You may or may not know this about me, but I don’t really get down with pumpkin desserts. Savory pumpkin dishes, though? Oh hell yes. This pumpkin baked ziti with sausage is the perfect fall comfort food meal. It comes together in one pot and only takes about 30 minutes to get dinner on the table. If you’ve only ever had traditional tomato sauce baked ziti, this one is going to blow your mind! All the fall flavors of pumpkin, spicy sausage, and sage, plus all the melty fresh mozzarella. This one is going to be on repeat in our house!
What is baked ziti?
Well, first, ziti (pronounced ZEE-tee) is a pasta shape. It’s a small tube that’s a little smaller than penne but with smooth edges and not cut on a diagonal. I absolutely love the ziti shape because it’s perfect for catching all the sauce in a dish. As the name suggests, baked ziti is ziti cooked to just shy of al dente and then finished by baking it in the oven in your choice of sauce. Traditionally, it’s baked in a tomato-based sauce, often with meat, and topped with mozzarella. This version uses a creamy pumpkin parmesan sauce with spicy italian sausage, fresh sage and basil, and melty fresh mozzarella.
Store bought vs. homemade pumpkin puree
You can absolutely use a store bought pumpkin puree in this recipe! I happened to find some really nice pumpkins and decided to make my own, but store bought works just fine. Make sure you aren’t using canned pumpkin pie filling which contains sugar and all the pumpkin pie spices. I am partial to Trader Joe’s brand of pumpkin puree or Libby’s, which is a classic and a staple in my house during the holidays!
How to make homemade pumpkin puree
If you wanted to go the route of making your own pumpkin puree, it’s so easy! All you have to do to select a medium sized pumpkin (I tend to gravitate towards sugar pie pumpkins or even red kuri squash) and cut it in half. You do not want to use the pumpkins that are used for carving, they may look appealing but in reality they’re stringy and flavorless.
Once the pumpkin is cut in half, you’ll use a spoon to scrape all the seeds and strings out. Then, you’ll preheat your oven to 400 degrees F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. You’ll place the cleaned pumpkin halves cut side down on the tray, and roast them for about 45-50 minutes until soft enough to be poked with a fork. Allow them to cool completely on the tray and then scoop the flesh into the food processor, leaving the skin behind. You’ll process it until smooth and then store it in an airtight container or ziplock bag. I portioned mine into quart sized freezer bags and froze them so that I can have homemade pumpkin puree all season!
Can you make pumpkin baked ziti with butternut squash?
Absolutely! I love butternut squash! If you wanted to make your own butternut squash puree, you can follow the same instructions above. They also sell canned butternut squash puree which would work great here. Again, just make sure it’s not meant for sweet pie fillings.
Can you make pumpkin baked ziti vegetarian?
Of course you can! I love the sausage in this recipe, but it is by no means necessary. You could omit it completely, and just saute the sage with the onions and garlic. You could also add sauteed mushrooms to this which would be absolutely delicious.
How to make pumpkin baked ziti with sausage
- Boil pasta. Fill a pasta pot about half full with water and season with 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Bring the water to a boil, add the pasta and cook to just shy of al dente (usually about 2-3 minutes shy of the time recommended on the packaging). I found that at about 6-7 minutes, my pasta was where I wanted it to be. Reserve 3/4 cup of pasta water in a measuring cup and then drain the pasta in a colander.
- Make the sauce. Preheat an oven to 425 F. You’ll want to find a large skillet that is oven safe and heat it over medium heat. Add the sausage to the pan and brown for 5 minutes, breaking it up into pieces until the sausage is no longer pink and some of the fat has rendered off. Add the chopped sage to the pan and cook for another 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage and sage to a bowl (to leave the fat behind) and set aside. Add the onions and garlic to the rendered fat with 1 tablespoon of butter and cook for 3-4 minutes until the onion and garlic has softened. Then, add the pumpkin puree, pasta water, and half and half and bring to a simmer. Add the parmesan cheese and then season to taste with salt (it may not be needed) and pepper, then stir until the parmesan is melted.
- Add the pasta. You’ll then add the pasta and cooked sausage to the skillet and toss so that all the pasta is coated with sauce and the sausage is evenly dispersed. Place the pieces of fresh mozzarella over the top, cover the skillet with foil and transfer to the oven to bake for 15 minutes.
- Broil. Change the oven setting from bake to broil, remove the foil and broil for 2-3 minutes, until the mozzarella is bubbly and browned in spots. Remove from the oven, top with the fresh basil and more parmesan and serve warm.
Other pasta recipes you may enjoy
12 oz ziti pasta
1 lb spicy italian sausage, casings removed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage (optional)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 yellow onion, diced small
4 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup reserved pasta water
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup half and half
2/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
5 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into pieces
freshly ground pepper
fresh basil leaves, for topping
- Fill a pasta pot half full with water and season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Bring the water to a boil, add the pasta and cook to just shy of al dente (about 2 minutes shy of package instructions). Reserve 3/4 cup of pasta water, drain the pasta in a colander, and set aside.
- Preheat an oven to 425 F. Heat a large, oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and brown for 5 minutes, breaking the sausage up into pieces until no longer pink and some of the fat has rendered out. Add the chopped sage and cook for 2 more minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage and sage to a bowl and set aside.
- Melt the butter in the skillet used to cook the sausage and add the onions and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the onions have softened. Add the pumpkin puree, pasta water, and half and half and bring to a simmer. Add the parmesan cheese and stir until completely melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper, but remember that the pasta water has salt and so does the parmesan.
- Add the pasta and sausage to the skillet with the sauce and toss until all the pasta is coated with sauce and the sausage is evenly distributed. Top with the pieces of fresh mozzarella, cover with foil, and transfer to the oven to bake for 15 minutes.
- Change the oven settings from bake to broil on high and remove the foil. Broil for 2-3 minutes until the mozzarella is bubbly and browned in spots. Remove from the oven and top with fresh basil and more parmesan. Serve right away.
To make this dish vegetarian, simply omit the sausage.
If you are sensitive to spice, regular italian sausage can be substituted for spicy.