Before freezer meals became such a crazy popular phenomenon, my Mom has been filling up her freezer (then mine!) with recipes that are great to keep on hand for busy nights when cooking seems impossible. Our family favorites lean toward the italian side- eggplant parmesan, meatloaf, meatballs, and this amazing baked ziti! I love to cook and make most of my dinners the night of, but when I really need something fast and easy I grab from the freezer! I can count on my girls all eating this baked ziti (second and third helpings too!) and it makes great leftovers…if you have any leftover that is! Serve with a salad and garlic bread and you’ve got a delicious crowd pleaser dinner you’ll be sure to make again and again.
2 lbs of penne pasta
4 cups freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 cans cream of mushroom soup + 2 cans of 2% milk (or milk of your choice- the higher fat content the creamier the baked ziti will be) use the soup can to measure the milk!
2 cans of petit diced tomatoes, liquid gently drained
6 sweet italian sausage links
2 cups frozen green peas
salt and pepper
First, bring a large stock pot of water up to a rolling boil. Boil the pasta according to package directions MINUS 2 MINUTES. You want the past to be *almost* al dente- slightly undercooked. As it bakes out of the freezer you need some leeway for the pasta to keep cooking and not get mushy. Once it’s finished, drain the pasta in a colander and set aside.
While the pasta is boiling cook the sausage. I like to add 1/2 cup of water to a skillet and cover for about 12 minutes or until the water is evaporated. This will steam the sausages and almost cook them through. Then remove the sausages from the pan and slice them into 1/2 inch pieces quickly while they’re still hot. Add them back to the pan (there should be no water left) and sear them on both sides until they are golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
Using the large pasta pot, make the sauce. Add the soup, milk, tomatoes and cheese to the pot and cook on low stirring constantly to melt the cheese. Once you have a creamy sauce add salt and pepper to taste. I go easy on the pepper so I can add it fresh when I serve it! Once the sauce is ready add the past back into the pot with the sausage and the peas. Stir it all together. That’s it. *Shredding your own cheese is crucial to the deliciousness of this recipe. It melts so much quicker and is rich and decadent.
From this point: you can totally eat this fresh. It’s amazing and hot, delicious and creamy right from the pot. But baking it gives the ziti that bit of crust everyone loves and just makes it that much more comforting to put on the table on a busy night. I like to separate this recipe into 4-5 foil baking pans (no clean up!) popping one into the fridge for the night I make it, and saving the other 4 in the freezer. Wrap with plastic wrap, then aluminum foil.
From the freezer remove the plastic wrap then bake the ziti covered at 375 for 45 minutes – 1 hour or until steaming hot. During last 10 minutes of cooking you can remove the foil to slightly brown the top. You may need to adjust cooking time based on your oven.*Remember, everything in this baked ziti meal is already cooked through so you are just heating the dish completely the day of!*
You can also thaw this in the fridge overnight or the day of to decrease the cooking time.
Love freezer meals? See what freezer meals I brought on our family beach vacation and see how I fully stocked my freezer before having our third baby. You can also find my absolute favorite beef and broccoli crockpot freezer meal here.