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Easy Vegan Baked Ziti

This delicious vegan baked ziti with seitan sausage and an easy homemade mozzarella sauce is your childhood classic comfort food made vegan!

vegan baked ziti in casserole dish with two plates served

Cozy right on up with your sweaters and fuzzy slippers friends, cause we have vegan baked ziti to eat!

It’s made with a homemade tomato sauce stuffed full of vegan seitan sausage and with a completely logical amount of homemade vegan mozzarella sauce. It’s rich and cheesy and everything you want in a pasta bake!

I’ve had baked ziti on my to-make list for months. Quite possibly since last winter. I even had bought a box of ziti I wouldn’t let us eat for weeks on weeks because I was saving it to make baked ziti (it’s really not that hard to buy ziti…). And ugh you guys, I’m regretting I didn’t make this sooner! We all could have eaten so much more of this perfect pasta.

Well, without further delays, let me present to you my veganized baked ziti! Cue all the fanfare.

In my quest to make a baked ziti, I looked at dozens of non-vegan recipes. There were a few unifying factors in all the recipes–there was always a tomato sauce, always at least one kind of cheese and/or cheese sauce, and always baked. Pasta shape choices varied, and that’s fine. I’m not a pasta-shape purist.

I made some executive decisions for my vegan baked ziti recipe.

1) I wasn’t going to bother with adding a [vegan] ricotta. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, you can add one in if you’d like. If I had some of my creamy vegan almond cheese lying around I might have added some. But I wanted to keep the recipe more streamlined, a bit less expensive, and simpler.

Ricotta seems to be a bit of a polarizing addition to baked ziti anyway. Some people don’t like it because of the textural change it undergoes when baked. Others combat this by making it even less vegan friendly and adding egg. I’m just going to put this out there, you’re not going to miss ricotta or anything when eating this casserole!

vegan baked ziti after baking

2) I was going to make a homemade tomato sauce. I don’t really buy jarred marinara, with the exception of once or twice to try out new vegan sauces. I always keep canned whole tomatoes in the pantry and so easy, delicious tomato sauces are at my fingertips at all times. Plus it’s less expensive.

3) I wanted to make a homemade vegan cheese for the casserole. Again, if you want to use your favorite vegan store bought cheese go ahead! But I really love my mozzarella sauce. It’s the stuff I used in my vegan chickpea meatball subs and over my baked gnocchi with arrabbiata (note to self: it’s time to make more gnocchi!). I make it all the time to top pasta bakes and it’s perfect on my vegan baked ziti.

4) Because not everything needs to be homemade, I used store bought vegan sausages. I really like seitan sausages so used those. But if you prefer a non-seitan option go for it! Basically we want something flavorful and meaty textured. It gets crumbled up and added to the sauce for texture and some extra rich flavor.

Right! so, that’s about it. Now let’s make some vegan baked ziti!

vegan baked ziti on a plate

Make the sauce:

Sauté crumbled vegan sausage so it browns, then take it out of the pot. In that same pot, add a bit more oil and your onions and cook them to lightly caramelize.

I like to use Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage Sausage, but your favorite vegan sausage will work in this recipe! You can even use a spicy sausage if you want a little kick to your pasta casserole.

Next, add garlic and herbs, flash cook them for a minute, then add the tomatoes plus the sausage back in. Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes, or just leave it on low while you prep everything else!

I’ll use canned whole tomatoes which I pulse 2-3 times in the blender so it turns into a sauce but still has some texture left. You can also buy crushed tomatoes or strained tomatoes (also known as tomato puree).

I use 4 1/4 cups of tomatoes (which is the equivalent of ~45oz tomatoes–that’s three 15oz cans of tomato or a 28oz can + 15oz can of tomatoes). It’s complicated I know but I thought 28oz wasn’t enough tomatoes and you don’t want a dry tomato sauce! I think you can handle it 😉 .

If you want a saucier sauce, then use two 28oz cans of tomatoes.

layering the baked ziti: the first layer of pasta followed by tomato sauce, then pools of vegan mozzarella sauce

Make the vegan mozzarella:

This one’s easy. Add all the cheesy ingredients to a blender and blend it up until super smooth and creamy. Yes, the mixture will be thin and runny. That’s ok.

There’s starch in there, both from the cashews and the tapioca starch (aka tapioca flour) which will activate once the sauce hits the heat. You can cook this sauce stovetop to thicken, but I skip that extra step and trust me, it will cook in the oven!

I’ve included picture proof in case you don’t believe me.

vegan baked ziti assembled before baked, with the vegan mozzarella sauce poured overtop to smother the dish

Assemble and bake your ziti:

Somewhere in there, cook your pasta. It can be ziti, or it can be penne or any other medium sized pasta shape. I won’t tell the pasta police.

What you should do is undercook your pasta slightly. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven, so shave off 1-2 minutes of the cooking time for an underdone pasta.

When done, toss your pasta in about half of the sauce you made. Don’t measure, just estimate. It’s all going to be just fine, promise.

Now take any large casserole dish. It should be about 3 to 4 quarts. The square baking dish I used was about 3.5 quarts and the round one is listed as 3 quarts. You could also use a 9 x 13 baking dish, but then you’d probably skip the next part about layering the pasta. Any large baking dish/casserole dish should be just fine.

view of casserole dish with scoops taken out

So, apparently baked ziti is a lazy person’s lasagne. I don’t know about this, but I do think you should take the slight extra time to layer your pasta.

Add a couple of spoonfuls of tomato sauce to the bottom of the casserole dish. Then add about 1/3 of the pasta. Again, no need to measure this, just eyeball it!

On top of the pasta, add about half of the remaining sausage stuffed tomato sauce. Then pour in about 1/4 mozzarella sauce. Or more, or less.. This just helps you get that cheesy goodness in every bite!

Repeat: add about 1/3 of the pasta (meaning half of what remains), the rest of the tomato sauce, some of the mozzarella sauce (about 1/4 of the total).

Then add the rest of the pasta and pour over alllll the remaining mozzarella sauce to cover.

pasta in casserole dish with two plates served

Stick the whole thing in the oven and bake until the top is browning (and crackly) and bits of pasta sticking out are crisping up a few shades towards burnt. Well that’s the way I like it anyway!

Sprinkle on some green garnish like parsley or basil to pretty up the otherwise homely dish and dig in!

You probably want to think of prepping some roasted vegetables (like these mustard roasted cauliflower? or maybe some mustard roasted brussels sprouts? I’m just really feeling mustard right now) or a side salad cause otherwise there’s a high probability that you’ll eat more of this delicious pasta than you meant to!

Can I Make this Gluten Free?

Why yes, of course.

Use a gluten free pasta, and substitute a gluten free vegan meat for the seitan sausage.

Hilary’s makes a vegan sausage, or you can use any vegan crumbles: beyond meat, gardein, and light life all make one.

vegan baked ziti garnished with parsley

If you make this vegan baked ziti, leave a comment below and rate the recipe on the recipe card. And please share your photos with me on Instagram, tag @thecuriouschickpea and #thecuriouschickpea. I love seeing your recreations!

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vegan baked ziti in casserole dish with two plates served

Easy Vegan Baked Ziti

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Baking Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

This delicious vegan baked ziti with seitan sausage and an easy homemade mozzarella sauce is your childhood classic comfort food made vegan!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dried ziti

Seitan Sausage Tomato Sauce

  • 4 tsp olive oil, divided
  • 13oz seitan sausage, crumbled
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 28 oz + 15 oz cans (or use 2 28 oz cans for more sauce) whole tomatoes, briefly pulsed in blender*

Vegan Mozarella Sauce

  • 1 cup cashews*
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup melted refined coconut oil
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 tbsp tapioca starch
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, under cooking by 1-2 minutes as it will continue to cook in the oven. Strain and set aside.

Make the sauce:

  1. Heat 2 tsp of oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the seitan sausage and cook until it's browning, ~3 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add the remaining 2 tsp of oil and add the onion with a pinch of salt. Sauté for 8-10 minutes until the onions are soft and lightly caramelized. As the onions cook, anything stuck to the bottom of the pan from cooking the sausage will lift up.
  3. Add the garlic, salt, herbs, and a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and sausage, cover the pot and bring the sauce to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes.

Make the mozzarella sauce:

  1. Add everything to a blender and blend until very smooth.

Assemble and bake the ziti:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 ºF.
  2. Toss the pasta with about half of the sausage tomato sauce.
  3. In a casserole dish, add a couple of spoonfuls of sauce to the bottom of the dish, then add about 1/3 of the pasta. Top with about half of the remaining tomato sauce, then pour about 1/4 cup of the mozzarella sauce over that.
  4. Repeat and layer the next third of the pasta, the remaining tomato sauce, and the next ~1/4 of the mozzarella sauce. Next, top with the last of the pasta then smother with the remaining mozzarella sauce.
  5. Put the casserole dish in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese sauce has browned. Optional: turn on the broiler at the end for 2-5 minutes for further browning.

Notes

*Use whole canned tomatoes for the best quality tomatoes, and pulse in blender or crush by hand before adding to pot. You can use crushed or pureed tomatoes instead of whole, then there is no need to pulse the tomatoes to chop up.

*Soak the cashews in cold water for 2 hours or boiling hot water for 30 minutes, drain then rinse. This step can be skipped if you have a high powered blender.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 443Total Fat: 27gSodium: 832mgCarbohydrates: 32gFiber: 3gSugar: 3gProtein: 20g

Nutrition is calculated automatically so should be used as an estimate.

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

This recipe was originally published on December 13, 2018.

vegan baked ziti in a casserole dish with one serving in a bowl in the background
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