Five Cheese Ziti al Forno

Five Cheese Ziti al Forno is an Olive Garden copycat recipe combining mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano, fontina, and ricotta with tender pasta, flavorful marinara sauce, and creamy Alfredo sauce for a decadent, delicious comfort food dinner!

Five Cheese Ziti al Forno with text overlay.


 

I can say with conviction that, growing up, Olive Garden was my favorite "fancy restaurant." I still fondly remember my first going-out-to-eat birthday dinner at their newly-built south Austin location in the late 80s. Olive Garden is also where I would treat my brother to "a good meal" in college when he was a freshman and I was a senior. I mean, how can you beat endless salad and breadsticks at any age?!

Alas, I haven't dined there in a good many years at this point. But that doesn't mean I haven't figured out how to replicate some of my favorite OG recipes at home, from their zippy Italian Salad Dressing to their Chicken Gnocchi Soup to today's decadent, positively divine Five Cheese Ziti al Forno!

It's basically like an Italian version of mac and cheese, y'all...only better. 😉

Ingredients

The star ingredients of Five Cheese Ziti al Forno are -- you guessed it! -- ziti pasta and FIVE different types of cheese!

But what exactly are those cheeses? And what else do you need to whip up this drool-worthy comfort food recipe?

Aerial view of ingredients to make Five Cheese Ziti al Forno.
  • Ziti pasta. If you can’t find ziti, another sturdy pasta (such as penne, for similar tubes, or even rotini or farfalle) will work.
  • Cheese, cheese, and more cheese! Specifically, (1.) shredded mozzarella, (2.) shredded fontina, (3.) grated Parmesan, (4.) grated Romano, and (5.) ricotta.
    • Any soft cheese (I'm looking at you, mozzarella and fontina) is easier to shred if you briefly chill the block in the freezer first.
    • Since fontina can sometimes be hard to find, provolone is a good substitute for this recipe.
    • Use reduced-fat or whole milk ricotta, but keep in mind that whole milk is creamier.
  • Marinara sauce. You may, of course, use homemade marinara if you've got some on hand. But a jarred sauce that you enjoy the flavor of also works beautifully in this recipe.
  • Tomato sauce. Tomato puree would be fine as well.
  • Alfredo sauce. I'll be honest here...lots of store-bought Alfredo sauces contain some rather icky ingredients. But I was able to track down a jarred Alfredo sauce that's both tasty and made with decent ingredients. And again, if you'd like to whip up your own from scratch, knock yourself out! 😉
  • Italian breadcrumbs. Feel free to use store-bought, or easily make them yourself.
  • Italian seasoning.
    • If you don't already have a bottle in your spice cabinet, you can use substitute ½ teaspoon dried parsley + ½ teaspoon dried basil + ½ teaspoon dried oregano + ¼ teaspoon dried thyme + ⅛ teaspoon dried rosemary in this recipe instead.
    • Or if you have access to fresh herbs, feel free to add those to this recipe in place of dried. Just keep in mind that dried herbs are about three times more potent than fresh, so you will need a total of 2 tablespoons of minced fresh herbs to replace the 2 teaspoons of dried herbs called for in the recipe.
  • Minced garlic cloves + extra-virgin olive oil. For the breadcrumb topping.
Five Cheese Ziti al Forno on plate with salad.

How to Make Five Cheese Ziti al Forno

(The below photos are intended to be helpful, but please refer to the recipe card at the bottom of this post for FULL DIRECTIONS.)

This recipe is super simple to make despite having several separate components -- pasta, sauce, and topping. So let's break it all down, shall we?

Cook the pasta:

  1. Preheat the oven and grease a baking dish.
  2. Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente; drain and set aside.

Make the topping:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano, Italian breadcrumbs, minced garlic, and EVOO; set aside.

Make the sauce:

  1. In a large bowl, stir together the marinara sauce, Alfredo sauce, tomato sauce, mozzarella, fontina, ricotta, and Romano until well-combined.
Bowl of breadcrumb and cheese topping.
Aerial view of sauce ingredients in bowl.
Glass bowl of sauce with spoon.

Assemble & finish the dish:

  1. Combine the sauce and the cooked pasta until evenly coated. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Evenly sprinkle with the cheesy breadcrumb topping mixture.
Combining ziti and sauce in large pot.
Close-up of pasta in baking dish.
Five Cheese Ziti al Forno in baking dish ready for oven.
  1. Bake your Five Cheese Ziti al Forno until golden brown and bubbly!
Aerial view of baking dish just out of oven.

Gluten-Free Five Cheese Ziti al Forno

I have one gluten-free kiddo, so I made a GF version of this recipe for him using our family's favorite gluten-free penne pasta (I couldn't find GF ziti) and my Homemade Italian Breadcrumbs made with GF bread.

Alternatively, you could use store-bought gluten-free Italian breadcrumbs...or gluten-free plain breadcrumbs with 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning stirred in.

If making this recipe GF, just be sure you also check the ingredient label on your Alfredo sauce.

Optional: Adding Meat

If you would like to beef up this recipe (no pun intended--heh) by addding ground beef, ground turkey, or even Italian sausage to this dish, I'd suggest browning 1 pound of meat in a pan, draining the grease, and seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste. Then simply stir in the meat at the same time you combine the pasta with the sauce.

Just be sure your baking dish is large enough to accommodate the extra goodness!

Close-up of surface of Five Cheese Ziti al Forno.

Dividing Between Two Dishes

Instead of baking your Five Cheese Ziti al Forno in one baking dish, it can be divided between two 8- by 8-inch baking dishes (or baking dishes of varying dimensions, as long as they have capacities of 1.5- to 2-quarts each).

You can share the second dish with someone or freeze it to enjoy another day (see “Freezing Instructions” below).

Make-Ahead Instructions

If you’d like to assemble this recipe ahead of time, you may tightly cover the baking dish with foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

When you’re ready to bake it, remove the baking dish from the fridge while the oven preheats to 350°F and bake (still covered with foil) for 15 minutes. Remove the foil from the dish and then bake for an additional 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and completely heated through.

Five Cheese Ziti al Forno on plate and in dish.

Freezing Instructions

Assemble your Five Cheese Ziti al Forno as directed (in a freezer-safe baking dish!) but do not bake. Place the assembled recipe in the refrigerator (uncovered) for a couple of hours until chilled. Then tightly cover the dish in two layers of freezer-thickness foil, label with recipe name and date, and freeze for up to three months.

The day before you’re ready to bake your ziti dish, place it in the refrigerator to thaw for at least 24 hours.

Remove the thawed baking dish from the fridge while the oven preheats to 350°F and bake (still covered with foil) for 15 minutes. Remove the foil from the dish and then bake for an additional 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and completely heated through.

Close-up of Five Cheese Ziti al Forno being scooped.

Helpful Tips, Tricks, & Equipment

  • As shown in the step-by-step photos (above), I cooked my ziti for this recipe in a large pot. So after draining the water and returning the pasta to the pot, there was plenty of room to stir the sauce into the drained ziti in the pot. Alternatively, if you mix up your sauce ingredients in a very large bowl, there may be room for you to stir the drained ziti directly into the sauce. Either way works…you just want to combine the two components wherever you have the most room!
  • Separate amounts of mozzarella cheese are needed for various steps in this recipe, and they are broken out as such in the recipe card. However, for shopping purposes, the total amount of shredded mozzarella required for the entire recipe is 2 cups.
  • Similarly, the total amount of grated Romano required for the whole recipe is ½ cup.
Aerial view of Five Cheese Ziti al Forno with parsley garnish.

And there you have it! Five Cheese Ziti al Forno is a cozy, scrumptious pasta dish that'll have you reminiscing about your fondest Olive Garden memories...

...whether 20 years ago or last week...

...from the comfort of your very own kitchen. 😉

More Pasta Dinner Favorites

Five Cheese Ziti al Forno on plate.

Five Cheese Ziti al Forno

Five Cheese Ziti al Forno is an Olive Garden copycat recipe combining mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano, fontina, and ricotta with tender pasta, flavorful marinara sauce, and creamy Alfredo sauce for a decadent, delicious comfort food dinner!
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 12 servings
Calories: 394kcal
Print Pin Rate

Ingredients

  • 1 pound uncooked dry ziti pasta

For the Topping:

  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Romano cheese
  • ½ cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the Sauce:

  • 1 (24-ounce) jar marinara sauce
  • 1 (15-ounce) jar Alfredo sauce
  • 1 (8-ounce) can (1 cup) tomato sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup shredded fontina cheese, OR shredded provolone
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Romano cheese
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste, OPTIONAL

For Garnish:

  • Chopped fresh parsley or other herbs, OPTIONAL

Instructions

Prep & Pasta:

  • With rack in center position, preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 3-quart (such as a 9- by 13-inch) baking dish or spray with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
  • Boil the ziti in well-salted water to al dente according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

To Make the Topping:

  • In a medium bowl, stir together the mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano, breadcrumbs, minced garlic, and olive oil; set aside.

To Make the Sauce:

  • In a large bowl, stir together the marinara sauce, Alfredo sauce, tomato sauce, mozzarella, fontina, ricotta, and Romano until well-combined, adding crushed red pepper flakes (to taste), if desired.

To Assemble & Finish the Dish:

  • Combine the sauce and the cooked ziti until evenly coated. Transfer to the prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Evenly sprinkle with the cheese/ breadcrumb topping mixture.
  • Bake, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs, if desired, and serve hot.

Video

Notes

  • If you can’t find ziti, another sturdy pasta (ideally penne, or rotini or farfalle) will work as well.
  • You may use reduced-fat or whole milk ricotta, but keep in mind that whole milk is the creamiest.
  • Blocks of mozzarella and fontina (both soft cheeses) will be easier to shred if you briefly chill them in the freezer first.
  • Separate amounts of mozzarella cheese are broken out by various steps in the recipe card. For shopping purposes, however, the total amount of shredded mozzarella required for the entire recipe is 2 cups.
  • Similarly, the total amount of grated Romano required for the whole recipe is ½ cup.
  • If you boil your ziti in a large pot, there should be plenty of room to stir the sauce into the drained ziti in the pot (after draining the water and returning the pasta to the pot). Alternatively, if you mix up the sauce ingredients in a very large bowl, there may be room for you to stir your drained ziti directly into the sauce. Either way, combine the two components wherever you have the most room.
  • If you don’t already have Italian seasoning in your spice cabinet, you can substitute ½ teaspoon dried parsley + ½ teaspoon dried basil + ½ teaspoon dried oregano + ¼ teaspoon dried thyme + ⅛ teaspoon dried rosemary for this recipe instead.
  • See the body of the post (scroll above this recipe card) for Make-Ahead Instructions and Freezing Instructions.

Nutrition

Calories: 394kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 54mg | Sodium: 989mg | Potassium: 380mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 572IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 265mg | Iron: 2mg
Made this recipe? I'd love to see on IG!Mention @FiveHeartHome or tag #FiveHeartHome!

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8 Comments

  1. I am nearly 80 and LOVE Learning new things to try inthe kitchen! I never would have thought to combine alfredo and marinara sauces! I just new I didnt care for Afredo sauce. A whole new world has opened to me!!!
    My mother in laws (thus mine) recipe for lasagna called for ricotta but she substituted small curd cottage cheese put through a Foley food mill..
    We had a gathering of 5 same age soccer playing kids. The 5 Families. In October the season began calling for yummy casseoles to share. Planning ahead, we each made 5 extra pans of a family favorite casserole to freeze for count down to the holidays. Later we had a big cookie bake where we traded cookies and casseroles....and recipes.

  2. 5 stars
    Easy to make and packed with flavor - we love love loved all of the cheese in this. I will make this recipe again for sure!

  3. 5 stars
    This Five Cheese Ziti was one of those dinners that no one complained about! Everyone loved how it's loaded with cheese!! It was a huge hit and we can't wait to have it again!

    1. Yes! There's actually a heading in the post (a few sections above the recipe card) on how I made this recipe GF for one of my kids. 🙂