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Baked Ziti with Roasted Eggplant Ricotta is absolutely delicious! Make this for a meatless dinner or serve as a side dish with your favorite entrée.
With the cooler weather here, we’ve officially made the shift to comfort food meals like this Baked Ziti Roasted Eggplant and Ricotta. In addition to the delicious flavors, we also love the idea of a cook once-eat two or three more times kind of dish – especially with our family’s hectic schedule these days.
My husband Jack saw that the original version of this dish came from Lidiasitaly.com, however he took it in a somewhat different direction by roasting the eggplant to deepen the flavor, and using fresh tomatoes instead of canned.
Combined with ricotta, provolone, and Parmesan cheese, plus other aromatic vegetables and seasonings, the result is a creamy, comforting baked pasta dish that is loaded with absolutely fantastic flavors! (Even picky vegetable eaters will love this meal!)
Key ingredients and Substitutions
- Eggplant – Buy the small Japanese eggplant which does not require peeling. If that is not available, buy regular Italian or Globe eggplant (the bigger, deep dark purple eggplants) but peel those, then dust with salt and let sit for an hour to remove any bitterness.
- Tomatoes – Any variety of fresh tomatoes will work for this dish – and if you happen to have any lingering tomatoes still growing in your garden, use those! A little tomato paste also helps thicken the fresh tomato sauce. (See Chef’s Tip below if you prefer to use canned tomatoes.)
- Ziti – Ziti is perfect in this baked pasta dish; however, any sturdy, tube-shaped pasta will work such as rigatoni.
- Three Cheeses – While you can use part-skim ricotta cheese, a whole milk ricotta adds a rich and creamy consistency to the finished dish. When buying provolone cheese, choose a sharp provolone over a mild. Look for a quality, aged Parmesan cheese, and avoid the jarred version.
- Other ingredients – A good quality olive oil, sweet onion, fresh garlic, spices and Italian herbs finish the flavor profile of the finished casserole.
Special supplies needed
- Sheet tray to roast the eggplant
- 9X13 casserole dish
- Pot to cook the pasta and a skillet to make the sauce
How do I make Baked Ziti Roasted Eggplant and Ricotta?
- Coat the cut-up eggplant in olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until tender.
- Prepare the sauce with olive oil, onions, garlic, fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, fresh herbs and spices and pasta water to round it out.
- Boil the ziti just short of al dente. It should still be chewy and will cook further in the oven.
- Mix the cooked pasta with the fresh sauce, ricotta cheese, and the roasted eggplant. Pour into an oiled casserole dish. Cover with the shredded provolone and Parmesan cheese and bake for 30 minutes to heat through and brown.
- Serve immediately.
Chef’s Tip –
Any tomato can be used for this dish and this is a great way to use tomatoes from your garden. However, you can easily make this dish using a 28-ounce can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes but cut back on the amount of tomato paste used and adjust the creaminess of the sauce by adding more or less pasta water. Using two pounds of garden tomatoes, we added 6 tablespoons of paste and 1 ½ cups of pasta water to achieve the right consistency.
Frequently asked Questions
Can I make this dish ahead of time? You can roast the eggplant, make the sauce and cook the pasta ahead of time. When ready to bake, heat the sauce, then assemble and bake.
How do I store the leftovers? Cover and refrigerate for up to three days.
How to I reheat the leftovers? A quick reheat in the microwave works great. Or, cover the casserole with foil and reheat in a 300 degree F oven until warmed through.
You may enjoy these other Baked Pasta dishes:
- Baked Rigatoni with Roasted Summer Vegetables
- Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Bake
- Baked Feta Pasta
- Baked Rigatoni with Italian Sausage and Meatballs
- Classic Lasagna
2 pounds small eggplant such as Japanese eggplant (If Japanese eggplant is not available, use regular eggplant, see Chef Tip above)
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 1/4 cups sweet onion, diced
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 pounds any variety tomato, cored and diced
6 tablespoons tomato paste
6 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped and divided
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
12 ounces dry ziti
16 ounces whole milk ricotta
8 ounces sharp provolone, shredded on large holes of a box grater
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded on large holes of a box grater
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Line a sheet tray with foil then brush the foil generously with olive oil.
Brush a 9X13 inch casserole dish bottom and sides with olive oil and set aside.
If using Japanese eggplant, trim ends, leave skin on then cut into one-inch chunks and place into a bowl. If using regular eggplant, trim and peel and then cut into chunks. (Try to avoid cooking a really large regular eggplant as they will require salting the cubes and sitting for an hour to remove bitterness.)
Add ½ cup of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of the salt and a half teaspoon of pepper to the bowl with the eggplant and toss to coat. Pour out onto the prepared sheet tray and bake for 30 minutes, tossing them with a spatula half way through.
Bring a pot of water to a boil.
While eggplant is cooking, in a large skillet, add remaining olive oil and over medium heat, add onions, garlic and the pepper flakes and cook for three minutes.
Add the cut-up tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the basil, the mint, parsley, sugar, remaining salt, remaining pepper and bring to a slow simmer and cook until the pasta is ready on the next step.
Add salt to the boiling water and add the ziti and cook short of fully cooked. The pasta needs to be a little chewy as it will cook further in the oven. Save three cups of the pasta water and drain the ziti.
Place the drained ziti back in the pan and hold.
Thin the sauce down with a cup or more of the pasta water, taste and add more salt and pepper as needed, then pour over the cooked ziti and stir. Add more pasta water as needed to thin down if too thick.
Stir in all of the ricotta cheese and the remaining 4 tablespoons of the fresh basil.
Remove the roasted eggplant from the oven and add to the pasta and sauce and gently stir.
Pour this mixture into the prepared casserole dish.
Top with the shredded provolone and Parmesan cheese and bake for 30 minutes. The top should get browned and crusty and the center soft and creamy with the pasta perfectly cooked.
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