This easy roasted red pepper baked ziti is perfect for chilly evenings! With a homemade red pepper sauce and plenty of cheese. Vegetarian.
This easy baked ziti is the ultimate warm-and-cozy comfort food.
In a classic Italian-American baked ziti recipe, you'll often see a tomato sauce base with ground beef or sausage (find a more traditional baked ziti recipe here if that's your jam!)
But in this version, we're riffing a bit by nixing the meat and using a simple roasted red pepper sauce in place of the tomatoes. The result is a rich, cheesy pasta bake with a ton of flavor.
This recipe does require a few different steps (and a few dishes) to pull everything together. Don't worry, though: it's mostly hands-off and will only take an hour or so!
(If you need a lickety-split dinner with minimal cleanup in the meantime, check out our one-pot spicy tomato pasta!)
The basic order of operations:
- Roast the red peppers with some onion and garlic. Cut everything into large pieces so it roasts evenly and doesn't burn! We like to cook the ziti pasta while the peppers roast so everything is ready to go at the same time.
- Blend up the sauce & toss with cooked ziti. Throw the roasted veggies in a blender with a bit of chicken or vegetable stock, blend it into a smooth sauce, and then toss it with the noodles!
- Layer it up and bake. Layer the pasta in a baking dish with plenty of cheese, then bake and enjoy!
How to Make this ziti ahead of time
This roasted red pepper pasta bake is easy to make ahead of time - perfect for meal prep!
To prep the sauce on its own:
Roast the peppers, garlic, and onion, and blend the sauce as directed. Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container in the fridge (for 4-5 days) or freezer (up to 4 months) until you're ready to use it.
To prep the entire pasta bake:
Roast the veggies and cook the ziti as directed. Because the pasta will absorb sauce as it sits, we recommend adding an extra ⅓ cup of stock to the sauce when you blend it if you're making this ziti ahead of time!
Toss the ziti with the sauce, then let it cool completely before assembling the baked ziti.
Once the pasta is cool, layer your ziti as directed. Cover with an airtight lid or a layer of plastic wrap, and store in the fridge (for 3-4 days) or freezer (1-2 months) until you're ready to eat.
Defrost frozen baked ziti in the fridge overnight. To bake straight from the fridge, place the dish into a cold oven and preheat with the pasta dish inside (if you put a cold dish into a hot oven, it can break!) You'll likely need to extend the cooking time if you're starting cold, so keep an eye on it as it bakes! If the cheese starts to brown too much, cover the dish with a sheet pan, an oven-safe lid, or a piece of foil to prevent further browning while it cooks.
Riffs & Substitutions
This red pepper baked ziti is a nice, simple blank canvas - add your favorite toppings to make it your own!
- Add some extra veggies. Add chopped kale, spinach, sautéed mushrooms, roasted butternut squash, additional bell peppers, or caramelized onions to this ziti to stretch it a bit. Stir any extra veggies in with the pasta and sauce before you assemble the ziti, or keep them separate and use them as another layer when you build the casserole.
- Mix up the cheeses. We opted for ricotta and pre-shredded mozzarella here, but you can switch up the cheese if you like! Use shredded parmesan, white cheddar, fresh mozzarella, havarti, asiago, or gruyere in place of some or all of the cheese. For extra creaminess, stir a bit of cream cheese or goat cheese into the sauce while it's still hot (you can also swap cream cheese or goat cheese for the ricotta if you like!)
- Add your favorite protein. Add Italian sausage, ground beef, or chicken to this baked ziti to make it a bit heartier. Stir cooked meat into the pasta when you add the sauce, or use it as a separate layer when you assemble the ziti.
Easy baked ziti with a homemade roasted red pepper sauce.
FOR THE SAUCE:
- 3 large red bell peppers, seeds removed and cut into quarters
- ½ large yellow onion, cut into large pieces (halved or quartered - see recipe notes)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup vegetable stock
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
FOR THE BAKED ZITI:
- ½ pound ziti pasta
- ½ cup ricotta
- 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- Fresh parsley or basil for garnish (optional)
FOR THE SAUCE:
- Heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place bell peppers, onion, and garlic on a large sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to evenly coat all ingredients in oil and salt.
- Bake at 425 F for 20-30 minutes until peppers are lightly charred and onion has softened and lightly browned.
- Carefully transfer roasted veggies to a blender. Add stock and balsamic vinegar. Blend until smooth, then set aside until you're ready to assemble your ziti. Note: Be sure to remove the center cap piece on your blender's lid to allow steam to escape. Use a clean tea towel to cover the hole as you start and stop the blender to avoid spatters.
FOR THE BAKED ZITI:
- Cook ziti pasta in very salty water until it's a few minutes less than al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot.
- Add your roasted red pepper sauce to the ziti and toss to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.
- Time to assemble! Spread half of the ziti over the bottom of a small casserole dish. Use a spoon to dot half of the ricotta on top of the pasta, spacing it evenly around the dish. Top with a little less than half of the shredded mozzarella. Repeat for a second layer with remaining ziti, then ricotta, then mozzarella.
- Bake ziti at 425 degrees F for 15-20 minutes until cheese has melted and lightly browned. Top with fresh parsley or basil (optional) and serve immediately.
For best results, cut the peppers and onions into large (3-4"), evenly-sized pieces before roasting. This helps everything cook evenly and prevent burning! Cutting your ½ onion in half again is usually sufficient - for an especially large onion, you may want to cut it once more. Don't worry about breaking every onion layer apart - just throw the onion onto the sheet pan as is and let it break apart naturally when you toss the veggies with the oil! If you notice your veggies (especially the onion) beginning to burn on the edges, use tongs to give everything a toss and redistribute some moisture.
What size baking dish should I use? We used a 10" round casserole dish in these photos, but this recipe also works with a rectangular 8"x10" baking dish.
Additions and substitutions. Use chicken stock in place of veggie stock. Use another short pasta (rigatoni, shells, penne, cavatappi) instead of ziti if you like. Add chopped kale, spinach, mushrooms, additional bell peppers, or caramelized onions. For extra protein, add cooked Italian sausage, beef, or chicken. Stir additions in with the sauce and pasta or use them as a separate layer while assembling the ziti. Use parmesan, fresh mozzarella, havarti, asiago, or gruyere in place of some or all of the cheese. Use goat cheese or cream cheese in place of the ricotta if you prefer. See the post above for more substitution ideas!
This is a fairly light sauce, and a lot of it will soak into the ziti as it cooks, so you'll be left with just a light layer. If you typically find baked ziti to be too dry (or if you just prefer more sauce!) you can double the sauce recipe here or stir in some extra veggie stock, heavy cream, or cauliflower cream to stretch the sauce for a creamier final product. For an ultra-creamy baked ziti, you can also whip up a béchamel sauce and layer it into the casserole along with the cheese.
To make this ziti ahead of time, roast the veggies and cook the pasta as directed. Add an extra ⅓ cup of veggie stock to the sauce (since the ziti will absorb the sauce as it sits). Let everything cool completely, then assemble as instructed, cover with an airtight lid or plastic wrap, and store in the fridge (3-4 days) or freezer (1-2 months) until you're ready for it. For additional make-ahead tips and baking instructions, be sure to read the post above!
This recipe was originally published in 2015. It was updated in 2020 with additional photos, notes, and a more streamlined recipe.
Keywords: pasta bake, winter, meal prep