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The whole family is going to love the Italian-style flavors of this tasty Gluten Free Baked Ziti! Made with a tangy marinara sauce and ground beef, ricotta cheese, and loads of melted mozzarella. This classic comfort food pasta casserole is perfect as an easy weeknight dinner, or for feeding a crowd!
Easy Gluten-Free Baked Ziti with Ground Beef & Ricotta
This simple and saucy baked ziti is a variation of my best ever Gluten Free Lasagna Recipe that’s just as cheesy and delicious! In this version, gluten free ziti pasta is tossed in a tasty meat sauce, layered with ricotta, and then baked under bubbly, melty mozzarella. The results are, in a word, amazing!
I love making this pasta casserole ahead for quick weeknight dinners. It’s such an easy freezer-friendly meal to take out, thaw and reheat whenever I’m feeling like an evening off from cooking (it does happen!). This baked ziti is loaded with ground beef and creamy ricotta and covers all the bases for a hearty meal, and it also happens gluten free!
What You’ll Need
This is one of those recipes that just comes together so easily, since most of the ingredients are common pantry items! The list is a short one:
- Pasta: You’ll need gluten free ziti, or another medium pasta like rigatoni or penne noodles will work as well. Banza brand has great gluten-free ziti that’s my go-to for baked pasta recipes like this one! But when I cna’t find that, I go with Barilla penne.
- Ground Beef: Lean ground beef is the best.
- Onion: Half of a medium-sized yellow onion, finely chopped.
- Marinara Sauce: I use two full jars of store bought marinara sauce. Can’t argue with convenience! But you cna also use homemade marinara sauce. You’ll need about 6-7 cups.
- Cheese: I love Ricotta Cheese for its creamy texture, and shredded mozzarella plus grated parmesan cheese (or pecorino) for the classic Italian flavors.
- Fresh Herbs: Chopped parsley or basil for garnish. Recommended but optional!
- Salt & Pepper
How to Make Gluten-Free Baked Ziti
You can make your best baked ziti in just a few easy steps! To start, you’ll need to cook the pasta slightly al dente following the package directions, and drain. I like to run the pasta noodles under cold water right away to keep them from overcooking. Then, prepare the casserole:
Prepare the Meat Sauce: Brown the ground beef and onion in a large skillet, and then add in the marinara sauce. Stir and then take it off the heat while you add in the ziti.
Combine the Pasta & Sauce: Gently stir the pasta into the sauce. Be careful to not break up the noodles!
Assemble the Casserole: Pour one half of the ziti pasta and sauce into a prepared baking dish, topped with half of the ricotta cheese. Repeat the layers with your remaining pasta and ricotta, and give it a light stir. Top your ziti casserole with a generous sprinkle of mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
Bake: Lastly, cover it with foil and place it in the oven to bake until the cheese is hot and bubbling, then remove the foil to let the cheese bake to a perfect golden brown.
Once your baked ziti is out of the oven, leave it to set up for a few minutes before serving warm. I like to garnish mine with a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley or basil!
Can I Make it Ahead of Time?
You can most definitely prepare this gluten free baked ziti in advance! It’s one of the reasons I keep coming back to this recipe. To make this pasta casserole a day ahead, just assemble it as directed and then pop it into the fridge, covered, to chill until the following day. (If you’ll be baking it straight from the fridge, make a note to add a few extra minutes to the baking time.)
Baked ziti is also excellent for making ahead and freezing, see the sections below for more storage and freezer tips!
Tips for Success
- Cook the Pasta Al Dente: The pasta will continue to cook in the casserole as it bakes. To avoid baked noodles that are too mushy, boil your pasta al dente, or slightly undercooked. Most packages include directions for cooking al dente, or a handy way to tell if your pasta is al dente is to bite into the pasta. If the pasta is tender and firm and the center is still white, it’s done!
- Cook Until the Cheese is Bubbly: Overcooking baked ziti will dry out the pasta, so bake it just until the cheese is melted and golden.
- Use Good Quality Ground Beef: As always, the better the quality of your beef, the better the flavor of your dish! Lean ground beef will be 92% lean/8% fat or higher.
- Drain the Excess Grease: Another tip when it comes to cooking your (quality) ground meat is to drain off any excess grease before adding in the marinara sauce. Optional, but it does mean less grease in the overall dish!
- Use Fresh Grated Cheeses: Freshly grated mozzarella will bring all of the authentic Italian flavor to this casserole!
You can definitely adapt this gluten free recipe to suit many other diets and preferences! Here are some ideas on how to change up this pasta bake:
- Vegetarian Baked Ziti: Leave out the ground beef and instead include chopped and Roasted Butternut Squash or zucchini, roasted cherry tomatoes, plus a few handfuls of baby spinach. Throw in a dash of chili flakes or Italian seasoning for extra flavor!
- Turkey or Chicken Baked Ziti: Swap out the ground beef for turkey or chicken. Ground turkey works great, and the chicken can also be ground or diced.
- Baked Ziti with Meatballs: In place of ground beef, brown a pound of Homemade Meatballs in a skillet per the recipe, and then let them cook in the marinara sauce.
Make it a Meal
Another of the things I love most about this baked ziti recipe is that it’s so versatile! It’s a meal on its own, or you can serve it with tasty sides like homemade Gluten Free Garlic Bread and a Mixed Greens Salad.
Here are more suggestions, whether you’re feeding the family or entertaining on a special occasion:
- Serve your baked ziti with easy veggie sides like Roasted Vegetables, Balsamic Glazed Green Beans or Air Fryer Zucchini.
- Pair it with other impressive and easy salad recipes like this Romaine Wedge Salad, a fresh Tomato Cucumber Salad, or Caprese Zoodles!
- Accompany your Italian-inspired ziti casserole with freshly baked Gluten Free Bread. Slice the bread and serve it with olive oil, salt and pepper for dipping! You can also make Gluten Free Breadsticks!
How to Store and Reheat Extras
Store leftover baked ziti airtight and in the fridge within two hours of baking, for up to 3-5 days. Reheat ziti casserole in the oven on low, or single servings in the microwave until warmed through. To freshen things up a bit, you can also sprinkle the tops with fresh mozzarella cheese prior to reheating.
Is This Freezer-Friendly?
Baked ziti is the best for freezing! Once it’s cooled, the whole casserole can be frozen in a freezer-safe dish or container, or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap with an extra layer of aluminum foil. Thaw the baked ziti overnight in the fridge when you’re ready to serve it and then bake as directed. Baked ziti can be kept frozen for up to 2 months.
If you’d prefer to keep your baking dish handy (or if it isn’t freezer-friendly): You can also line the dish with aluminum foil, assemble and bake the casserole, and allow it to cool completely. Once it’s set, lift the casserole from the pan while it’s still inside the foil and wrap it tightly, plus a layer of plastic wrap. Place it in the freezer and pop it back into the pan when you’re ready to thaw and bake!
To freeze individual portions: Scoop single servings of the baked ziti into freezer bags or containers to label and freeze, for easy lunches, any time!
More Hearty Gluten-Free Pasta Dishes
- Homemade Gluten Free Lasagna
- Parmesan Garlic Chicken and Veggie Pasta
- Gluten-Free Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Chicken
- Pumpkin Penne with Cream Sauce
- Gluten Free Beef Stroganoff Stuffed Spaghetti Squash
Gluten Free Baked Ziti
- 12 oz ziti (Banza brand has gluten free ziti, otherwise rigatoni or penne noodles)
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 1/2 medium onion finely chopped
- 48 oz marinara sauce (two 24 oz jars)
- 15 oz ricotta cheese
- 8 oz mozzarella cheese shredded
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese plus additional for serving, if desired
- salt and pepper to taste
- minced fresh parsley or basil (optional, for garnish)
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions, being sure to leave it slightly al dente. Drain and immediately run under very cold water to stop the cooking process.
- While the pasta is cooking, preheat the oven to 350°F and spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with olive oil or cooking spray.
- Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the ground beef and onion, and cook until the meat is browned and the onion is translucent, breaking up the meat as it cooks. Stir in the marinara sauce and remove from the heat.
- Add the pasta to the sauce and gently stir together taking care not to break up the noodles too much. Pour half of the pasta and sauce into the baking dish. Top with dollops of half of the ricotta cheese. Repeat with the remaining pasta and ricotta. Stir everything just slightly to mix in the ricotta a little.
- Sprinkle the mozzarella and parmesan cheese over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Remove the foil and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until the cheese is lightly browned.