Baked Ziti Bolognese

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This classic Baked Zitti Bolognese is a delicious baked pasta dish packed with turkey bolognese, tons of veggies, and delicious melted mozzarella cheese. Great to prep and freeze for a make ahead meal.

377 CAL 49g CARBS 9g FAT 27g PROTEIN 7
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This Baked Ziti Bolognese recipe is a gooey, cheesy, comforting casserole filled with tomatoes, herbs, ground meat, and hidden veggies. It is the perfect meal for a cozy night in or to prep in advance as a freezer meal. 

To be completely honest, I am not the biggest pasta eater. Generally, if it isn’t fresh homemade pasta, it is not something that I would reach for. However, every once in a while, especially on a cold night, I crave baked ziti full of oozy, gooey cheesy goodness.

Surprisingly, with a few simple twists, you can make a delicious, lightened-up version of baked ziti bolognese with lean ground turkey and lots of veggies. Serve with a green salad, and it’s a perfect, quick, simple meal on a cold night.

This is also the perfect dish to make for friends and neighbors since it can be prepped in advance and heated in the oven. Make it to help a friend with a new baby at home, to comfort a friend going through a hard time, or just to give the gift of a meal to someone you love.

Turkey and vegetable baked ziti in a casserole dish with melted cheese and fresh basil.

Key Ingredients and Easy Substitutions

The list of ingredients includes fresh herbs, tomatoes, and lots of cheese. All of them keep the recipe high in fiber and low in calories! Here's a bit more information about them.

  • Ziti pasta: I always use high-fiber or whole-wheat pasta, but any pasta works in this recipe. Just make sure to cook it al dente so it doesn't overcook in the oven.
  • Ground turkey: To keep things light, I used lean ground turkey for the homemade bolognese sauce. You could also use ground beef, ground turkey sausage, ground pork, ground chicken, or vegetarian crumbles.
  • Garlic: Fresh garlic cloves will pack the biggest punch! If you don't have garlic cloves, then garlic powder can work just as well.
  • Onion: Any type of onion is fine for this dish. Just make sure it is diced small. Save yourself time and use frozen diced onion.
  • Fresh Herbs: I used fresh thyme and basil. If you don't have fresh herbs, you can use dried herbs like oregano, dried basil, parsley, or Italian seasoning. 
  • Vegetables: This dish is packed with vegetables. I used zucchini, mushrooms, and roasted red peppers. The zucchini adds fiber and nutrition to this baked casserole. Dice it up nice and small, so it mixes well with the pasta. Feel free to swap in any veggies you like. 
  • Italian Crushed Tomatoes: Combining the marinara sauce with crushed tomatoes is a great way to stretch the sauce. It can also be a great way to reduce the calories in the recipe since crushed tomatoes don't have any added oil or ingredients. San Marzano tomatoes will give you the best taste and texture. 
  • Spices: In addition to the salt and pepper, add some red pepper flakes for a little heat. The red pepper flakes are optional, but I love the subtle heat it adds.
  • Cheese: I used both fresh mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese. While shredded mozzarella will work just fine, fresh mozzarella will have a fuller flavor and melt even better. Feel free to add ricotta cheese or cottage cheese as well. 
  • Shortcuts: Use your favorite store-bought sauce (we love Rao's) instead of making homemade. 

How to Make Ziti Bolognese

This dish takes a little prep work but is very easy to make.

1. Make the bolognese sauce

Start by browning the ground turkey and onions in a large skillet until it is cooked through. Season it well with salt and pepper. Then add the zucchini, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, garlic, and fresh herbs. Let everything cook for a few minutes until the zucchini and mushrooms have softened and any extra liquid has evaporated. Taste and make sure the turkey is flavorful.

Now add the crushed tomatoes, marinara sauce, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer and let cook for at least minutes.

2. Prep the pasta

While the bolognese sauce simmers, cook the pasta. It's extremely important to cook the pasta until al dente so that it doesn't overcook when baked.  Drain the pasta and run it under cold water after cooking it so it doesn't continue to cook with the residual heat.

3. Assemble the baked pasta and bake 

Combine the cooked pasta, bolognese sauce, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese in a large baking dish. Sprinkle the extra mozzarella and Parmesan cheese on top. 

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the sides are bubbling and the cheese is melted. 

Baked bolognese ziti with zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, and melted mozzarella cheese in a dish with a wooden spoon.

Side Dish Ideas

This casserole is an entire meal on its own. It even has veggies baked right into it! If you want to add a few more things to the table, consider adding Italian bread, breadsticks, and a salad. 

There are a bunch of different salad ideas you can serve with this casserole. Since bolognese is Italian, make an easy arugula salad. It has lots of the same herbs and spices. Of course, you can never go wrong with a healthy Ceasar salad too!

Recipe Tips And Ideas

Follow these tips to make sure that this pasta casserole turns out perfectly every single time!

  • Prepare the pasta ahead of time to save yourself time in the kitchen. You can keep fully cooked pasta in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • Cook pasta to al dente. Run it under cold water to stop the cooking process. You need the pasta to be al dente because it will continue to cook in the oven.
  • You will know it is finished cooking when the cheese begins to brown and bubble.
  • Finish the baked pasta with lots of fresh basil to add another layer of flavor.

Freezing, Storing, and Reheating Baked Pasta

  • Assemble and refrigerate: Follow all the directions to assemble the baked ziti and then store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it. Just cover it with foil. When ready to bake it, just add 10-15 minutes to the baking time to ensure everything is warmed through and bubbling.
  • Assemble and freeze: Assemble the pasta bake and then cover it in plastic wrap and foil.  Then place it in the freezer. For best results, pull it out of the freezer the night before and let it defrost in the fridge for 24 hours. Then just add about 15 minutes to the baking time in the recipe. If it is being baked from frozen, try to let it defrost slightly for 30 minutes on the counter. Then cover with foil and bake for 60-75 minutes until bubbling and warmed through.
  • Bake and freeze: If you have already baked the ziti, first let it fully cool and come to room temperature. Cover it with foil and reheat it in a 350 degree oven for 25-35 minutes, depending on the size of the pan. It should bubble up and be fully reheated.

Baked ziti casserole with ground turkey and vegetables in a baking dish with salad on the side.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions I frequently get asked about by some readers…

Do you need to cover ziti when baking?

If the baked ziti is being baked from scratch, there is no reason to cover it since it is cooking at a relatively low temperature. The top shouldn't burn. If you notice the top cooking too quickly, you can add some foil while it cooks to prevent the top from browning too much. If you are cooking it from the fridge or freezer, cover it with foil for at least the first 30 minutes so the top doesn't burn.

What is the best kind of high-fiber pasta?

Honestly, this is a personal preference. Just look for one that is made with whole grains and has plenty of fiber in it. Ezekiel 4:9 is made with sprouted whole grains, and people love how much fiber it has. Ronzoni Smart Taste also has a line of high-fiber pasta.

What can I use instead of ground turkey?

You can use any type of ground meat or even extra firm tofu as the protein in this pasta. If you use ground chicken, I suggest adding a little bit more tomatoes and spices to make the flavors stand out.

What other types of vegetables can I add?

This is the fun part! You can add any type of vegetable you want. Just remember to dice them up small, so they mix in with the tomatoes, pasta, and cheese. Try it with summer squash, celery, butternut squash, carrots, spinach, or cauliflower.

Can I make this in the slow cooker?

Yes, you can make pasta casseroles in the slow cooker. If you do, I suggest adding the noodles to it uncooked. Otherwise, they will overcook and become slightly mushy. Cook this casserole in the slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours.

How do you store leftover ziti bolognese?

The best way to store leftover ziti bolognese is in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will stay fresh for up to 3 days. After three days, the flavor and the texture will start to deteriorate!

Can I use a different pasta shape?

The best substitutes for ziti would be rigatoni or penne in this baked pasta dish. You could use any small to medium-shaped pasta. Spaghetti and longer pasta won't work quite as well.

The Recipe
Baked ziti with ground beef, tomatoes, zucchini, and melted cheese in a baking dish.

Baked Ziti Bolognese

377 CAL 49g CARBS 9g FAT 27g PROTEIN 7
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  • 1 lb 99% lean ground turkey
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 jarred roasted red peppers, diced
  • 28 oz canned Italian crushed tomatoes
  • 24 oz marinara sauce (or your favorite pasta sauce)
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 lb. whole wheat pasta (ziti)
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, diced (or bocconcini, divided)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

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Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and begin boiling the water for your pasta. First, you need to make your bolognese sauce. Spray a large pot with cooking spray or a drizzle of olive oil. Add the onions and ground turkey. Cook for 6-8 minutes until the turkey is cooked through. Add in the zucchini, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, garlic, basil, and thyme. Continue to cook for an additional 3-4 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, marinara sauce, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Let simmer for ten minutes.

Ground turkey bolognese simmering in a skillet.

As the bolognese simmers, cook your pasta in salted boiling water until just al dente (about 7-8 minutes for most pasta). Drain pasta and set aside. Run cool water over it if the bolognese still needs to simmer to stop the pasta from cooking further.

Ziti cooking in a pot of boiling water.

Return the pasta to the pot and mix together with the bolognese sauce. Add in 1/2 of the mozzarella and 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Mix well. Pour into a large baking dish (9x12 pan) and sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheese on top. Cook for 30 minutes until the cheese begins to brown and bubble. Serve immediately.

Spoonful of baked ziti bolognese in a dish with melted cheese.


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Nutritional Facts
Serving Size: 1.5 cups
Amount Per Serving
Calories 377
Calories from Fat 82
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 9g
Saturated Fat 5g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 48mg
Sodium 678mg
Total Carbohydrate 49g
Dietary Fiber 4g
Sugars 9g
Protein 27g

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.


This recipe works just as well with ground beef, ground chicken, or ground pork. Use any combination you like. It's also great with frozen meatballs. Just defrost them before adding them.

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About the author Meet Kristen McCaffrey
Hi, I’m the cookbook author, recipe developer, and food enthusiast behind Slender Kitchen. I am obsessed with making healthy food that is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Meal planning is my secret weapon and I hope I can make meal time easier for you with our tried and tested recipes and foolproof meal plans. Learn More
† We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.
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