This classic vegan Meatless Baked Ziti is a comforting and hearty dish, perfect for an easy weeknight dinner. It features al dente ziti, savory plant-based ground beef coated in tomato basil sauce, melted mozzarella cheese, and a thick layer of creamy dairy-free béchamel on top.
Why You’ll Love This Meatless Baked Ziti Recipe
When it comes to pasta dishes, this baked ziti recipe is up there on my list of favorites. I love that this recipe only uses a few ingredients, but has such a rich, savory flavor.
I used my homemade vegan ground beef and my favorite basil marinara from Trader Joe’s which both take the sauce to a whole other level. If you haven’t tried Trader Joe’s Basil Marinara Sauce, you need to! It’s so affordable (usually $2-3 per jar) and tastes amazing.
Here are a few more reasons we love this pasta and you will too:
- Satisfying Texture: The baked pasta creates a tender al dente bite.
- Rich Flavor Profile: Aromatic garlic and onions, combined with Italian seasoning and savory vegan ground beef, create a super savory sauce.
- Creamy Béchamel Top Layer: The dairy-free béchamel adds a luxurious, creamy texture to this cheesy pasta dish, which I swear is what makes this the best baked ziti!
- Family-Friendly: This dish is picky eater approved, making it an excellent choice if you’re trying to incorporate more plant-based meals to your meal plan (think meatless Mondays).
- Easy Preparation: Simple to make with clear instructions, this recipe is accessible for cooks of all levels.
This vegan baked ziti comes together with just a few pantry friendly ingredients. I’ve tried to keep the spices and seasonings to a minimum, so the recipe is as easy as possible while still delivering big flavor.
That being said, the marinara sauce I used has tons of flavor. If you opt for a basil marinara sauce other than Trader Joe’s, you may want to add more Italian seasoning, dried basil or salt. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- Dried Ziti pasta: It holds onto sauces well and maintains a great texture after baking.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Used for sautéing, it adds lots of flavor and forms the base of the sauce.
- Garlic and Onion: These aromatics lay the flavorful foundation of the dish, adding depth and warmth.
- Vegan Ground Beef: Provides a hearty, meaty texture and boosts the protein content. If I’m short on time I love using Trader Joe’s Beefless Ground, Gardein Vegan Ground Beef Crumbles or even Beyond Meat.
- Italian Seasoning: Enhances the dish with a blend of classic herbs.
- Basil Marinara Sauce: Infuses the dish with a tomato-rich taste and complements the herbs and spices. I used Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara.
- Dairy-Free Mozzarella Cheese: Melts beautifully, offering a cheesy texture and flavor without dairy. I used Trader Joe’s Vegan Mozzarella Shreds.
- Vegan Butter and All-Purpose Flour: These form the roux for the béchamel, providing thickness and a velvety texture.
- Oat Milk: Chosen for its creamy consistency, it’s an ideal base for the béchamel sauce.
- Fresh Chopped Basil: Adds a burst of freshness and color to the final dish.
Substitutions & Add-ins
Out of ziti or oat milk? Try one of these substitutions instead!
- Pasta Varieties: Penne or rigatoni can be substitutes for ziti.
- Sauce Choices: Any preferred marinara or pasta sauce can replace basil marinara. Be sure to adjust the seasonings as needed.
- Non-Dairy Milk Options: Almond, soy, or any other non-dairy milk can be used in the béchamel.
- Vegan Butter and Cheese Alternatives: Experiment with various types of cheese to find your preferred taste. You could use vegan Parmesan cheese or vegan ricotta cheese in addition to the mozzarella. I have a delicious vegan almond ricotta that I use in this flatbread recipe.
- Other Veggies: Feel free to add in other veggies like bell peppers or fresh spinach to the sautéed onions.
- Large Pot: For boiling the pasta.
- Sauté Pans: To prepare the vegan ground beef and béchamel sauce.
- Oven Safe Baking Dish: To assemble and bake the ziti.
Step By Step Instructions
Ingredient quantities can be found in the recipe card below!
STEP 1: Preheat your oven to 400°F and start boiling a large pot of salted water for the pasta. Then cook it slightly less than package directions for that perfect al dente texture.
STEP 2: While the pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a large skillet and sauté garlic and onions until fragrant, then add the vegan ground beef and Italian seasoning, cooking until well combined.
STEP 3: Then, stir in the vegan ground beef, cooking until the crumbles are browned and well-seasoned.
STEP 4: Mix the cooked ziti noodles with the basil marinara sauce and the cooked vegan ground beef mixture.
STEP 5: For the béchamel sauce, melt vegan butter in a saucepan, then whisk in the flour to create a roux. Gradually add oat milk, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Season with salt and pepper, cooking until the sauce thickens.
📌 TIP: I have an entire post on how to make oat milk béchamel if you’d like more info or process photos.
STEP 6: Spread a thin layer of basil marinara sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish. Follow with a layer of half the sauce coated pasta.
STEP 7: Sprinkle half of the dairy-free mozzarella cheese over the pasta. Add another layer sauce coated pasta.
STEP 8: Sprinkle with the remaining dairy-free mozzarella cheese. Pour the béchamel sauce over the top layer of pasta.
STEP 9: Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Then, increase the temperature to 450°F (230°C) and bake for an additional 5-6 minutes, or until the top is browned and bubbly. Garnish with fresh basil!
This classic meatless baked ziti is best served hot, garnished with fresh basil or additional vegan cheese. It pairs wonderfully with a crisp green side salad, green beans or some crusty garlic bread. You can also sprinkle red pepper flakes on top for a spicy kick.
This recipe makes about 6 good sized portions or 8 smaller portions (making it a great meal prep/ freezer meal)!
Store leftovers in an airtight container or wrapped in plastic wrap or aluminum foil in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. Reheat the slices in the oven or microwave before serving.
- Don’t Overcook the Pasta: Since it will continue cooking in the oven, slightly undercooking the pasta ensures it doesn’t become mushy.
- Season to Taste: Different pasta sauce or vegan ground beef brands will have varying amounts of sodium and seasonings. Be sure to taste the sauce before baking and adjust everything to taste.
- Browning the Top: To achieve a beautifully browned top, remember to increase the oven temperature for the last few minutes of baking.
Absolutely! Assemble the dish, cover it, and refrigerate. Bake it just before serving.
As is, it’s not, but you can easily substitute the pasta and flour with gluten-free options.
looking for morE Meatless Pasta Recipes?
- Vegan Basil Béchamel Lasagna
- Cashew Cream Pasta
- Creamy Coconut Milk Pasta
- Sundried Tomato Pasta
- Vegan Baked Cherry Tomato Pasta
- Vegan ‘Chicken’ Parm Stuffed Shells