Cheesy baked pasta is easy to throw together with any type of pasta you have on hand- it's real food that is bound to become a family favorite.
Most of the time when we have pasta, it's simply a sauce ladled over the pasta before serving, like our creamy pesto pasta. It's easy, quick (especially when I have some frozen pasta sauce from my garden), and our family's favorite. But once in awhile, I feel like something a little different.
Something oozing with cheese. I think anything with lots of oozing cheese counts as comfort food- don't you? So when that mood strikes, I've got to make this cheesy baked pasta dish.
One of the things that make pasta dishes so easy in our house is having lots of frozen Roasted Tomato/Vegetable Sauce in the freezer. That's what motivates me to put up as many containers of this sauce as I can in the fall with our garden produce - knowing I'll have it to turn to for quick winter meals. That plus the fact that it tastes out of this world.
However, if you don't have a sauce you can pull from the freezer, it's easy to make one from canned tomatoes, onions and garlic. Just saute the onions and garlic in olive oil, add the tomatoes, some salt and pepper and a few herbs (basil, oregano, etc.) and let it simmer while the pasta cooks (or, a-hem, you could use jarred sauce…).
Any pasta you have works for this - ziti, rotini, penne, and all the others like these that I can't remember right now.
We like to add meat to our sauce, with our favorite being hot Italian sausage, though any will do- or none at all, but my family heaves a collective sigh when I don't have meat, so I put some in just to appease them.
Once the sauce and meat are simmering all together, I go a little crazy and some cream cheese. I only do this when making a cheesy baked pasta, though I don't know why it appeals to me here. Maybe because its, uh, cheese?
Have I ever mentioned my dislike (phobia? disgust?) with gloppy white foods? I can't stand cream cheese on bagels, mayo oozing out of a sandwich, even butter if it's thick. It actually turns my stomach to even see others eating any gloppy white stuff. I think it might go all the way back to kindergarten when a girl would sit across from me and eat paste. Literally. Eat. Paste. And she'd look at me while she did it, because she knew it grossed me out.
Maybe I need therapy.
But I do like to use cream cheese in cooking. See how it makes a creamy-looking sauce?
By now (well, before now, but I got caught up in telling you all about my kindergarten angst), the pasta should be done. Drain it, return it to the pot, pour in the sauce and mix it all together.
This is where it gets good: spread only half of the pasta mixture into a baking pan. This is key to a cheesy baked pasta - layer like it's lasagna! Sprinkle half of whatever cheese of you've got - mozzarella, jack, cheddar, goat, or really anything that sounds good- and then add the rest of the pasta and cheese, ending with a sprinkle of Parmesan. Just in case you doubted the cheesy part of this recipe.
Bake 20 to 30 minutes until the cheese is browned. And be comforted.
Cheesy Baked Pasta (aka, Comfort Food)
- 1 pound ground meat (beef, turkey, sausage)* optional- leave out for "meatless Mondays"
- 4 cups tomato pasta sauce
- 1 pound pasta Penne, Rotini, Ziti, etc.
- 4 ounces cream cheese*
- 4 cups grated cheese mozzarella, jack, or fontina
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
- Cook pasta according to directions in a large pot. While pasta is cooking, brown the meat and make the pasta sauce, if needed. Add the sauce to the meat, mix and add the cream cheese.*
- Drain the pasta and return it to the cooking pot. Add the meat-sauce mixture and stir until evenly coated.
- Grease a baking dish (13x9) and spoon half of the pasta mixture onto the bottom. Sprinkle half of the grated cheese and then top with remaining pasta. Sprinkle remaining cheese on the top as well as the Parmesan.
- Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes.
Find other family-friendly dinners you may like in our recipe index.