Ziti Al Forno is an Italian household treasure made of tender pasta, copious amounts of cheese, tossed in a rich tomato-based sauce, and then baked with an extra layer of cheese and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs for an ultra crispy exterior.
While I’ve adapted this dish to be a 3-cheese Ziti Al Forno, there are so many other ways to vary it - you can really get creative depending on whether you want to keep it simple or dress it up. Either way, it’s a mouth-watering option when you’re in the mood for some serious comfort food!
❤️ Why you'll love this recipe
- Incredibly simple: This dish is just ziti pasta in a marinara sauce, tossed and topped with a combination of cheeses before being baked to crispy perfection!
- Extremely adaptable: Anyone who has grown up on al forno will know that this dish can be varied in many ways, often using leftovers in the fridge to make different types of meals from the same base recipe!
- Loved by all ages: This dish can easily be served as a family meal with the kids or as a classy dinner when hosting guests. All love and appreciate the soft and tender textures, rich sauce, and gooey cheese combinations!
Adding panko breadcrumbs as part of the topping to this 3-cheese Ziti Al Forno was a real game-changer. You'll have to try it for yourself!
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Note: The full list of this recipe ingredients with their amounts and options are listed in the recipe card below.
- Ziti pasta -- may use penne, or other short tubular pasta
- Whole milk cottage cheese - may use 1 %
- Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil - extra virgin
- Fresh Garlic
- Tomato sauce
- Diced tomatoes
- Dried oregano
- Fresh basil
- Heavy cream
- Whole-milk Mozzarella - may get the part-skim but there is a big difference in melting and taste.
- Panko crumbs
- Fresh Parsley
Note: This is an overview of the instructions. The full instructions are in the recipe card below.
- Preheat the oven while gathering the cheese and egg ingredients.
- Combine the Parmesan and eggs in a medium bowl.
- Whisk in the cottage cheese to the Parmesan and egg mixture.
- Once well combined, set the mixture aside.
- Heat oil and garlic in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic turns golden but not brown (about 3 minutes).
- Stir cream and cornstarch together in a small bowl.
- Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano to the saucepan with cooked garlic and bring to a simmer to cook until thickened (about 10 minutes).
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and add ½ cup basil and sugar.
- Mix well and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Stir cream and cornstarch together in a small bowl; transfer to now-empty pasta pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in the cottage cheese mixture.
- Cook the pasta until it begins to soften but is not yet cooked through (about 5-7 minutes). Drain and set aside.
- Add 1 cup tomato sauce and ¾ cup mozzarella to the pasta.
- Toss to combine.
- Transfer pasta mixture to a 13 X 9-inch baking dish.
- Gather the topping ingredients for final assembly.
- Spread remaining tomato sauce evenly over top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Add the panko crumbs and fresh chopped parsley.
- Bake until the cheese is bubbling and the topping is golden brown (about 30 minutes).
- Allow the casserole to cool for about 20 minutes and serve!
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You’ll need the following items to make meatless ziti al forno successfully.
- Pasta pot - or deep pot for making ziti
- 12-inch skillet
- Cheese grater
- 13 by 9 inch casserole dish
- Medium mixing bowls
- Wooden spoon
- Liquid measuring cup
- Dry measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Cutting board
- Sharp knife
These are the questions we are most frequently asked about making baked ziti without meat.
Olive Garden's Five Cheese Ziti al Forno recipe is basically made with marinara sauce, alfredo sauce, mozzarella, fontina, romano and parmesan cheese baked together with a crispy panko or breadcrumb topping.
Baked ziti is a pasta formed with an extruder style machine and then tossed with marinara sauce, ricotta cheese and mozzarella, and then baked. Lasagna is made by layering pasta sheets, sauce (sometimes a meat sauce), ricotta cheese and mozzarella, and then baked.
Al forno means "from the oven" in Italian. It's a style of cooking that comes from northern Italy that uses a wood-fired brick oven.
Ziti is a hollow pasta in the shape of a smooth tube, sort of like a short straw. It originated in Campagna, Italy, or perhaps Sicily, Italy. In Italian, ziti is short for maccheroni di zita, or "macaroni of the bride." This probably comes from ziti's longstanding popularity as part of a wedding buffet, particularly in Southern Italy.
- Pasta usually takes around 8 minutes to cook through but I usually shave off a minute or 2 to achieve al dente pasta so that by the time the semi-cooked pasta has cooked further in the heated sauce mixture and baked, it’s not overcooked.
- If you decide to only cook your pasta for half the time as directed on the packaging directions, I recommend that you increase the amount of sauce used in this dish as the pasta will require additional liquid while baking so that it doesn’t dry out.
- Instead of shredding the mozzarella cheese, cut it into pieces. That way, the small cubes melt as irresistible cheese pockets rather than a piled clump of cheese.
- I’ve used cottage cheese for this Ziti al forno but you could use ricotta cheese instead. Traditionally, this dish is made with ricotta but I loved how the larger cheese curds in cottage cheese baked up pillowy which is not what you’ll get with ricotta cheese.
- Any other pasta can be used for this dish. I prefer short and tubular pasta variations since they are great for “catching” the sauce.
- Part-skim mozzarella can be used instead of whole milk mozzarella if you are trying to reduce the fat content of this dish but I maintain that the whole milk adds a better overall flavor.
- Heavy cream provides incredible richness and a luxurious consistency for this ziti al forno. You can use whole milk instead but then you must increase the cornstarch to 2 teaspoons and also increase the cooking time in step 7 of the detailed recipe instructions by 1-2 minutes.
- If you crave a meaty al forno dish, incorporate some ground beef or chunks of sausage into the mixture.
- Add in some greens, and legumes such as Swiss chard and beans for a hearty ziti al forno.
- While this is a 3-cheese ziti al forno recipe, there’s nothing preventing you from making a 5-cheese version by simply adding in Romano and Fontina cheese!
Store leftover Ziti al forno in the refrigerator for 3-4 days in an airtight container or in the casserole dish, covered tightly in plastic wrap.
Ziti Al Forno can also be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat in the oven, covered with aluminum foil so that the cheese doesn’t burn.
📗 Related Recipes
Baked pasta casseroles are often simple to assemble yet loaded with incredible flavor and texture, just like my Ziti Al Forno turned out to be. If you love pasta-based casserole, then you should also treat yourself to these No Boil Lasagna Roll Ups or Baked Spaghetti Pie!
Another delicious pasta casserole you really must try is our Cheese Stuffed Rigatoni Bake!
🍽 Serve with
For something lighter, try a side of fresh Italian Summer Salad With Basil Dressing.
📞 Chiacchierata (chat)
Ziti Al Forno is something that every Italian home cook is familiar with. Growing up with this dish, I soon discovered possible variations which I’ve carried with me into adulthood that have taken this simple dish to new heights!
Done right and with some love and care, you’ll end up with an irresistible mixture of blended cheese flavors, tender pasta in rich tomato sauce, and a crispy golden topping. Now that’s certainly something worth sticking around for!
What's new? Check out my All Our Way Store on Amazon. We'll be adding more items we love and use or wish we had to make cooking fun and easy.
📝 Recipe Card
Ziti al Forno is by far the best ziti dish you’ll ever taste! Why am I so confident in saying that?…the recipe speaks for itself! A combination of flavorful cheeses, tender ziti pasta, marinara sauce, and Panko crumb topping makes this mouth-watering Italian dish one to remember!
If you love this recipe please give it 5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Ziti Al Forno - Baked Ziti in a Meatless Sauce
- 1 pound Ziti may use penne, or other short, tubular pasta
- Table salt for cooking pasta
- 1 pound Whole-milk cottage cheese 2 cups (may us 1%)
- 3 ounces Parmesan cheese (1-½ cups) divided
- 2 Eggs large
- 2 Tablespoons Olive oil extra virgin
- 5 Garlic cloves minced
- 28 ounces Tomato sauce
- 14.5 ounces Diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon Oregano dried
- ½ cup Fresh Basil chopped
- 2 Tablespoons Fresh Basil chopped
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup Heavy cream
- ¾ teaspoon Cornstarch
- 8 ounces Whole-milk mozzarella cheese **(see notes) Cut into ¼-inch pieces (1-½ cups) divided
- ½ cup Parmesan Cheese Grated
- ½ cup Panko Bread Crumbs
- 3 Garlic Cloves minces
- 2 Tablespoons Olive oil extra virgin
- Parsley or Basil (or both) minced
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350℉.
- Mix together the ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, panko crumbs, garlic, olive oil. Set aside.
- Brink 4 quarts water to boil in a large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. (In Italy this is referred to molto al dente)
- Drain and leave in colander.
- Meanwhile whisk cottage cheese, 1 cup Parmesan, and eggs together in medium bowl; set aside.
- Heat oil and garlic in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until garlic turns golden but not brown about 3 minutes.
- Stir in tomato sauce, died tomatoes and their juice, and oregano: bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.
- Off heat, stir in ½ cup basil and sugar and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Stir cream and cornstarch together in a small bowl; transfer to now-empty pasta pot and set over medium heat. Bring to simmer and cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Off heat, stir in cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce, and ¾ cup mozzarella. Add pasta to pot and toss to combine.
- Transfer pasta mixture to 13 X 9-inch baking dish and spread remaining tomato sauce evenly over top.
- Sprinkle with remaining ¾ cup mozzarella and remaining ½ cup Parmesan. Cover dish tightly with greased aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove the foil and sprinkle on the topping.
- Continue to bake until cheese is bubbling and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes.
- Let casserole cool for 20 minutes, then sprinkle with remaining t tablespoons basil.
- Serve and enjoy.