After a few glorious days of sunshine and sleeveless-shirt weather, it snowed again yesterday. This baked ziti is precisely what I want to eat when it’s cold outside. Hearty, saucy, cheesy pasta with redeeming whole grains and protein-rich lentils to keep me fueled for hours.
This dish is in sharp contrast to the pasta dinners I loved as a kid, which consisted only of refined carbohydrates and loads of sugar-laden marinara sauce. No matter how saucy pasta I could slurp down, I was always hungry 30 minutes later. No wonder!
I quickly lose my patience with recipes that require stovetop preparation followed by a long bake, but I kept this one as simple as possible. It’s worth the [minimal] effort and the wait, I promise. One way that I simplified the recipe—without sacrificing health factors or quality—was by using store-bought marinara sauce. You’ve probably noticed that not all pre-made marinara sauces are created equally.
My new go-to is my partner Newman’s Own organic marinara, which is thick and rich with slow-cooked tomato flavor. It’s hard to replicate that level of flavor at home without actually simmering tomatoes on the stovetop for hours.
It’s organic, which is especially important for tomato products, since conventionally grown tomatoes tend to be high in pesticide residue. Their sauce is also sugar free, unlike so many of the other sauces that are dessert disguised as marinara. My childhood favorite lists sugar third on the ingredients list, right after the tomatoes.
Last, but certainly not least—I love this brand because they donate 100 percent of profits to charity. Not 5 percent or 10 percent—all of it. Since 1982, the Newman’s Own Foundation has donated over $475 million to thousands of charities. I’m tremendously inspired by their business model and would love to see more companies do the same. Maybe I’ll start one of my own someday.
Lentil Baked Ziti
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 1 hour 5 mins
- Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
- Yield: 6 to 8 servings 1x
- Category: Entree
- Method: baked
- Cuisine: Italian
This healthy vegetarian baked ziti recipe includes lentils for protein. It’s a delicious dinner that makes great leftovers. Be sure to serve it with a big green side salad; my Italian chopped salad or a pared-down version of it would be perfect. Recipe yields 6 to 8 servings.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 red onion, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 ¼ cups regular brown lentils, picked over for debris and rinsed
- 3 cups water
Pasta and everything else
- 12 ounces whole grain ziti, rigatoni or penne pasta
- 8 ounces (2 packed cups) grated part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
- Salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Pinch of red pepper flakes (omit if sensitive to spice)
- 23.5 ounces Newman’s Own Organics Marinara (plus 1 cup extra sauce, if you like extra-saucy ziti like me), divided
- 1 cup cottage cheese or ricotta cheese**
- Handful of torn fresh basil leaves, for garnishing
- To cook the lentils: In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is turning translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the lentils and water, and stir to combine.
- Raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer until the lentils are tender and cooked through, about 30 to 40 minutes. Drain the mixture well in a fine-mesh sieve and return the lentils to their pot. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta just until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.
- Add the lentils to the pasta. Add ½ cup of the cheese, reserving the rest for later. Season to taste with salt (I usually add ¼ to ½ teaspoon), freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes (if using).
- Pour 1 cup of the marinara sauce into a 13×9-inch baking dish. Spread the sauce around with a spatula so the base of the baker is evenly coated. Pour the lentil and pasta mixture into the baker and spread it so it’s evenly distributed. Using a spoon, dollop cottage cheese in big spoonfuls over the pasta, then just lightly swirl the mixture a bit so the cottage cheese is still concentrated in those areas.
- Drizzle the rest of the sauce evenly over the dish (adding extra sauce if you’d like) and gently spread it over the pasta. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella evenly over the dish. Cover the baker tightly with aluminum foil—don’t let it touch the cheese—or stick a few wooden toothpicks down the center and place a generously sized piece of parchment paper, folded in the middle to make a “tent” over the baker.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the covering, increase the heat to 450, and continue baking until the cheese on top is golden and spotty, 3 to 9 more minutes. Remove the baker from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving (trust me). Sprinkle freshly torn basil on top, slice and serve.
*Lentil notes: If you want to use pre-cooked lentils to save a step (they won’t be as flavorful), you’ll need about 17 ounces or 3 ½ cups cooked lentils.
**Cottage cheese vs. ricotta: I genuinely prefer cottage cheese to ricotta here, even though I can’t stand cottage cheese on its own. Ricotta tends to get gummy when heated, which bothers me, whereas cottage cheese turns magically more creamy and delicious. Use whichever one you prefer in lasagna recipes.
Make it gluten free: Substitute sturdy gluten-free pasta (such as a corn and quinoa blend).
Change it up: You can add cooked bite-sized veggies or sautéed greens to the lentil and pasta mixture, if you’d like!
Advance preparation: I believe you could make the lentils and pasta ahead of time, refrigerate, and assemble just before baking. Matter of fact, you could probably assemble the whole thing and refrigerate until baking. It’s probably a good candidate for freezing before baking, too. Please let me know if you try.
▸ Nutrition Information
This post was created in partnership with Newman’s Own and I received compensation for my participation. Opinions are my own, always. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who support C+K!
YES! I made this tonight for dinner and I was skeptical of the combination at first, but it is a winner. What a delightful twist on baked ziti. I used cottage cheese as Kate recommended and it was so creamy-will be using it again.
Thank you for sharing, Linsey!
Hi Kate! Happy New Year! I love your cooking and your emails that I have signed up for ages ago. I am so glad to find you and so is my girlfriend. She is really healthy and so for her to love your recipes I would consider a wonderful complement. She actually bought your cookbook for me last Christmas. I print your other recipes and stick them in there. Karen is already vegan. I am not that far yet. I am a wanabe vegan pescaterian. When I flew out to visit Karen [we have been friends 57 years!] my welcome meal was your spinach/artichoke heart enchiladas. I love those! I wish you all the best Kate! Cookie is totally adorable too! Thank you for brightening our lives! Gretchen
I constructed it two days before baking and it turned out great!
Hello! Love your blog. Can you use red lentils instead?
Hi Gosia, I like this variety, but you can use red if that’s what you have. You will need to follow a different cooking time. See my how to cook lentils here: https://cookieandkate.com/perfect-lentils-recipe/
Made this for dinner tonight and it was excellent! I love recipes that incorporate lentils in different ways. I’m a long time follower of your blog (and cookbook!) and consistently love your recipes. Thank you for taking the time to develop these excellent recipes and share them with the world! You make meal planning for vegetarian diets so easy, healthy, and delicious.
Thank you for taking the time to comment, Laura! I’m glad you loved this one.
Really enjoyed this dish. Works well with brown rice penne.
My husband had a taste for ziti. Cookie and Kate is always my go to when searching for a new dish to make. I found this recipe right away and made 2 batches, as my kids were all here. Huge hit! It was so much better than any ziti I had ever had. We do not typically eat dairy, but every once in awhile we treat ourselves to some cheese. We used low-fat cottage cheese vs. ricotta and it was perfect! Kate you never disappoint!!! We will make this again for sure!
I love that the blog is a go-to for you, Karen! Thanks for sharing you loved this one.
Hi Kate. Can you freeze the baked ziti ?
Hi Annmarie! I haven’t had much luck with this one as it released a lot of water for me. However, I know others who didn’t mind the results.
This did not turn out well at all for me. It was a bit watery and I did not care for the lentils with pasta. The cheeses did not pull it all together either.
I’m really sorry to hear that, Carol! What type of marinara did you use?
Love your recipes!! Have shared them with lots of friends. Quick question: I’m having trouble finding brown lentils. Can I substitute green lentils or will that change the flavor or consistency of this recipe ?
David Rosen, a Big Fan
Hey David, thank you for your note and for sharing my recipes! I think green lentils will work great. Just simmer them until they’re tender and cooked through.
I stumbled on this recipe. I didn’t have lentils, but in my March trip impulse buying pulses, I did get split peas I then didn’t know what to do with. It worked great! Thanks for the recipe! The only thing I wish I’d changed was to take your tip and add extra sauce.
I’m happy it worked well with split peas! I love your creativity. Thanks for sharing, Leah.
Hey! Will try this tonight. If I use lentils from a can do I still need to add all the water and cook them?
Hey Victoria! No, no need to cook the canned lentils at all. Just rinse and drain them well before using.
Made this last night….delicious can’t wait to try the vegetable lasagna.
Thank you for sharing, Dianne! I’m happy to hear it.
Hi Kate. I am a huge fan of your site. Always so fresh and flavorful! Made this tonight, and it was amazing. I used some left over cooked eggplant in tomato sauce ( This recipe is a great way to clean up the fridge!)and sautéed some cremini mushrooms and bell peppers as well.
This was amazing! Whole family, including picky eaters, loved it! Thank you for a winner dinner, Kate :D
You’re welcome! I’m glad it won over your picky eaters, Jessica. I appreciate your review.
Hi Kate, this recipe was amazing! Lentils and pasta, who knew? I made it vegan by substituting vegan cream cheese for the cottage cheese as well as doubling the oil and salt to make up for lack of mozzarella. There was vegan mozz at the store but I wasn’t brave enough to try it.
I also sauteed the onion (instead of adding to lentils) and some zucchini in oil until they were nice and browned and then added the tomato sauce to that mixture plus garlic, pepper, and a little oregano and then simmered that for a bit. I thought this made an incredible marinara.
As a lazy vegan I simply mixed this marinara with the al-dente pasta and lentils and vegan cream cheese, cooked it together a bit and called it dinner. Also a good for avoiding the oven on hot days. Thanks for the recipe and inspiration, will make again.
delicious. basil really complements the flavors. had to quickly wrap and freeze the leftovers or I would have eaten the entire pan by the end of the evening.
In the oven now, but I didn’t have aluminum foil :( I put lots of sauce and added some spinach so hopefully it’s not too dry!
I added cooked zucchini and kale and used half of the cheese. It came out great! Thanks for yet another tasty recipe. I’m addicted to your blog :)
Was I supposed to add half the mozzarella cheese to the lentil and pasta mixture? I noticed you said to add “the remainder” of the mozzarella in the last step, but it was never mentioned in the previous steps. Thank you. It’s in the oven now and it smells so yummy!
Hi Maria! See step 4. I hope this helps. Let me know what you think.
How did I not see that? I read it over multiple times before emailing you! Anyway…I added sautéed spinach, the extra sauce you recommended, and used Ricotta. We loved it! My daughter said it’s one of the best dishes I’ve ever made! I’m anxious to make it again using cottage cheese, and adding step 4! Definitely a winner!
I halved the recipe and made in an 8×8 pan as I live alone and it worked out great! I used red lentils because that’s what I had on hand. I definitely cooked them too long, but it still tastes delicious and I am still getting the protein, haha!
This was fantastic!! I came across the recipe after looking for recipes to use up some ricotta. I always have lentils on hands so I decided to give it a try. I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out. I ended up having it for dinner 3 nights and the rest was lunch during the week. Will definitely make again!
Hi There and Happy New Year!
We are trying to incorporate a more plant based diet into meals…my husband is a big meat eater! Made this dish today….it is DEEELISH! I saw your note about veggies and also added some sauteed peppers and zucchini…for cheese i also added a bit grated parm for some extra zip! He absolutely loved it and didn’t feel like he was missing meat at all!
We were trying to figure out if the lentils get cooked covered or uncovered, can you elaborate? We did it uncovered and I was worried that there wasn’t enough liquid. Thanks!
Hi! Yes, uncovered. If it seems like you are loosing liquid before cooked, your heat may be too high. Or, add a little more water if you need to. I hope this helps!
This is definitely one of my all time favourite recipes. I split it into two containers and freeze one prior to baking because I cook for myself and usually tire of leftovers after 4 days. It holds up really well, but I usually use regular not whole-wheat noodles.
That’s great, Jackie! Thank you for sharing.
Made this with a few tweaks and it came out great! I don’t love ricotta so I used Parmesan which added great flavor. Also added some cubed sautéed eggplant and spinach. Excited for the leftovers :)
Sounds delicious, Zoe! Thank you for your review.
Everyone loves this dish in our family. We add 8oz of mushrooms and extra cheese, including 1/2 cup of parmesan. So yummy!
It was delicious & easy – I’ll definitely make it again.
Made this per the recipe with the cottage cheese and Newmans product, except I had no immediate use for the other half of the moz cheese block. Used it all.
Tasty. Completely filled the 9×13 pan. Cheaper, easier, more filling than typical meat lasagna. I will make this again.
Teri Frazier Smith
When you say add1/2 cup of the cheese I assume you mean the mozzarella cheese. I am in the process of makeing this now! :)
I hope you loved it, Teri!
SO yummy! I love it! Are you able to freeze after baking??
Hi Catherine, I haven’t tried it but I believe others have and didn’t mind the results.
This was really good! I used brown lentils and they were pretty solf, i’m going to try green next and see if I like the firmer texure better.
Great dish! The lentils have such a savory taste that my husband thought he was eating meat. Easy to create! Leftovers are yummy too!
It’s so good. Thank you for the awesome recipe!
Thank you for your review, Chris!
On my way out the door, but I had to leave a comment. I made it this morning and just had it for lunch. Made exactly as written, for me saucy, cheesy, one veggie, red pepper flakes. AMAZING!!!!!!!
The combinations of flavors meets all my taste buds. Its so great as lunch, a side, all of it. Thanks so much
You’re welcome, Stuart!
Glad to see you using Newman’s marinara sauce! I have purchased this brand for years!(since Paul Newman started this endeavor, for the Hole in the Wall, kids camp for children fighting cancer!) I think it’s, as good as, maybe better, than any homemade sauce I can make!
I had never seen the all natural or organic, until just recently, and I bought some, but haven’t tried it yet! This seems to be the perfect recipe to try it out, ON! I, also will try your suggestion of using cottage cheese vs. ricotta cheese, even though I feel the same about cottage cheese, as you do! lol
Those curds, bring back a bad childhood memory! ha ha
Thank you, for this recipe and good suggestions!
Thank you for this recipe! As a single person with a long commute, it can be a struggle to find the willpower to make dinner during the work week. There had to be a better (and less expensive) way than grabbing frozen dinners mid-week. I figured, “Kate’s gotta have something,” and lo and behold, I came across this recipe. It has been a meal prep saver! I’ve made it three times in the past two months, and it is fantastic every time. (Preparing the pasta & lentils and assembling them with the bottom marinara a day or two before you finish assembling and baking works out great.) Thanks again and again!
You’re welcome! I’m glad this recipe has helped make dinner time more enjoyable for you, Natalie.
I was excited to try this with all the rave reviews. It was our last Hurrah meal for Vegie Feb. Unfortunately it was watery and bland. My husband will be very happy to return to meat meals tomorrow!
I’m sorry you didn’t love this, Anna, What type of lentils did you use?
Absolutely love your recipes! I am not a fan of ricotta / cottage cheese – can I just use mozzarella?
You can omit it if you prefer, Yas.
hi Kate, have no ricotta or cottage cheese, will sour cream work?
I don’t think that will get you the same results. What did you decide to do?