Gluten Free & Dairy Free Baked Ziti Like Mom’s

For a lady of 100% Irish descent, my mother was an amazing Italian cook. Her dishes were legendary. In fact, her baked ziti was the best I have ever tasted – even to this day. Recently, I have been trying to replicate her baked ziti recipe in a gluten free/dairy free way. After many failed attempts, I think I finally succeeded.

Just a disclaimer, the copycat recipe that I came up with isn’t paleo. However, this is not a dish that one will make on the regular. It’s meant to be a special occasion dish and to satisfy your craving for a hearty Italian baked pasta dish every once in a while.

Two major factors to getting the gluten free and dairy free baked ziti similar to my mom’s original ziti recipe are finding the right pasta and dairy free cheese. That’s no small feat. I have found a combination of corn/rice penne pasta works the best and tastes the most similar to traditional wheat pasta. For the most comparable dairy free cheese, I recommend Kite Hill’s cashew-based ricotta cheese. Although pricey (approximately $9 at Whole Foods), it tastes almost identical to dairy-based ricotta and really elevates the dish. The Kite Hill ricotta is often out of stock or hard to come by; another great option is the Miyoko’s cashew-based mozzarellla which is much easier to find in stores. It’s even available in Target now!

Gluten free pasta and Kite Hill dairy free ricotta

To Make Your Own Sauce or Buy?

To save some time, my mom would often buy sauce at the store to use in her recipe but she would doctor it up to make it taste like homemade sauce. However, I always prefer to make my own sauce if I have the time. If you want to save some time (about a half hour), you can also buy a high quality sauce like Raos. There’s nothing like a homemade sauce, though.

Marinara Sauce Recipe


  • 1 28 ounce can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes
  • 3 teaspoons of tomato paste
  • 1/3 of a 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1 medium shallot chopped
  • 1/3 of a medium/large red onion chopped
  • 1/4 cup of Avocado oil
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • pinch of salt and pepper


  1. Add the oils and the chopped garlic to the saucepan. Saute for 2-3 minutes on medium heat.
  2. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes and stir. Add in the tomato paste, chopped onions, chopped shallots and stir.
  3. Add in the oregano, basil, salt and pepper.
  4. Reduce the temperature to low and simmer for 45 minutes.

Prepping the Ground Beef

Not every baked ziti recipe includes ground beef; however, it is one of the star ingredients of my mom’s recipe. My mom would saute the ground beef on the stove. I prefer to use my InstaPot’s slow cooking setting for cooking my ground beef for the baked ziti recipe. Here’s what I do:

Ground Beef Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil/avocado oil
  • 1 package grass fed ground beef
  • 1/3 of a red onion diced
  • 1 medium shallot diced
  • 2 cloves of chopped garlic
  • A pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper
  • 2 teaspoons All Purpose Seasoning
  • 3 tablespoons of diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil


  1. Coat the bottom of the InstaPot/Slow Cooker pan with the oil.
  2. Add the ground beef.
  3. Add the onions, shallot and garlic. Mix into the ground beef.
  4. Add the diced tomatoes seasoning and mix into the beef.
  5. Slow cook for 2.5 hours.

Putting all the Pieces Together

Now that you have the sauce and ground beef prepared, it’s time to put the rest of the pieces together for the final delectable dish. After the sauce and the beef are ready to go, it’s pretty much smooth sailing after that. Here are the rest of steps to complete this gluten free and dairy free baked ziti recipe that tastes so much like the real thing.


  • 1 box or 12 ounce bag of corn/rice penne (or other gluten free penne)
  • 1 container of Kite Hill ricotta (or Miyoko’s mozzarella)
  • Marinara sauce (see recipe above or purchase high quality sauce like Rao’s)
  • Ground beef (see above)
Dairy free baked ziti in a glass pan


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Bring water in a saucepan to a boil. Add pasta and follow directions accordingly.
  3. Drain pasta. Add drained pasta to a large Pyrex rectangle baking dish.
  4. Pour in the sauce to cover the noodles. Reserve 1/2 cup of sauce.
  5. Break up the ground beef into pieces and add to the noodles.
  6. Layer in the dairy free cheese.
  7. Pour the reserve sauce on the top of the ziti.
  8. Bake for 30-40 minutes.
  9. Cool before serving.
Cooked dairy free baked ziti in a glass pan

Enjoy! I have made this recipe over and over with great reviews by my guests.


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