Three Cheese Baked Ziti Recipe - Pinch of Yum
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Three Cheese Baked Ziti

28 reviews / 4.9 average

Three Cheese Baked Ziti that is bubbly and browned, extra creamy, extra saucy, and incredibly easy!

You know how sometimes baked ziti is good, and sometimes it’s REALLY good?

Today I’d like to introduce you to a REALLY GOOD BAKED ZITI.

This recipe has been tested and tweaked and loved and devoured many times over to get it just right. And I think we landed it. It’s minimal. It’s bubbly and browned, extra creamy, extra saucy, with just the right flavors and textures to make the whole thing into a baked pasta masterpiece.

It is simplicity at its finest: just chewy noodles, a deeply flavored tomato sauce, the right blend of melted cheese, and a creaminess that cuts the tang of tomato sauce as it oozes into every bite.

Baked ziti in pan with spoon.

Does Baked Ziti Have Meat?

It depends.

Some recipes call for ground meat in the tomato sauce, and you can certainly add that here if you want. However, I wanted this to be a mostly-meatless baked ziti, so I skipped the ground meat.

We do have some pancetta in the sauce to give it a little extra flavor, but that could easily be omitted to make this a vegetarian baked ziti.

What About Ricotta Cheese?

Traditionally, yes.

In this recipe, no.

Many people (including myself) find that ricotta cheese that you buy from the store gets a little dry, crumbly, and – I’m sorry to say – gritty, once it gets baked in the oven in between all those pasta layers.

In all my testing and research of the best baked ziti recipes out there, I found that most recipes use one of three options for that middle creamy-cheesy layer.

  • Ricotta cheese (this is traditional, but it often gets dry)
  • Bechamel sauce (gets you the creaminess, but requires you to make yet another sauce)
  • Mascarpone cheese (super creamy, minimal effort)

I used mascarpone cheese as the middle creamy-cheesy layer in this baked ziti recipe because the texture is most luscious and creamy. And bonus – it’s extremely easy. I add some flavor to mine by salting it and grating a clove of fresh garlic in with it, and ooooooh yes. It is so good.

This is critical for getting the best possible creamy texture in between those cheese and noodle crevices, so don’t skip it!

What To Serve with Baked Ziti

Um, so glad you asked.

This can totally stand on its own as a meal and that’s how I roll for real-life dinners at home. But if you’re looking for something to round this out into a more multi-dimensional meal or impress friends with a full blown dinner party spread, you could try:

Baked ziti in a bowl.

Whether you finish this off with some cracked black pepper, fresh basil ribbons, or a swish of garlic oil, this melted cheesy, tomato sauce-y, perfectly creamy baked ziti heaven awaits you.

Check Out Our Video For How To Make Three Cheese Baked Ziti:

Click here to see the step-by-step web story instructions for this recipe!

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The large rustic bowl of cheesy tomato sauce ziti.

Three Cheese Baked Ziti

  • Author: Lindsay
  • Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings 1x


Three Cheese Baked Ziti that is bubbly and browned, extra creamy, extra saucy, and incredibly easy with NO RICOTTA! A baked pasta masterpiece.


Units Scale

The Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ounce pancetta, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 28oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 14oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)

The Baked Ziti

  • 1 pound ziti
  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • pinch of salt
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 8 ounces provolone cheese, shredded


  1. Sauce: Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add pancetta and sauté until slightly crisped, about 5 minutes. Add onion and garlic; turn heat down and sauté for 5 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and tomato paste; sauté for 2 minutes. Add tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, and salt. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Ziti: Cook ziti according to package directions. Toss with about two thirds of the pasta sauce. Reserve remaining 2-or-so cups of sauce.
  3. Mascarpone: Mix mascarpone with grated garlic and a pinch of salt.
  4. Layering: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Transfer half of the pasta to a 9×13 baking dish. Spoon the mascarpone over the top in little blobs. Cover with half of the mozzarella and half of the provolone. Cover with about a cup of sauce. Transfer the rest of the saucy ziti on top of your cheese layer. Finish with remaining mozzarella, provolone, and spoon the remaining sauce around on top for prettiness.
  5. Bake: Bake for 20 minutes until warm, delicious, molten-cheesy, and bubbly. Top with some parmesan, fresh basil, or freshly cracked black pepper to be a baked ziti superstar.
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Bake
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: baked ziti, three cheese baked ziti, baked pasta, baked spaghetti

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This recipe is part of our easy Italian-inspired recipes page. Check it out!

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    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      Greethings from Romania, 🙂
      honey…Provolone is so far that mozzarella as you can imagine penner with cottage cheese …provolone is sort of parmesan cheese … so is a maturated cheesse who in pan it melts so much and spreads an it.s have a pungent and fragrant taste that you could never try subbing mozzarella….mozzarella is like paneer…no tasty
      if you want to taste this recipe … try parmesan instead…soorry but it’t true because i’ve tried and at least i’ve got provolone… who is the most appropriate to parmesan ( no so much stay in ferment ) to mozza who is grab immediately…
      it’s a mather of taste …
      sorry if i’m wrong
      i was in Italy for one week year ago… an i’ve tried : pizza , cheese , ”gelato” / ice cream

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo
      Carrie Divine

      A potato diet? Sounds totally legit. Sounds like a really well rounded, well balanced diet! I can’t see it not working, ya know?!

  1. Pinch of Yum Logo

    What a great idea to add mascarpone cheese to baked ziti! It will provide so much creaminess to the dish! Going to make it this weekend, as it suppose to rain!

  2. Pinch of Yum Logo

    I have to ask, why tomato sauce instead of all crushed tomatoes in the recipe? Also why provolone cheese instead of just mozzarella and some parmagiano regginao

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      I would say simply, this is HER take on baked ziti and your ingredients are YOUR take on baked ziti and BOTH sound delicious! :o)

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      A little late but for anyone who reads comments – when I was a broke student I regularly made baked ziti once a month and froze it in portions for later. The cheese might get a little grainy, but the noodles keep their texture (provided you don’t cook them to death to begin with 😉 ). Top with a little extra sauce when you reheat.

  3. Pinch of Yum Logo

    OMG THIS WAS UNREAL – SOOOO CREAMY LIKE ON ANOTHER LEVEL! The second I opened this recipe in my email, I went to the store and made it for dinner last night. I HAD (emphasis on past tense because this recipe has replaced it haha) a “keeper” baked ziti recipe with Bechamel sauce but agree with Lindsay that it was extra work so I was beyond thrilled to see mascarpone really did work – genius! I saw in the comments below that this wouldn’t freeze below after cooking, but do you think it would freeze well BEFORE putting it in the oven? I can totally see this as my new “take-in” meal for others and want to share this baked ziti with EVERYONE haha!

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      Haha. My thought on the freezing was before baking, like lasagna. Baby #2 is due in September, so looking for ways to stock that freezer up!

  4. Pinch of Yum Logo

    I made this tonight without the optional pancetta to accommodate my vegetarian daughter. I followed the directions but used Delallo Whole Wheat Cavatappi and fire roasted crushed tomatoes. Oh my, it was delicious! We’ll definitely be having this again! Thanks for another amazing recipe!

  5. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Mindy Bryn

    Hello, Do you think I can assemble this all ahead of time and cook the next day?

  6. Pinch of Yum Logo

    I made this last night for my husband and I – I halved the recipe because there’s only 2 of us and it still made plenty. It was amazing, super simple to make, the pancetta was a really nice addition and I think I’ll use mascarpone instead of ricotta in pasta dishes from now on. Super cheesy and comforting and ready in less than an hour, we’ll definitely make this again!

  7. Pinch of Yum Logo

    Yum, made this last night and it was so creamy and delicious! Paired it with the kale bread salad as suggested.

  8. Pinch of Yum Logo

    This is the most amazing pasta dish ever! I have already made it twice. The addition of mascarpone cheese is such a great idea!

  9. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Deborah Sweeney

    Delicious! The whole family loved it. We had to make a few modifications due to the store not having every thing. We had the marscapone and that was definitely a key ingredient to making this into delicious creamy pasta bake.

  10. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Rachel Goldstein

    I made this a couple of days ago and thought it was delicious. Even better as leftovers. I added 1# of ground beef to the sauce.

  11. Pinch of Yum Logo

    Absolutely delicious. This recipe is perfect. The only change we made – I put it under the broiler for a few minutes at the end. Fantastic. Using mascarpone instead of ricotta is smart !!!

  12. Pinch of Yum Logo

    Made this for dinner last night served with a Greek salad and red onion salad. Had leftovers for lunch today. Delicious! Enjoyed by all. Will become a staple, I think.
    This is one of the best food blogs! I have been following for years. Keep up the great recipes, thanks

  13. Pinch of Yum Logo

    Hello! I have already made this with mascarpone and it is amazing as is, however I was unable to get my hands on mascarpone this time. I do have cream cheese and ricotta. Which do you think would be a better substitute for the mascarpone in this recipe? Thank you!

  14. Pinch of Yum Logo

    I made this for dinner tonight and it was a big hit for everyone – including my 4 and 5 year olds! SO easy and family friendly!!
    The only thing I did differently was I used 3/4lb mild Italian sausage instead of pancetta and used the red pepper on my own individual plate. Amazing dish – thank you!

  15. Pinch of Yum Logo

    Loved this! The mascarpone melted into the pasta creating a smooth, moist pasta dish. I used my homemade meat sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses for more creaminess and bite. I also froze leftovers and they reheated beautifully.