesn’t get soggy and I wouldn’t make it more than a day ahead (don’t know about freezing).

  9. Alana says:

    Made this last night – SO good. It’s a keeper – thanks!

  10. Simone says:

    HI 🙂 I’m from Australia and have been a avid follower of your site for a while now. I made this recipe a few days a go and it was gorgeous! I used Italian pork sausage mince (taken out of the casings) and the flavours were so different to the usual meals we have – the whole family enjoyed it immensely. I didn’t have spinach this time, so I’ll add that next time for another twist. I can’t thank you enough for such an fantastically inspiring recipe selection – and many of my Aussie mates are converts to your site too! Simone xoxox

  11. Rachel says:

    This was so delicious–thank you for the great recipe! It has been feeding our little family of 3 for 4 days now, and I’m still not tired of eating it. Thanks!

  12. bluebaker says:

    Hi Mel-
    I hope its not too late to ask you a question about this dish- I was wondering if the undrained tomatoes make it too watery, or do you drain the tomatoes a little? We just
    recently discovered the savory joys of pesto, and my sister just gave me a jar, so I’m looking forward to making this dish. I’ll check back in a while for the answer.
    Thanks Mel.

    • Mel says:

      bluebaker – I make the recipe as is without draining the tomatoes – as long as you let it sit for a few minutes after baking, it should be fine but if you are worried you could try draining them a bit (just wouldn’t want it to be too dry!).

  13. Stacey says:

    This was fantastic!! Thanks Mel and Kim in MD. (I’m also in MD!). It made a ton. For our family of four, I might make it into 2 square 8 x 8’s the next time, but it doesn’t really matter because my 8 year old son and I never tired of the leftovers. He had 3 generous helpings for lunch one day! I also subbed cottage cheese because I forgot to grab ricotta at the store. I buy my pesto at Trader Joe’s. Its good and much cheaper than my local big chain store.

  14. Carol says:

    Mel-Another hit with my family! It is so great to know i can come over to your blog and find something I know we will like! Made this for dinner tonight and we all had to get up from the table before we gorged ourselves! I used a fresh spinach/arugula mix (from Trader Joe”s-just had it on hand- and it was delish! I also used the fresh pesto from Butoni (found in the refrigerated pasta section.)
    Thanks again!

  15. Katie says:

    One word: YUM! I made this for dinner tonight and even my picky boyfriend liked it.

  16. Kim in MD says:

    Awww…you made me blush! 🙂 I’m so glad you loved this baked ziti as much as I do, Mel! It really is very special with the pesto and the spinach. Your photo is gorgeous!

  17. Kelly says:

    I made this tonight!!! So yummy!! I omitted the ricotta cheese because none of us like it. I also used johnsonville ground mild Italian sausage and it worked great!!! This recipe is a keeper!! Thanks for sharing!

  18. angela @ another bite please says:

    this sounds so good. love the use of pesto.

  19. Emily says:

    Thank you so much everyone for the pesto suggestions!

  20. Doreen says:

    This dish looks so good. The only thing is my husband has a huge aversion to cooked spinach. Any idea so I can still try this?

  21. Jana says:

    Okay – this was amazing! Thanks!

  22. Sheila says:

    I just made your Tri Color Pasta Salad (so good!) for a neighbor’s going away party this past Sunday. One of your reader comments on this recipe was they liked Sam’s Club pesto. Not being familiar with pesto this is what I brought only using 2 tables. from the whole large jar. This baked ziti recipe is going on the meal plan very soon to use up my leftover pesto. Thanks Mel and Kim for passing on such goodness for other’s benefit!

  23. Oh yeaahhh. Comfort food at its best! This looks so warm, hearty and comforting, but with a little bright, summery flavor from the pesto. I love it, Mel!

  24. Actually I read somewhere that it’s good to eat and drink something hot when it’s hot so we have two reasons to turn on an oven.

  25. Mamalala says:

    I just have to say that with my garden I was able to come to your site last minute and make this for dinner. I didn’t have a pound of sausage so I added some veggies like bell pepper, mushrooms finely chopped, to add some bulk to the two sausages I did have. I also subbed cottage cheese for ricotta bc I am too tired to go to store. Thanks for some great inspiring recipes. This is to die for and so great with my homemade pesto and garden veggies. A keeper. I also doubled the recipe for when ‘my baby comes so I have one in the freezer. Love your blog.

  26. Alicia says:

    This looks amazing! I am a huge pesto lover, and am actually making several batches of fresh pesto today using some of the basil in my garden. I love Ina Garten’s recipe for pesto found here: I live in AZ, and there are very few times I actually want to turn on my oven in the summer, but this recipe is calling to me. Thanks for the post!

  27. Also Emily says:

    Emily- I use Classico brand pesto. It’s really good and easy to find (in my area, anyway). 🙂

  28. Diane K says:

    I always think tube pastas look delicious, but my husband and I aren’t really big fans. They never seem to catch enough sauce. Sometimes I use rotini… do you think that would work?
    Also, I’m so glad you use fresh spinach. I used frozen chopped spinach once and I’m pretty sure that’s the reason I used to assume spinach was gross.

  29. Teresa R. says:

    I guess I’ll have to make a grocery store run for pesto and ricotta cheese because I want to make this tonight! I have absolutely no problem eating pasta in the summer!

  30. Tasha says:

    I just so happen to be meal planning today I think this will be at the top of the list! We have my SIL and her family living with us for the month so we’ve got five adults and five kids to feed. Casseroles have become a staple in our house lately!

  31. Jennifer Swartzlander says:

    HOW did you know I have a jar of pesto I’ve been staring at in the fridge that needs to get used up??
    So excited to try this!

  32. Nikki says:

    If you live near a Costco they have an awesome pesto by the Kirkland brand. I just bought 3 jars of it yesterday and added a Tbls of it to a pot of spaghetti sauce, my husband and 2 boys said it was the best sauce I’ve ever made.

  33. Olivia says:

    Looks delicious, besides the sausage (vegetarian), but just out of curiousity- how do you survive with 5 children & no AC???

  34. Emily says:

    Do you have a tried and true pesto recipe you use or even a brand that tastes good? This sounds wonderful!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Emily – Ina Garten’s recipe for pesto is my favorite (I think someone linked to it in the comments) but I’ve also bought the Classico brand and it’s pretty good (nothing beats homemade).

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