Light & Easy Baked Ziti

My husband calls me after work the other day, “I’m at Publix, long day (insert sigh), can you make Baked Ziti (insert baby voice) please? What do you need?” Um, okay. I told him to pick up ground beef or sausage, but he comes home with ground turkey so I decide to turn my normal Baked Ziti into a healthier version. This is a lighter take on a traditionally rich and heavy American-style Baked Ziti. I’ve used ground turkey, light ricotta and reduced-fat cheese, and reduced the amount of both those ingredients. If you are in the mood for something a bit more hearty with no concern about the calories 🙂 please check out my Baked Manicotti – it’s delicious!

I like to always include at least one type of fresh herb in most of my pasta dishes – here I used fresh thyme and with the ground turkey and onions it really is delicious. You can use any type you prefer, basil, rosemary, etc. but I highly suggest the thyme. If you’re out of fresh herbs, a tbsp. or two of dried Italian seasoning is a good substitute. Also, when preparing thyme I like to wash, dry well in paper towels and then using the blade of a knife rub the thyme to get the leaves to shed. I discard any long stem pieces, and prefer this process because it causes the aromas to release as the thyme is crushed.

Vegetarians can substitute the turkey with vegetarian “meat” crumbles or chopped mushrooms.

Whole meal suggestion: serve with a side of wilted spinach in lemon juice, accompanied with a Barbera, Chianti, or a Sangiovese wine to complement the acidity of the tomato sauce.


  • 1 pound ziti pasta
  • Olive oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • S/P
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp. fresh thyme or other fresh herb (sub dried Italian seasoning if needed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 large jar marinara sauce (about 32 ounces)
  • 1 heaping cup of light ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Prepare your pasta, drain, and place in a large bowl. Drizzle a dash of olive oil and toss so the pasta doesn’t stick as you prepare the dish.
  2. Heat a large pan on medium-high with a dash of olive oil. When hot, add the ground turkey, breaking up and browning. Season with S/P. Continue cooking until the turkey is broken up and mostly browned.
  3. Add the onions and stir to combine. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic, thyme (or other herb(s)), red pepper flakes and cook for another minute. Add the marinara sauce and stir well. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Remove from heat.
  4. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Add half of your pasta and top with spoonfuls of half the ricotta. Add half of the remaining sauce. Add the remainder of the pasta, ricotta, and sauce. Top with the cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted  (nicely browned) and bubbly around the edges, about 20 minutes.

Serves: 8

Recipe source: Original

Time: 40 minutes


7 thoughts on “Light & Easy Baked Ziti

  1. Kimberly July 28, 2011 / 6:56 PM

    Hello Ashley,

    Thanks for this recipe! It was so easy to prepare and tasted simply delicious. It will definitely be making a regular appearance on my dinning table!

    • Kimberly July 28, 2011 / 6:58 PM

      omg…totally misspelled “dining” please fix

  2. Navy Wife Chronicles June 7, 2012 / 12:54 PM

    So happy to have found your blog. Trying this recipe for lunch and will definitely trackback/link/credit to your blog if I make it correctly & post on my own blog, with a few modifications for my kitchen and kids. I love crushed red pepper but the kids? Not so much. BTW, my best friend did your career route in reverse. She taught middle school for a decade and will take the bar next month.

    🙂 Alma

    • thequickanddirtycook June 19, 2012 / 4:15 PM

      Thanks Alma! Good luck to your friend … sometimes it takes us a bit to find our true place 🙂

  3. Jennifer October 20, 2012 / 8:59 PM

    Just curious, do you have any nutritional on this one?

    • thequickanddirtycook October 21, 2012 / 4:15 PM

      No, sorry I don’t have the qualifications to provide nutritional information on my recipes, especially those that I create because I don’t have a recipe to refer to that may have that information. But, I do think you can find websites where you can enter ingredients and get that type of information. Rest assured, though, the lower-fat ingredients like turkey will make this much healthier than most ziti recipes. 🙂

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