Frugal Meal #2 – Baked Ziti

Hi guys! Seems like everyone is still recovering from Fincon, so I thought I would take it easy today by sharing another frugal meal of mine. My mom made the best baked ziti I’ve ever had, and it was actually the last meal she made for us before moving. Of course, she made it again when I visited her over the summer. Now that I’ve successfully replicated her recipe, my parents are demanding I make it when they come up here for Christmas! No pressure, though it did pass my grandma’s taste test as I brought it for leftovers one Thursday for our weekly dinner.

I thought baked ziti would be a lot more elaborate, but it’s actually pretty darn simple (and cheap)! If you’re like me and kind of a new cook, it might seem intimidating, but I am here to tell you it’s not. Give it a try!

As a little sidenote, I finally got around to publishing a Blogroll. If you’re not on there, give me a shout and I’ll be sure to add you! I’m sure I missed a few people. 

What you need

(This makes a rather big serving – we had leftovers between R and I, so I would say serves 4)

The owls are my salt & pepper
The owls are my salt & pepper

For the sauce:

  • 2 cans of tomato sauce (I use puree)
  • Oil (I use extra virgin) to coat the bottom of the pot
  • Fill one can a little below halfway with water so the sauce isn’t too thick
  • Sugar, oregano, garlic powder, parsley, salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, all to flavor the sauce (if you’ve made sauce before just use what you like). My mom never made exact measurements, so I usually do enough to cover the surface of the sauce and go a little less on the sugar. I’m still experimenting with it.

After the sauce:


  • 1 box of ziti (this is 1lb)
  • Mozzarella cheese (I use half a block)
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Some more Parmesan cheese
  • Aluminum foil pan – rectangular shape (I don’t remember the measurements of the one I used!)

You may have noticed I didn’t include meat in here, which technically makes it cheaper, but some people prefer their baked ziti with ground beef. If you want to add it in, that’s fine – I imagine it doesn’t affect things here too much.

How to make it

First, get out a decent sized pot. Pour in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Pour your 2 cans of sauce in, and then add all the spices. Cover it up. I usually let the sauce sit on the stove for 2 hours, stirring it every so often. I’ll start it off on medium to medium low heat, and lower it as it gets closer to the 2 hour mark.

Cook the ziti as it gets closer to 2 hours as well. Boil water, add a bit of salt. It shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes. Drain it.

While you’re waiting for the ziti to cook, you can cut up the mozzarella cheese into little cubes. I used a half of a block and it turned out decently cheesey, so you can vary it depending on how much you’d like in there.

In the aluminum pan, spoon out some sauce – enough to cover the bottom. You don’t want the ziti sticking to it! Put a layer of ziti in the pan.

Baked Ziti

Sprinkle the cubes of mozzarella around as evenly as possible. Then, plop spoonfuls of ricotta around. I don’t remember specifically how many spoonfuls I used, but it was maybe 6 or 7 for the first round.

Put the rest of the ziti in. Stir it around to melt the cheese a bit and get a feel for how it’s looking. Consistency matters! Then repeat. Put the rest of the mozzarella cubes in, spoon out some more ricotta, and get some more sauce in there.

Once everything looks good, cover the top of the aluminum pan with some more aluminum. Put it in the oven at 350°F for 40 minutes. This turned out perfectly for my oven.

Cost break-down

I normally buy all of these items on sale:

  • Tomato sauce – varies from $.88 to $1.00 a can
  • Ziti – one box varies from $.88 to $1.00 as well
  • Mozzarella cheese – got this on sale for around $2
  • Ricotta – got this on sale for around $3 I believe; it’s the bigger container
  • Parmesean cheese – varies depending on brand, I try not to spend more than $4, but I know the tubs can run up to $8
  • Disposable aluminum pan – R actually bought this, and doesn’t remember the price, but I would imagine you can use a glass pan or whatever you have that is oven safe.
  • Spices everyone usually has on hand as well as oil!

Estimated total: $15 if you use the aluminum pan and don’t have any of the other things on hand. I like to stock up on sauce when it goes on sale, and I usually keep a few boxes of pasta in the pantry. In contrast, if you went out to an Italian restaurant for 2, you’d probably spend about $30. For 2+ meals I think this is great!

Simple, isn’t it?

Baked ziti

Baked ziti is a great go-to “fancy” meal that a lot of people enjoy. You can make it for the holidays, for birthdays, or for Sunday pasta! It really doesn’t require as much time and effort as you might think. Seriously, if I can make it, you can make it. As a bonus, the leftovers taste great, so you can have this for dinner another time or bring it to work! While it tastes best baked in the stove again (save that aluminum pan), it’s fine to put in the microwave as most of us don’t have the luxury of an oven at work.

Do you enjoy baked ziti? Have you ever made it before? Tell me your variations on the recipe! 



  1. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply October 23, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    That looks delicious. I love simple recipes that I can actual follow. Where did you get the owl salt and pepper shakers? My wife would love them.

    1. E.M. October 23, 2013 at 8:58 AM

      Shoot, I wish I remembered! Knowing where I shop, it was likely Target, but I got them at least a year ago. They might have them again considering the season though! The only other place I can think of would be Marshall’s. As soon as I saw them I knew I had to get them!

    1. E.M. October 23, 2013 at 5:04 PM

      Me too, it’s such a guilty pleasure that I indulge in too often!

  2. Done by Forty October 23, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    Oh, man, you just made me hungry. I think that’ll be my Sunday meal. Thanks for the idea!

    1. E.M. October 23, 2013 at 5:01 PM

      Haha, sorry! I could not stay put in my mom’s house on Sunday’s; the smell of sauce was too alluring. It made me hungry all day.

  3. Michelle October 23, 2013 at 12:06 PM

    Yum! Definitely adding this to my meal plan.

    1. E.M. October 23, 2013 at 5:00 PM

      Glad I could help out!

  4. DC @ Young Adult Money October 23, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    Hmmm I think I might make this for my wife. She usually cooks because she enjoys it more than I do, but I could surprise her with this. Thanks for sharing!

    1. E.M. October 23, 2013 at 5:00 PM

      Aw, I hope you do! It’s really easy, and I would be super happy if R ever tried to make me something like this. He had to ask me how to boil noodles the other day…he has a lot to learn!

  5. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life October 23, 2013 at 12:49 PM

    It would add a bit to the cost, but I always try to add some veggies to my pasta just to give it a little more nutritional density. Some grilled up zucchini and garlic would compliment this dish.

    1. E.M. October 23, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      That sounds good. I have to admit I’m not a vegetable person (which needs to change), but that would still be a good meal for the cost!

  6. Martin October 23, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    This looks very tasty indeed. Thanks for the recipe. I will be sure to try it.

    1. E.M. October 23, 2013 at 4:58 PM

      Thanks Martin, let me know how it goes if you make it!

  7. Micro October 23, 2013 at 4:54 PM

    Kind of happy I came across this post while B was still away. She is in love with owls and would probably want a set like that for herself. The recipe looks delicious though. I’m not a huge pasta fan so I would have to substitute squash or zucchini but I would think it would still work.

    1. E.M. October 23, 2013 at 4:57 PM

      I love owls, too =). They were too cute to pass up, plus I didn’t have any salt and pepper shakers of my own. I really need to try spaghetti squash, I hear good things but I’ve never had it.

  8. anna October 23, 2013 at 5:22 PM

    I love your owl shakers! That’s awesome that you wrote a breakdown of cost, as well – looks delicious, thanks for sharing. :)

    1. E.M. October 23, 2013 at 10:11 PM

      Thanks! I figured I ought to include the cost as this is a “frugal” meal and all. People should know!

  9. Ashley October 23, 2013 at 7:22 PM

    YUM! That looks so good- and I love that it’s easy and cheap. thanks for the idea :)

    1. E.M. October 23, 2013 at 10:12 PM

      You’re very welcome!

  10. KK @ Student Debt Survivor October 23, 2013 at 9:45 PM

    Yum! I love baked ziti, and haven’t made any in a long time. Recently I’ve been making stuffed shells because I’m a cheese fanatic. I like to add mushrooms and ground turkey meat.

    1. E.M. October 23, 2013 at 10:13 PM

      Stuffed shells sounds good, too. I love cheese as well, which is why I always make sure to add a decent amount of mozzarella and ricotta to the ziti. So bad, but so good. I just ran out of ground turkey meat, I need to get some more. I just wish it would go on sale more often.

  11. This Life On Purpose October 23, 2013 at 11:28 PM

    No gonna lie, I didn’t even know what baked ziti was before I saw this. Looks good though, gonna have to try it!

    1. E.M. October 24, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      I hope you like it, it’s so yummy! I can’t believe more people haven’t tried it.

  12. Jen @ Frugal Rules October 24, 2013 at 3:16 AM

    Recipes are a great attraction to me and I just love reading the ingredients and the procedures. I am not really able to cook all those that I encounter but still, when I see a recipe, I’d sure read it word for word. In this particular post however, my eyes keep coming back to the more attractive owl salt and pepper shakers.

    1. E.M. October 24, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      I had a feeling people were going to comment on the little owls, they are really cute. I don’t think I’m ever going to get rid of them. I love discovering new recipes too, and if they’re simple and easy it’s definitely a bonus.

  13. SarahN October 24, 2013 at 3:44 AM

    Interestingly, I’d not heard of baked ziti til you mentioned it, I think (in past posts). It certainly sounds easy – do the flavours develop whilst you cook the red sauce for so long? I was also surprised b the layers of cheese hidden in the pasta – unexpected!

    1. E.M. October 24, 2013 at 5:29 PM

      What?? I cannot believe so many people have never had it! Well, at least here in America =) I’m not sure if it’s a regional thing or anything, but you can get it at any Italian restaurant here. Honestly I just follow my moms recipe, I’m guessing the spices seamlessly flavor the sauce in the hours it’s sitting on the stove. You definitely can’t rush it as I learned last week. The cheese makes the dish!

  14. Matt Becker October 24, 2013 at 10:30 AM

    My mother-in-law makes baked ziti and it’s delicious. We have it almost every single time we visit, along with red beans and rice (also very delicious).

    1. E.M. October 24, 2013 at 5:25 PM

      Hm, I’ve never had it with rice. The baked ziti alone is so filling to me, I can only have one serving, but it is so worth it. My mom does make rice with chicken cacciatore and it tastes really good with the sauce.

  15. lyle @ the Joy of Simple October 24, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    Thanks for the recipe and the great walk through EM :)

    I’ve never had this dish before but I LOVE Italian food and will try out this recipe soon!

    Thanks again and take care. All the best.


    1. E.M. October 24, 2013 at 5:24 PM

      You’re welcome! I can’t believe you’ve never had baked ziti before, such a tragedy. I prefer it over lasagna as it’s not as messy. I hope you try it and like it!

  16. Justin @ RootofGood October 24, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    I’d have to throw some sliced onions and green peppers (bought on sale of course) into the pot and sautee a bit before adding the tomato. Maybe some ground italian sausage. Mmmmmmm…

    1. E.M. October 24, 2013 at 5:23 PM

      Showing your cooking expertise already huh? =) I’m not that creative yet, but that sounds pretty decent.

  17. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living October 28, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    Baked ziti was a stand-by meal that boys at a youth home I worked at would always enjoy and eat. When you have a house of picky eaters, baked ziti not only is cheap, everyone loves it!

    1. E.M. October 28, 2013 at 9:30 PM

      As a picky eater I can totally vouch for that!

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