This Copycat Olive Garden Five Cheese Ziti Al Forno Recipe is made with marinara, heavy cream (no canned alfredo), a blend of Italian cheeses, and a breadcrumb crust that gets baked before serving. Super easy Olive Garden Dinner right at home!
Pasta can make such a quick dinner! It’s also one efficient way to feed a crowd! We love tasty pasta dinners like our super Easy Lasagna Recipe or our One Pot Creamy Angel Hair Pasta Recipe! But this baked ziti is like eating Olive Garden right at home!
Olive Garden Five Cheese Ziti Al Forno (Copycat)
This is probably the CLOSEST Copycat to Olive Garden’s Five Cheese Ziti Al Forno! And NO canned alfredo sauce here! It’s one of the easiest dinners to throw together since all you’re really doing is making a quick 5 cheese marinara sauce, and tossing it with cooked ziti before it goes under the broiler to bake up the bread crumbs! The marinara sauce tastes so good you can eat it from the spoon or dip breadsticks into it! No long list of different cheeses when you can buy cheese blends right at the grocery store! It’s a super-quick dinner that is like dining at the Olive Garden Restaurant but much cheaper!
Now, just because Olive Garden’s ziti is baked doesn’t mean you have to bake the pasta until it dries out. Olive Garden Restaurants have commercial ovens that are much more powerful, hence the quicker baking times. The concept is the same here, you’re only broiling or baking the crust, which leaves your pasta richly coated in marinara creating a brown crust only for the top layer. If you’re making it ahead of time then it’ll need to bake longer.
The marinara sauce comes from the jar and the secret ingredient that makes this baked ziti taste 10x better is the heavy cream. Not jarred alfredo sauce but heavy cream. There is no ricotta cheese and some of the fancy cheeses are hidden in cheese blends that you can pick up at the grocery store already pre-packaged like mozzarella and fontina cheese, or a Parmesan, Romano, and Asiago cheese blend. There you have it an Italian five cheese blend (the easy way!) A baked ziti dinner with a secret blend marinara sauce and Italian cheeses that have tons of flavor (not your typical spaghetti dinner!)
How to Make Five Cheese Ziti Al Forno Olive Garden Copycat:
Olive Garden Five Cheese Ziti Al Forno (Copycat)
Ziti Al Forno Olive Garden Copycat:
- 1 lb Ziti
- 2 cups marinara sauce
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 15 oz diced tomatoes (drained or 2 diced tomatoes)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese blend (grated parmesan, Romano, Asiago)
- 1/2 cup fontina cheese (can use grated Monterey Jack)
- 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese (grated )
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
How to make Ziti Al Forno Olive Garden Copycat:
- Cook pasta according to box instructions; drain, rinse with cold water and coat with 2 tbsp of olive oil. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan combine the marinara sauce, heavy cream, tomatoes, and sugar. Bring to a simmer and add 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese blend, 1/2 cup of fontina cheese, and 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Stir until bubbly and remove from heat.
- Place pasta into an oven-safe serving dish and ladle sauce over the top. Sprinkle with 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese blend. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top and broil just until the cheese browns. Garnish with freshly grated parmesan cheese before serving.
- Cheeses- all parmesan cheese can be used for the three-cheese blend of Asiago, Romano, and parmesan. Italian cheese blends have all 5 kinds of cheese so you can use that too. And Fontina cheese can be replaced with white Monterey Jack cheese.
- To make-ahead or freeze: cook noodles under 2 minutes, then rinse them with cold water and toss the ziti with 2 tablespoons of oil. Transfer to a baking dish and prepare the sauce. Slightly cool sauce before pouring over the top. Do not stir. Cool completely before covering and storing. Keep in the fridge for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
Nutrition per serving
What does Al Forno Mean?
The Italian term [al’forno] means baked food. It’s an Italian way of preparing food in the oven such as pizza, lasagna, pasta, and bread. This is where Ziti Al Forno gets its name which simply means baked ziti.
Can you make Ziti Al Forno with different pasta?
The Olive Garden uses ziti for Ziti Al Forno. However, penne, rigatoni, and cavatelli can be substituted since they are similar in shape. I do not recommend longer pasta such as angel hair, spaghetti, or fettuccine as those may need more sauce.
What is Ziti?
Ziti is a cylinder-shaped pasta similar to penne, that has straight-cut edges. Rigatoni, on the other hand, has strips going down its pasta shell and is slightly wider whereas Penne is sliced diagonally. All three kinds of pasta are great for baking as they are thicker and soak up sauces well.
What else can I use in my Ziti?
This Olive Garden recipe happens to be a very tasty Vegetarian dish, but adding meat or seafood are great ways to incorporate extra protein to make a hearty dinner. Here are some add-in ideas:
- grilled chicken
- leftover steak slices
- steamed asparagus
Can you freeze Ziti Al Forno?
If lasagna can be frozen then so can later-to-be-baked ziti. However, there is a trick to freezing pasta with sauce. On the other hand, Olive Garden’s pasta comes frozen which all employees have to do is reheat it in the water. So flash-freezing pasta is nice when you have to run a hi-demand Restaurant. But, for those of us who want to have a future meal quickly here’s how;
To Freeze Ziti Al Forno: Cook noodles under 2 minutes, then rinse them with cold water and toss the ziti with 2 tablespoons of oil. Transfer to a baking dish and prepare the sauce. Slightly cool sauce before pouring over the top. Do not stir. Cool completely before covering and storing in the freezer. Freeze for up to 3 months. Wrap in aluminum foil and place it into a bag to prevent frost.
Can I make-Ahead?
Leftovers reheat well right in the microwave! However, if you want to prepare the ziti in advance and bake for later here’s how;
To make Ziti al Forno ahead of time: cook noodles 2 minutes less than the highest time required. Then, rinse them with cold water and toss the ziti with 2 tablespoons of oil. Transfer to a baking dish and prepare the sauce. Slightly cool sauce before pouring over the top. Do not stir. Cool completely before covering and storing in the fridge until needed.
Storing in the Fridge: the prepared and unbaked ziti can sit up to 3 days. Then freeze or bake as instructed.
How can I make homemade breadcrumbs?
Croutons or breadcrumbs are easy to make from any kind of bread (preferably white bread like French or Italian bread loaves.) Take a loaf of bread and cut it into desired pieces or run it through a food processor.
Spread the bread or breadcrumbs over a baking sheet.
Bake: over low heat like 300°F for 10-20 minutes or until bread dries out.
Cool: and store in an airtight container if all ready ground. If baked in pieces transfer to a food processor or freezer bag and crush crumbs finely.
What Ingredients go into Olive Gardens Ziti Al Forno?
Ziti Alforno is a baked dish made from pasta, Italian Cheeses, and a 5 cheese marinara sauce. These are the ingredients I put into Ziti Al Forno to Copycat Olive Garden’s Version;
- Ziti pasta- the kind of straight-cut pasta Olive Garden uses.
- marinara sauce- the red pasta sauce Olive garden uses for ziti Al Forno.
- heavy cream- the secret ingredient that gives more flavor to marinara sauce and a lighter orange hue.
- diced tomatoes- gives texture and intensifies the tomato flavor.
- sugar- sweetener for the tart tomatoes.
- cheese- the five kinds of cheese to use for this Olive Garden Copycat is mozzarella, fontina cheese (can use Monterey Jack Cheese), parmesan, Romano, and Asiago cheeses. The last three can be bought as a blend and most grocery stores have a mozzarella and fontina cheese blends too, (like Italian cheese blends.)
Breadcrumbs: can use panko crumbs, breadcrumbs, or homemade breadcrumbs with or without Italian herbs and seasonings.
Cheese: Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese are the only two cheeses that go on top of the baked ziti with breadcrumbs. The other cheeses are blended into the ziti for a rich and cheesy sauce.
Tips for Baking Pasta:
- Undercook pasta if making ahead or baking for a long time.
- Toss your pasta in oil to prevent the pasta from sticking.
- Add cooled sauce to the pasta to prevent the pasta from soaking up the sauce.
- Cover pasta generously with sauce to prevent the ziti from drying out when baking.