This baked ziti recipe features roasted cauliflower florets in place of meat for a vegetarian twist on the classic Italian dish. This vegetarian pasta bake is plant-based comfort food, packed with ziti noodles, marinara sauce, and three cheeses. Ready to eat in under one hour, vegetarian baked ziti is the perfect main dish when cooking for a crowd – it also makes for excellent leftovers.

cauliflower baked ziti in a large glass dish on a light grey backdrop

My husband and I have an easy pasta recipe at least once a week for dinner these days. There’s just something so comforting and satisfying about a warm bowl of pasta!

This vegetarian baked ziti with roasted cauliflower is the perfect cozy weeknight meal. Instead of sausage or ground beef found in traditional baked ziti recipes, this vegetarian version uses roasted cauliflower florets for added flavor, texture, and nutrition.

This recipe serves 6 people, so it makes enough for a whole family, but tastes amazing as leftovers if you are only cooking for one or two. From start to finish, you’ll have this recipe on the table in under one hour!

More healthy pasta recipes to try: lasagna with cottage cheese and ricotta, spinach green sauce with pasta, kale pesto pasta, cauliflower and kale pasta, and creamy rosé wine & tomato pasta sauce.

Is pasta good for you?

As a Registered Dietitian, I am here to assure you that pasta can definitely be part of a well-balanced diet. On its own, pasta does have some nutrition benefits! One cup of plain cooked white pasta provides:

  • 2.5 grams of dietary fiber (9% of your daily needs)
  • 8 grams of plant-based protein
  • 1.8 mg iron (10% of your daily needs)
  • 0.381 mg thiamin (32% of your daily needs)
  • 0.189 mg riboflavin (15% of your daily needs)
  • 2.351 mg niacin (15% of your daily needs)
  • 165.20 mcg folate (41% of your daily needs)
  • 36.68 mcg selenium (67% of your daily needs)

While pasta is high in carbohydrates, you can easily make it a balanced meal by adding in non-starchy vegetables, healthy pasta sauces, and protein sources. In the case of cauliflower baked ziti, we add a healthy marinara sauce, cauliflower for fiber and micronutrients, and cheese to provide a boost of protein.

Because pasta provides a good amount of plant-based protein and iron, it’s an especially good staple food to include if you follow a plant-based diet.

Ingredients in cauliflower baked ziti

Here is everything you need to make this meatless baked ziti recipe:

Kitchen tools needed

To make this recipe, you need a baking sheet, a large pot, and a 9×13″ ceramic or glass baking dish.

cauliflower baked ziti ingredients measured out on a light grey backdrop

How to make cauliflower baked ziti

cauliflower florets on a baking sheet
Cut cauliflower into florets
Cauliflower florets and seasoning on a baking sheet
Toss with seasonings and olive oil
Roasted cauliflower on a baking sheet
Roast cauliflower florets until browned
  • While the cauliflower cooks, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  • Add the pasta to the boiling water when the cauliflower has about 10 minutes left to cook, so they finish cooking at the same time.
  • Cook the pasta until al dente, drain, and add the cooked pasta back to the pot.
  • Mix the pasta with 1 jar of marinara sauce right away.
  • Stir the roasted cauliflower into the pasta.
cooked ziti pasta in a pot
Cook ziti and return to the pot
ziti noodles tossed in marinara sauce in a pot with a mixing spoon
Toss pasta in marinara sauce
pot of pasta with red sauce and roasted cauliflower with a wooden mixing spoon
Stir roasted cauliflower into the pasta
  • Mix together ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, chopped basil, and salt in a mixing bowl.
three cheese mixture and basil in a bowl
Add three cheeses and basil to a mixing bowl
Cheese mixture in a small mixing bowl with a silver spoon
Cheese mixture of ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and basil
  • Assemble the baked ziti in a 9×13 baking dish by layering in the order listed:
    • 1 cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of the dish
    • Half of the pasta and cauliflower mixture
    • Dollops of marinara sauce and roughly torn fresh basil
    • Half the cheese mixture in dollops
    • Repeat the above layers with the remaining ingredients!
A layer of marinara sauce at the bottom of the baking dish
cauliflower and ziti in marinara sauce in a glass baking dish
Add a layer of half the pasta mixture
cauliflower baked ziti layered in a glass baking dish before being baked
Layer more marinara sauce, basil, and cheese mixture, then repeat!
  • Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until pasta bake is bubbling up at the sides.

Storing cauliflower baked ziti

As mentioned, this cauliflower pasta bake makes for excellent leftovers. Store baked ziti covered with tin foil (or transferred to an airtight container) in the fridge.

Reheat individual portions in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, or until warmed through.

Can you make baked ziti ahead of time? Yes! You can prepare this dish a day ahead of baking it. Assemble the baked ziti in your baking dish, cover with tin foil and refrigerate. Remove from the fridge about an hour before you plan to bake it to bring it to room temperature.

Can you freeze baked ziti? Yes! Freeze assembled (but unbaked) baked ziti in a freezer-safe baking dish sealed tightly with a lid or plastic wrap. Let baked ziti casserole thaw in the fridge for 24 hours before baking. Baked ziti will keep frozen for up to 3 months.

Serving suggestions

This meal is quite filling on it’s own! Pair cauliflower baked ziti with something light like an everyday green salad.

It would be great with my simple kale & romaine salad, raw turnip salad with pears, heirloom tomato & burrata salad, or apple cranberry walnut salad.

Small bowl of cauliflower baked ziti with a fork on a light grey backdrop with a linen dish towel

Cauliflower nutrition & health benefits

Cauliflower is one of the healthiest vegetables to include in your diet. A part of the cruciferous veggie family, one cup of raw cauliflower provides:

  • 2.1 grams of dietary fiber (8% of your daily needs)
  • 2.1 grams of plant-based protein
  • 60.99 mcg folate (15% of your daily needs)
  • 0.714 mg pantothenic acid (14% of your daily needs)
  • 0.197 mg Vitamin B6 (12% of your daily needs)
  • 51.6 mg Vitamin C (57% of your daily needs)
  • 16.6 mcg Vitamin K (14% of your daily needs)

Additionally, cauliflower provides a beneficial plant compound called sulforaphane. This compound has potent anti-inflammatory effects, protecting our cells against certain diseases. Other cruciferous veggies also have this plant compound, including kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.

Let me know if you love this post by leaving a comment or star rating below, and check out Instagram and Pinterest for more healthy lifestyle inspiration. Thanks for stopping by!

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cauliflower baked ziti in a large glass dish on a light grey backdrop

Vegetarian Baked Ziti with Roasted Cauliflower

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  • Author: Alex Aldeborgh
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: serves 6
  • Category: main dish
  • Method: oven
  • Cuisine: American Italian
  • Diet: Vegetarian
Save Recipe

Description

This baked ziti recipe features roasted cauliflower florets in place of meat for a vegetarian twist on the classic Italian dish. This vegetarian pasta bake is plant-based comfort food, packed with ziti noodles, marinara sauce, and three cheeses. Ready to eat in under one hour, vegetarian baked ziti is the perfect main dish when cooking for a crowd – it also makes for excellent leftovers.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 large head of cauliflower (about 2 lbs), cut into florets
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb ziti pasta
  • 2 24 oz jars marinara sauce
  • 1 cup full fat ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped, plus more for serving


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Put the cauliflower florets on a large baking sheet.
    cauliflower florets on a baking sheet
  2. Add Italian seasoning, salt, and olive oil to the cauliflower. Use your hands to toss the florets to evenly distribute the seasonings and oil.
    Cauliflower florets and seasoning on a baking sheet
  3. Bake cauliflower in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until deeply browned and fork tender.
    Roasted cauliflower on a baking sheet
  4. While the cauliflower bakes, bring 4 quarts of water in a large pot to a boil, seasoned generously with salt.
  5. When the cauliflower has about 10 minutes left to cook, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente.
  6. Drain pasta and put it back in the pot. Right away, toss pasta in 1 jar of the marinara sauce to prevent the noodles from sticking together.
    ziti noodles tossed in marinara sauce in a pot with a mixing spoon
  7. Add the roasted cauliflower to the pasta and mix it all together.
    pot of pasta with red sauce and roasted cauliflower with a wooden mixing spoon
  8. In a small mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, basil, and a pinch of salt. Stir until mixed together.
    Cheese mixture in a small mixing bowl with a silver spoon
  9. Reduce oven heat to 350°F.
  10. In a 9×13 ceramic or glass baking dish, assemble the baked ziti casserole: start with a third of the remaining jar of marinara sauce spread out onto the bottom of the pan.
    marinara sauce in a glass baking dish
  11. Then, add half the pasta/cauliflower mixture.
    cauliflower and ziti in marinara sauce in a glass baking dish
  12. Top with some generous dollops of marinara sauce (another third of the sauce), a handful of roughly torn basil leaves, and half of the cheese mixture in dollops.
    cauliflower baked ziti layered in a glass baking dish before being baked
  13. Repeat the layers once more in the order listed above.
  14. Bake in the oven, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes until sauce is bubbling up in the edges and the cheese is melty.
    cauliflower baked ziti in a glass baking dish
  15. Let sit for a few minutes, then serve while hot.

Notes

Storing cauliflower baked ziti

As mentioned, this cauliflower pasta bake makes for excellent leftovers. Store baked ziti covered with tin foil (or transferred to an airtight container) in the fridge.

Reheat individual portions in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, or until warmed through.

Can you make baked ziti ahead of time? Yes! You can prepare this dish a day ahead of baking it. Assemble the baked ziti in your baking dish, cover with tin foil and refrigerate. Remove from the fridge about an hour before you plan to bake it to bring it to room temperature.

Can you freeze baked ziti? Yes! Freeze assembled (but unbaked) baked ziti in a freezer-safe baking dish sealed tightly with a lid or plastic wrap. Let baked ziti casserole thaw in the fridge for 24 hours before baking. Baked ziti will keep frozen for up to 3 months.