Neapolitan Baked Ziti Pasta al Gratin

Neapolitan Baked Ziti Pasta al Gratin

Maccheroni al gratin.

Neapolitan baked ziti pasta al gratin with béchamel is a traditional dish in Naples, Southern Italy.  Like other baked pasta recipes, it’s popular for family meals on Sundays and holidays. However, this delicious baked pasta comes together very quickly and can easily be part of a weekly menu.

Neapolitan baked ziti pasta al gratin

Isn’t béchamel French?

Béchamel sauce, as it’s generally called in Europe, is a white sauce made from flour, butter and milk. Today, people use it in a lot of recipes in many countries. But, as the name suggests, it is originally French (or is it?). Louis de Béchamel was a French financier and patron of the arts who lived in Brittany in the 17th century. He also liked to dabble in the kitchen and is said to have created béchamel sauce. Apparently, his sauce was, really just an improvement on an already existing sauce which the French used in à la crème dishes. 

ingredients for Neapolitan baked ziti pasta al gratin

However, there is also a school of thought that béchamel was actually originally based on a Tuscan sauce called ‘salsa colla’ (glue sauce). This sauce was brought to France by the chefs of Catherine de Medici when she became the wife of Henry II.

French Culinary influence on Italian food.

Whatever the origins of the original béchamel, the French actually brought a lot of culinary traditions to Southern Italy during the Bourbon reign of the kingdom of two Sicilies (Sicily & Naples) in 1800s.  During that period the nobility in Naples and Sicily most often had French chefs who then passed on their skills and recipes to Italian cooks. 

fresh mozzarella and cooked hamcut into cubes and saucepan of bechamel sauce

The use of French béchamel (besciamella in Italian) and the technique of cooking ‘au gratin’ are two cooking methods that have remained very popular, especially in baked pasta recipes. Funny, without the French, there would be no lasagna al forno as we know it!

Neapolitan baked ziti pasta al gratin in oven dish before baking

The Pasta.

In Neapolitan dialect the word ‘maccheroni’ is used to mean pasta in general, although it most often refers to long pasta tubes. For this recipe I used zitoni. These are wide ziti. Both are long 25cm dried pasta tubes, similar to giant bucatini.  Quintessentially Neapolitan, ziti and zitoni  are THE pasta for feasts and holidays in Campania. They are usually broken into halves or pieces by hand before cooking but I decided to bake them whole. If you don’t have ziti or zitoni, you can use other pasta tubes such as rigatoni or penne for this recipe or the even longer candele!

Neapolitan baked ziti pasta al gratin in oven dish before baking

Making this Neapolitan baked pasta al gratin.

This Neapolitan baked pasta al gratin recipe can be made even faster by using ready-made béchamel. But I prefer to make my own. It only takes ten minutes. The other sauce ingredients don’t need to be pre-cooked. I kept to a simple version with just mozzarella and ham cut into cubes. Some versions of Neapolitan baked pasta al gratin include hard boiled eggs and/or others vegetables such as peas. The gratin for this recipe is made with a mixture of grated Parmesan and breadcrumbs.

Neapolitan baked ziti pasta al gratin

The combination of the golden crispy gratin and the creamy, cheesy sauce make this Neapolitan baked ziti pasta al gratin a divinely delicious plate of pasta! It’s a winner with kids as well and I’m sure once you try it, it’ll become a firm family favourite.

If you make this Neapolitan baked ziti pasta al gratin recipe I’d love to hear how it turns out and if you liked it. Please leave a comment here on the blog or on The Pasta Project Facebook page.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Buon appetito!

Neapolitan baked ziti pasta al gratin

Other Italian baked pasta recipes with béchamel to try.

  1. Baked pasta roses
  2. Lasagne al forno with Bolognese
  3. Lamb lasagna
  4. Poached salmon and asparagus lasagne al forno

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5 from 16 votes
Neapolitan baked ziti pasta al gratin
Neapolitan baked ziti pasta al gratin
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
50 mins

A traditional Neapolitan baked pasta recipe that is simple to make yet so delicious!

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Campania, Italian, Southern Italian
Keyword: al gratin, baked pasta recipe, bechamel, ziti
Servings: 4
Author: Jacqueline De Bono
  • 400 g Ziti or Zitoni (14oz) I used zitoni pasta from Granoro (their Dedicato line)
  • 300 g mozzarella (10oz) drained and cut into cubes
  • 300 g ham (10oz) thick slices cut into cubes
  • 50 g butter (1.5oz)
  • 90 g Parmesan (3oz) grated
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • salt to season and for pasta
  • black pepper to season
for the béchamel
  • 1 lt milk (2 pints)
  • 100 g flour (3.5 oz)
  • 100 g butter (3.5oz)
  • nutmeg as required
  1. Cut the mozzarella and the ham into cubes 

Make the béchamel sauce (white sauce)
  1. Put the butter in a pan over a low heat, melt it, add the flour and mix until it forms a thick paste (roux), then remove it from the heat. At this point slowly add the milk and stir continuously to dissolve the roux without making lumps. 

  2. Put the pan on a moderate heat and keep stirring constantly until it starts to simmer and thicken. Lower the flame, wait a couple of minutes, then turn it off. 

  3. Add a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg, mix it again for a few minutes and then allow it to cool to thicken it further. You can also leave it in the fridge.

Cook the pasta and finish the dish
  1. Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add salt once it starts to boil and bring to the boil again. Cook the pasta very al dente. (slightly less than the time given on the packet). Drain the pasta and mix it with the béchamel and the mozzarella and ham cubes. 

  2. Fill a buttered oven dish with the pasta mixture and sprinkle with the grated Parmesan and breadcrumbs. Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated oven at 180 degrees (350F) until the top is golden and crispy.

  3. Allow the baked pasta to sit for a few minutes before serving. I like to serve it quite quickly. It won’t hold together well but the sauce is creamier and the top crunchier! 

Recipe Notes

You can use other pasta such as rigatoni, penne or even candele to make this dish. Candele will definitely need to be broken into more manageable pieces. 

If you want to make this recipe faster then ready-made bechamel can be used instead of making it yourself.


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Neapolitan baked ziti pasta al gratin


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  • Marlene McCann
    September 18, 2018 11:44 pm

    I guess I’m the only one here that doesn’t understand the amount of ingredient. Can you list in regular amounts. thanks a lot.

    • Jacqui
      September 19, 2018 7:25 am

      Hi Marlene, I have added measurements in ounces for you. Here in Europe we use grams and kilos (metric) but I’m going to add American measurements to my recipes too. In the meantime, if you need a measurement converter you can us an online one. All the best from Italy!

  • April
    September 17, 2018 8:07 am

    I love the long pasta. Do you make it your own pasta? I have never seen pasta like that here in the states. I like the sound of this pasta but is Neopolitan baked pasta always made with ham or can any type of meat be used? I’d love to try this out with chicken.

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 8:23 am

      Hi April, this pasta is hard to make at home and I buy a dried version. This time I used zitoni from a company called Granoro. I’m not sure where you can find this in US I know the company does have distributors in US. Traditionally, this dish is made with ham but there are many baked pasta recipes with other meat. Chicken isn’t traditional here but I think it would work well!

  • Stephanie Simmons
    September 17, 2018 3:44 am

    Ok, this sounds INCREDIBLE! This recipe has all my favorite things. I’ll definitely be trying this one!

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 8:23 am

      Happy you like it Stephanie!

  • Linda
    September 16, 2018 3:05 pm

    I love white sauce and this bechamel sauce is calling my name! This pasta al gratin is my fave. So creamy and comforting.

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 8:25 am

      Hi Linda, yes this is really perfect comfort food. The sauce is creamy and the top is crunchy! Absolutely yummy!

  • Catherine Brown
    September 15, 2018 10:35 pm

    OK, that pasta is amazing!! I’ve never seen it before, but it looks like SO much fun! My family would love this dish and it comes together so quickly too. I’m going to look for that kind… it just wouldn’t be as much fun with anything else. Food should be as much FUN as it is nourishing!

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 8:27 am

      Thanks Catherine. The pasta I used is made by a company called Granoro from Puglia. I know they export to US. But am not sure where they sell it. Perhaps you can search online! Using long ziti or zitoni really is fun!

  • Amanda
    September 15, 2018 7:59 pm

    Oh, my gosh, that creamy sauce on baked pasta sounds and looks amazing! I definitely need to make this ASAP.

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 8:34 am

      I’m sure you’d really enjoy it Amanda. This dish is so delicious!

  • Arjhon
    September 15, 2018 5:08 pm

    I really love your pasta recipes and I always learn new things from every recipe you make. Thank you for sharing these awesome recipes.

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 8:34 am

      So happy that you like my recipes Arjhon!

  • Adriana Lopez Martin
    September 15, 2018 7:15 am

    I love baked ziti such a comforting dish, but to my surprise, I didn’t know long ziti existed I use small ziti that I find in the store. Now I need to look for it and try the authentic recipe at home.

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 8:36 am

      Long ziti are great Adriana! The zitoni I used were made by a company called Granoro in Puglia. I know they export to the US and other countries but am not sure where their products are sold. Maybe you can check online.

  • Ramona
    September 13, 2018 10:48 pm

    Oh, these ingredients look amazing and the dish absolutely mouthwatering, I love the idea of breadcrumbs sprinkle – it must be a beautiful texture and taste addition to this delicious dish. Great share and recipe thanks for sharing this Jacqui xx

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 8:51 am

      Thanks so much cara Ramona! Yes the combination of the creamy sauce and crunchy top make this dish a really winner. Def one to try!

  • Jere Cassidy
    September 13, 2018 6:01 pm

    I love to make a bechamel sauce with pasta. What stands out in this recipe is those long ziti pasta, I would love to try these.

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 8:53 am

      I agree Jere! bechamel with pasta, especially baked pasta, is so delicious! The long ziti are also great. I used zitoni made by a company from Puglia called Granoro. I’m not sure when you can buy their products but they def export to US and other countries!

  • Gloria
    September 13, 2018 4:28 pm

    I LOVE the shape of that pasta. I have only cooked it once, but now I remember how fun it was. This is a great casserole to feed a family any night of the week. Pasta is always a winner in our house.

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 9:00 am

      Yes I love this pasta too Gloria! It’s great in baked pasta dishes. One of my favourites!

  • Loyola
    September 13, 2018 4:10 pm

    Love ziti pasta mine are usually stuffed and then baked. My kids asked me to try your recipe after seeing all your beautiful pictures.

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 9:01 am

      Wow stuffed ziti sounds good. I need to try that! I’m sure your kids will love this dish!

  • Patty
    September 13, 2018 2:58 pm

    This baked zity looks so good Jacqui, we love large pasta in my family. I also found an interesting read for the béchamel, it’s such a simple sauce and yet it enhances so many dishes. Can’t wait to try your recipe!

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 9:03 am

      Thanks so much Patty! Yes béchamel is a great sauce and goes so well in baked pasta dishes. I love using it! Am sure you’ll love this dish!

  • Katie Crenshaw | A Fork’s Tale
    September 13, 2018 1:31 pm

    This looks like a big plate of delicious comfort food. It is perfect for a weeknight meal to end the night with. Yum!

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 9:07 am

      Thanks Kate! Yes this dish is comfort food at its best! And simple to make so a great choice even for weeknight meals!

  • Brian Jones
    September 13, 2018 11:50 am

    I love how there are commonalities between foods around the world, the whole ham and roux based white sauce is so common around countries that have in the past had some form of European influence. I love the sound of this so simple and so tasty!

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 9:24 am

      Thanks Brian! Yes in fact so many cuisines are actually influenced by food from other countries. Italian cuisine has elements of French, Spanish and Arab cooking to name a few. Mostly as a result of occupation in the past before the Unification of Italy and the arrival in Europe of fruit and vegetables from places such as South America!

  • Kelly Anthony
    September 12, 2018 10:45 pm

    Loved reading about bechamel sauce. This baked ziti pasta looks amazing and I can’t wait to make it for my family.

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 9:25 am

      Thanks Kelly! Happy you want to make this recipe for your family!

  • Stine Mari
    September 12, 2018 2:07 pm

    Interesting read about the bechamel sauce! We have a similar sauce here in Norway too, just called ‘White Sauce’ (so inventive). And it’s used in a dish that looks like this too, so I am pretty sure this pasta dish is kick ass!

    • Jacqui
      September 18, 2018 9:26 am

      Thank you Stine Mari. Yes ‘white sauce’ or versions of it can be found in many cuisines! I like using it, especially in baked pasta dishes!

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