This baked pasta casserole is a hearty and comforting dish made up of meat sauce, pasta, and cheese (and extra vegetables if you want them). It is meal prep, pot luck, and freezer friendly and extremely versatile.
As I mentioned in my last post, I recently made dinner for a friend and her husband after a loss in her family. This pasta bake and the Spinach Salad with Toasted Pine Nuts and Parmesan I took over to them was the perfect comfort meal.
You can really use any type of ground meat you prefer. Italian sausage will add the most robust flavor but it’s not going to be as lean as ground turkey or lean ground beef. For the sauce, you can use any jar of tomato sauce you prefer or try and make your own!
Also, any type of pasta will do. I usually go with Rigatoni but have used penne, fusilli, and ziti. You can even use gluten-free pasta but you may also need some water added (or extra sauce). I will update this with specific guidelines once I have tested this recipe with gluten-free pasta.
Obviously you are getting a healthy dose of tomatoes with this dish but you can add other vegetables as well. Mushrooms and zucchini are my favorites for this dish. I usually just finely chop the veggies and toss them in with the meat and onions. Shredded carrots are also a great option.
BAKED PASTA CASSEROLE
Freezing the Baked Pasta
After baking (but prior to adding the mozzarella cheese), simply cover in plastic wrap and then tin foil (to prevent freezer burn), label with the name and date, and put it in the freezer.
When you’re ready to cook, place in the oven at 350 F, covered only with lightly greased foil, and bake until heated through, about 50-60 minutes (this can take up to 90 minutes – just keep an eye on it to be sure). If your baking dish is not freezer-to-oven safe, leave the dish out on the counter for at least 2 hours before placing it in the hot oven.
Remove foil, spread cheese over the top and then bake until cheese starts to brown.
Make ahead of time
To make this Pasta Bake ahead of time, simply prepare up to the point of baking. Cover in plastic wrap or foil, or a lid if your baking dish has one that fits tightly.
Stick it in the fridge up to 3 days, then pour 1/2 cup water over the pasta (to keep the dish from getting too dry in the oven) and bake per the instructions.
**When I made this for my friend I baked it but skipped the last 10 minutes with the cheese on top. I brought her a bag of cheese with instructions on baking the final 10 minutes. That way it was fresh out of the oven when they were ready to eat that night.
Other Recipes you may enjoy:
Italian Pasta Bake Recipe
- 1 lb Italian sausage, lean beef or ground turkey
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 5 cups tomato pasta sauce (at least)
- 1 lb pasta (rigatoni, ziti, penne or fusilli)
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- In a large saucepan, add onion and sausage (or ground beef or turkey). Stir and cook over medium heat until browned and onions have softened. Drain any juices.
- Add Italian seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper and cook 1 minute.
- Add the pasta sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for 5 minutes. Set aside. (I tend to use more than 5 cups of sauce. 5 cups is the minimum for the dish to not get too dry.)
- In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and reduce heat and cook until al dente (it will continue to cook in the oven). Use the al dente cook time on packaging.
- Reserve ½ cup pasta water and drain the pasta. Stir reserved pasta water into meat sauce.
- Combine pasta and meat sauce in the pan. Then pour into a slightly greased 9x13" or similar baking dish.
- Cover with a lightly greased piece of foil and bake at 350 F for 20 minutes (or until heated through).
- OPTIONAL FOR MAKE AHEAD: Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. Before baking pour ½ cup water over pasta dish to ensure it is moist. Bake at 350 F until heated through, about 30-40 minutes.
- Uncover and sprinkle with cheese. Bake an additional 10 minutes, until cheese has started to brown. (When I made this for a friend I skipped this step and brought her a bag of cheese with instructions on baking the final 10 minutes since I wasn't sure if she would eat it right away)
This recipe is so versitle. You can really use any type of ground meat you prefer. Italian sausage will add the most robust flavor but it's going to be as lean as ground turkey or lean ground beef.
You can also use any pasta you prefer as well. I usually go to Rigatoni but have used penne, fusili and ziti. You can even use gluten-free pasta but you may also need some water added (or extra sauce).