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Vegan Baked Ziti

$8.03 Recipe/$2.02 Serving

This dairy free baked ziti is creamy, saucy and flavorful! This easy vegan baked ziti is made with lentils, homemade marinara sauce and a creamy cashew cheese topping. This vegan baked ziti is the ultimate comfort food, ready in 30 minutes and is perfect for weeknight meals or entertaining.

Vegan baked ziti in white casserole dish.

Why you will love this recipe

  • Simple, healthy ingredients – made with pantry ingredients this lentil baked ziti is great for those nights when you need to make dinner but don’t want to go to the grocery store. If you want to take a shortcut, you can even use jarred marinara sauce from the grocery store. These healthy ingredients also make this baked ziti gluten free, dairy free, high in protein (thanks to the chickpea pasta) and can be made nut free.
  • Easy to make – baked ziti is often referred to as the lazy man’s lasagna and I am here for it. All the flavors you love from lasagna but so much easier to make!
  • Classic comfort food made healthier – this vegan baked ziti is made with healthier ingredients but still packed with so much flavor! This healthy baked ziti recipe will quickly become one of your families go to favorite recipes once you try it!
  • Ready in 30 minutes – this healthy lentil baked ziti is ready in just 30 minutes from start to finish, making it perfect for busy weeknights or entertaining guests! You can easily double the recipe (just be sure to use a larger casserole dish).
Ingredients to make vegan baked ziti.
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Ingredients

  • Gluten free pasta – Typically baked ziti is made with ziti pasta – which is tubular pasta that has a smooth exterior and a flat cut on both ends. You can also use penne pasta (which has ridges on the pasta), rigatoni, macaroni, or mostaccioli. My go to pasta for vegan meals is a high protein pasta made from chickpeas or lentils. Banza has a ziti shaped pasta and Barilla and Thrive Market brands both have penne pasta, all of which are delicious and easy to use.
  • Cooked lentils – you can cook lentils at home (very budget friendly) or you can buy them already cooked at the store. You can find steamed lentils in the refrigerated section of the produce department or you can find canned lentils in the canned beans area of many grocery stores.

Homemade pasta sauce

  • Onion and garlic – onions and garlic provide a great base of flavor for the homemade marinara. If you are short on time, you can omit the onions and garlic but they do provide a lot of flavor to the sauce so if you have the time, I highly recommend adding them.
  • Tomato paste – tomato paste provides a deep, rich tomato flavor to the sauce and also adds an element of umami or balance to the sauce since it’s not simmering on the stove all day long.
  • Balsamic vinegar – balsamic vinegar is my secret ingredient in any homemade tomato sauce. It helps to brighten the sauce and helps to remove the canned flavor from the tomato puree/crushed tomatoes.
  • Tomato puree or crushed tomatoes – I really love using tomato puree but that isn’t always easy to find, so if you need to you can also use crushed tomatoes or even diced tomatoes that you quickly pulse to break down into a puree.
  • Spices: Salt, Italian seasoning, garlic powder – these all help to create a flavorful sauce without the need for fresh herbs.

Creamy Cashew Cheese Topping

  • Soaked cashews – cashews soaked in hot water are the base of this cashew cheese topping. Once soaked, they are blended with water to make a thick and creamy cheesy topping for the vegan baked ziti. If you are looking for a vegan baked ziti without cashews, you can also use hemp hearts or raw sunflower seeds as well, although the flavor will be slightly different.
  • Water – water is added to help blend up the cashews and create that thick cashew cream topping.
  • Spices: Salt and garlic powder – these help to add a little flavor to the creamy cashew topping.

How to make vegan baked ziti

Start by bringing water to a boil in a large pot for the pasta and preheating the oven to 425F.

At the same time, bring water to a boil in a electric kettle for the cashews (see below for other options if you don’t have an electric kettle). Once the water is boiling, pour the water over the cashews and allow them to sit at least 5 minutes in the hot water.

Cashews soaking in glass jar.

Preheat a large skillet over medium heat.

Peel and chop the onions and garlic. When the skillet is hot, add the onions, cook 4-5 minutes over medium heat. Once onions look almost done, add the garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn.

Cast iron skillet with onions, before and after cooking.

Add the spices and tomato paste to the onion and garlic mixture. Stir well to coat the onions and garlic in the tomato paste before adding the rest of the sauce ingredients.

Tomato paste and spices added to cooked onions, before and after stirring.

Open the can of tomato puree or crushed tomatoes (if you are using diced tomatoes, pour out some of the liquid and pulse in a blender or with an immersion blender to create a sauce like consistency). Pour the tomato puree and balsamic vinegar over the onions and garlic. Stir well. Cook 2-3 minutes over low heat.

Balsamic vinegar and tomato puree added to cast iron skillet filled with cooked onions.

When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook 1-2 minutes less than recommended on the box. You want the pasta to be al dente as it will cook a bit in the oven as well and you don’t want it to get mushy.

While the pasta is cooking, drain the cashews and discard the water. Add the cashews, fresh water, salt and garlic powder to a high-speed blender. Blend on high 1-2 minutes until creamy.

Vegan cashew cheese sauce in blender before and after blending.

Drain the pasta once it’s done cooking.

Add the lentils to the marinara sauce and turn off the heat. Stir well.

Lentils being added to homemade pasta sauce.

Spoon enough tomato sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish (8×8 or the equivalent size) to ensure the pasta won’t stick. Next add the pasta and all the sauce, stirring well to ensure all the pasta is coated in sauce.

Once all the pasta is well coated, press it down into a single layer. Next pour the cashew cream over the top and smooth it out with the back of a spoon or spatula.

Bake in a 425F oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn on the broiler and broil for 3-3:30 minutes. Serve hot.

Creamy cashew sauce added to top of baked ziti before and after baking.

Top tips

  • This recipe uses chickpea pasta (Banza) which comes in 8 ounce boxes, so if you are using a full pound of pasta, you will want to double the sauce and cashew cheese sauce ingredients as well.
  • If you are using canned diced tomatoes, drain off some of the liquid in the can before quickly blending, otherwise the sauce may be too watery.
  • Be sure to cook the pasta 1-2 minutes less than the box instructs, as it will continue to cook in the oven as well or the pasta will get mushy in the oven.
  • Time saving tip: Don’t have time to make your own marinara? Use a jar of your favorite store bought!
Vegan baked ziti with spoonful of pasta removed.

What to serve with dairy free baked ziti

This lentil baked ziti is so filling and flavorful it can easily be served by itself, especially for a weeknight meal. If you are entertaining or wanting to serve this creamy vegetarian baked ziti with a side dish or two, some great options would be:

Common questions

What is baked ziti

Baked ziti is usually made with a tomato based meat sauce and ziti noodles, topped with cheese and baked. Baked ziti is often called a lazy mans lasagna since it has many of the same ingredients but doesn’t have to be as meticulously assembled.

Instead of using vegan sausage or a vegan ground meat substitute, I wanted to keep things simple and use cooked lentils. They are easy to find, packed with fiber and protein and help make this casserole super filling.

What kind of pasta is used for baked ziti

Typically, baked ziti uses ziti noodles, which are long, tubular and smooth. This shape of pasta is great because it allows the sauce to get stuck inside the pasta noodles. You can also use penne, rigatoni, elbow macaroni or Mostaccioli shaped pastas.

What is the difference in ziti and penne pasta? Ziti is tubular shaped without ridges. Penne is similar in shape but has ridges. Mostaccioli has pointed ends and ridges and elbow pasta is smaller in size without ridges. The ridges typically help the sauce stick to the pasta.

Dairy free baked ziti on plate with matte silver fork.

How to soak cashews

Cashews are soaked to ensure they will make a smooth and creamy sauce. Soaking cashews helps to soften them before blending. You can soak cashews in hot water or on the counter.

  • Cover in boiling water – bring water to a boil (I use an electric kettle) then pour the boiling water over the cashews in a bowl or glass. Allow the cashews to soak at least 5 minutes. The longer they can soak, the softer they get.
  • Microwave – add just enough water to cover the cashews and microwave 2-3 minutes. Allow the cashews to sit in the microwave 5 minutes before carefully removing them (use oven mitts) to discard the water.
  • Stove top – bring water and cashews to a boil and allow it to boil 1-2 minutes. Allow cashews to rest in the hot water for at least 5 minutes before draining the cashews.
  • Countertop – the easiest way to soak cashews it to add water to a cup with the cashews and allow them to soak 6-8 hours (or more).

Can you make vegan baked ziti in advance?

Yes. Make the entire dish the up to 48 hours before, store it covered with foil in the fridge. When you are ready to serve, pop in oven covered in foil at 425F for 25 minutes, remove foil and broil 3-3:30 minutes.

Can you freeze baked ziti before baking?

Yes! You can fully assemble the baked ziti, allow it to cool completely in the fridge then move it to the freezer to freeze up to 3 months. I recommend that you use a foil baking pan for this, as you will be out a casserole dish if the ziti is in the freezer for months. Be sure to cover the ziti in foil then plastic wrap to ensure it doesn’t get freezer burn.

When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap and put the ziti in a 375F preheated oven for 1 hour. After 1 hour, remove the foil cover and turn the oven to broil. Broil for 3-3:30 until the top is brown.

Casserole dish with vegan baked ziti, wooden spoon on side.

Can you make this vegan baked ziti without cashews?

Yes! If you cannot do cashews or prefer a nut free meal, you can instead use:

  • Hemp hearts (no soaking needed) – hemp hearts have a little grassier flavor, so I recommend increasing the garlic powder to ½ to ¾ teaspoon to help offset that grassier flavor.
  • Raw sunflower seeds or pepitas (will need soaking just like the cashews) – sunflower seeds or pepitas will have a slightly different flavor but if you cannot tolerate cashews, this is a good option.
  • White beans – white beans can be used to make a creamy sauce. If you want to use a can of white beans, I would increase the water to ¾ cup.

Can you double this recipe?

Yes! This recipe uses chickpea pasta which typically comes in 8 oz. boxes. If you are using a gluten free noodle, typically that comes in 16 oz. boxes. In this case, you should double all the ingredients and use a 9X13 casserole dish instead of 8X8.

Storing leftovers

  • Fridge: Leftover vegan baked ziti can be store in the fridge in a well-sealed container for up to 5 days, making it perfect for leftovers! Serve leftovers for lunch or dinner!
  • Reheat leftover ziti in the microwave 1:30 -2 minutes or in the oven 375F for 10-12 minutes.
  • Freezer: Freeze leftover baked ziti for up to 3 months. Be sure to label the ziti with the name, date and use by date. I like to spoon the leftovers into Soupercubes so I can freeze individual servings at a time. Once frozen, transfer the cubes into a freezer safe bag and freeze 3 months.

Substitutions

  • Lentils: The lentils are used in place of sausage or ground beef in traditional baked ziti. You can use cooked sausage or ground beef or turkey or vegan sausage or vegan ground beef substitute if you prefer those over lentils. You can also use white beans or black beans in place of the lentils. I would not recommend using red lentils in this recipe as they get mushy when cooked.
  • Onions and garlic – these help to provide a flavor base for the pasta sauce. If you are short on time or don’t have them on hand, you can omit the onions and garlic or even use dried minced onion and dried or dehydrated garlic flakes. I would use about 1 teaspoon of both.
  • Tomato paste – tomato paste helps to intensify the tomato flavor and brings some umami to the sauce. You could add 1 tablespoon of coconut aminos or gluten free soy sauce if you don’t have tomato paste.
  • Balsamic vinegar – balsamic vinegar really helps to cut through that canned tomato taste and gives the sauce a richness. You could try using sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar in place of the balsamic vinegar if needed but the balsamic is really best.
  • Italian seasoning – if you don’t have Italian seasoning on hand, you can make your own Italian seasoning substitute.
  • Tomato puree or crushed tomatoes – if you cannot find these in store or don’t have them on hand, you can use diced tomatoes as well. Simply drain off some of the liquid from the canned diced tomatoes before pulsing them in a food processor or blender until smooth. You can also omit all the homemade tomato sauce ingredients and instead use your favorite jarred pasta sauce as well.
  • Cashews: you can replace cashews with hemp hearts, sunflower seeds, pepitas or white beans. See the tips above on how to modify the recipe if needed.
Wooden spoon in casserole dish of vegetarian baked ziti.

If you love this recipe, you should try

Vegan Creamy Tomato Pasta

Vegan Sundried Tomato Pesto Pasta

Pesto Mushroom Pasta

Lemon Tahini Pasta

Artichoke Pesto Pasta

★ Did you make this recipe? Please give it a star rating below!
White casserole dish filled with vegan baked ziti.

Vegan Baked Ziti

$8.03 Recipe/$2.02 Serving
Vegan baked ziti is so easy to make, ready in 30 minutes and perfect for weeknight meals. This healthy dairy free baked ziti is packed with flavor and has a creamy cashew topping, making it the ultimate comfort food!
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Course: dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: dairy free baked ziti, healthy baked ziti, vegan baked ziti
Prep Time: 3 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Total Time: 28 mins
Servings: 4

Ingredients

Homemade Pasta Sauce

Creamy Cashew Sauce

Instructions

  • Add water to a large pot and put over high heat to bring to a boil for the pasta. Preheat oven to 425F.
  • Add water to an electric kettle and turn on. Once boiling, pour water over cashews for soaking. Let them soak at least 5 minutes.
  • Preheat a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Finely chop the onion and 2 clove of garlic. When the skillet is hot, add the onions.
  • Cook the onions for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. When onions are almost done, add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes.
  • Add tomato paste, Italian seasoning, salt and garlic powder to the cooked onions in the skillet. Turn to low heat.
  • Once tomato paste is well incorporated in the onions, add the can of tomato puree and balsamic vinegar. Stir well and cook over very low heat.
  • When water is boiling for pasta, add pinch of salt and the pasta. Cook for 1-2 minutes less than what the instructions on the box indicate.
  • While pasta is cooking, drain the cashews and add cashews, fresh water, salt and garlic powder to blender. Blend on high 1-2 minutes.
  • Add cooked lentils to pasta sauce and turn off heat. Stir well.
  • Once pasta is done cooking, drain it in a colander.
  • Spoon 2-3 large spoonfuls of pasta sauce into the bottom of the casserole dish. Next add the cooked pasta and the rest of the pasta sauce on top. Stir well.
  • Once all the pasta is coated in sauce, flatten down the pasta in the casserole dish. Pour the cashew cream over top and smooth out with back of a spoon or spatula.
  • Bake in a 425F oven for 10 minutes. Immediately turn on the broiler and broil for 3-3:30 until the top starts to get golden brown. Serve hot.

Notes

Top tips
  • This recipe uses chickpea pasta (Banza) which comes in 8 ounce boxes, so if you are using a full pound of pasta, you will want to double the sauce and cashew cheese sauce ingredients as well.
  • If you are using canned diced tomatoes, drain off some of the liquid in the can before quickly blending, otherwise the sauce may be too watery.
  • Be sure to cook the pasta 1-2 minutes less than the box instructs, as it will continue to cook in the oven as well or the pasta will get mushy in the oven.
  • Time saving tip: Don’t have time to make your own marinara? Use a jar of your favorite store bought!
How to soak cashews
  • Cover in boiling water – bring water to a boil (I use an electric kettle) then pour the boiling water over the cashews in a bowl or glass. Allow the cashews to soak at least 5 minutes. The longer they can soak, the softer they get.
  • Microwave – add just enough water to cover the cashews and microwave 2-3 minutes. Allow the cashews to sit in the microwave 5 minutes before carefully removing them (use oven mitts) to discard the water.
  • Stove top – bring water and cashews to a boil and allow it to boil 1-2 minutes. Allow cashews to rest in the hot water for at least 5 minutes before draining the cashews.
  • Countertop – the easiest way to soak cashews it to add water to a cup with the cashews and allow them to soak 6-8 hours (or more).
How to make vegan baked ziti in advance:
Make the entire dish the up to 48 hours before, store it covered with foil in the fridge. When you are ready to serve, pop in oven covered in foil at 425F for 25 minutes, remove foil and broil 3-3:30 minutes.
How to freeze baked ziti before baking:
Fully assemble the baked ziti, allow it to cool completely in the fridge then move it to the freezer to freeze up to 3 months. I recommend that you use a foil baking pan for this, as you will be out a casserole dish if the ziti is in the freezer for months. Be sure to cover the ziti in foil then plastic wrap to ensure it doesn’t get freezer burn.
When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap and put the ziti in a 375F preheated oven for 1 hour. After 1 hour, remove the foil cover and turn the oven to broil. Broil for 3-3:30 until the top is brown.
How to make this nut free: 
  • Hemp hearts (no soaking needed) – hemp hearts have a little grassier flavor, so I recommend increasing the garlic powder to ½ to ¾ teaspoon to help offset that grassier flavor.
  • Raw sunflower seeds or pepitas (will need soaking just like the cashews) – sunflower seeds or pepitas will have a slightly different flavor but if you cannot tolerate cashews, this is a good option.
  • White beans – white beans can be used to make a creamy sauce. If you want to use a can of white beans, I would increase the water to ¾ cup.
Storing leftovers
  • Fridge: Leftover vegan baked ziti can be store in the fridge in a well-sealed container for up to 5 days, making it perfect for leftovers! Serve leftovers for lunch or dinner!
  • Reheat leftover ziti in the microwave 1:30 -2 minutes or in the oven 375F for 10-12 minutes.
  • Freezer: Freeze leftover baked ziti for up to 3 months. Be sure to label the ziti with the name, date and use by date. I like to spoon the leftovers into Soupercubes so I can freeze individual servings at a time. Once frozen, transfer the cubes into a freezer safe bag and freeze 3 months.
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Nutrition Information

Nutrition Facts
Amount per Serving
Calories
484
Fat
 
11
g
Carbohydrates
 
79
g
Fiber
 
21
g
Sugar
 
19
g
Protein
 
29
g
Where does nutrition info come from? Nutrition facts are provided as a courtesy, sourced from the USDA Food Database.
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