This simple baked pasta with cheese recipe is a super easy, 5-ingredient dish you can make with any type of pasta you have on hand, either with meat or meatless. It's the delicious extra cheese- in the sauce and second layer - that elevates this above the norm, making it a sure family favorite for your meal plans.
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Most of the time when we have pasta, it's simply a sauce ladled over or stirred into the noodles or spaghetti before serving, like our creamy pesto pasta.
It's an easy, quick, no-brainer kind of dinner that is usually a family favorite.
But once in awhile I feel like something a little different.
Something oozing with cheese. And I think anything with lots of oozing cheese counts as comfort food - don't you?
When that mood strikes, that's when it's time to make this cheesy baked pasta dish.
It's still really easy and though it takes a few minutes longer, it's just a few - and totally worth it for the extra cheesy layers of melty goodness.
Plus, it's perfect for making in advance and popping in the oven to be perfectly warm when serving.
You can't do that with pasta a sauce from the stove top - keeping it warm is always the challenge.
There are a couple of tricks to making this the cheesy comfort food that it is - and one special ingredient that if you have it will make this even better (but it's okay if you don't).
Baked Pasta with Cheese Recipe
Don't you love recipes like this? All you need is five basic ingredients (for the meatless version):
- Pasta - any kind, even longer spaghetti will work, though I'd just break them up for easier serving (I now prefer lower carb pasta like the Banza Penne shown in the photo above)
- Prepared Tomato Sauce - see below for options
- Mozzarella Cheese
- Parmesan Cheese
- Cream Cheese (technically you could leave this out, but trust me, this is what puts it over and above typical pasta bakes...)
OPTIONAL: Add cooked Italian sausage, ground beef or turkey, leftover steak, or even chicken if you would like a meaty-cheesy pasta.
Tomato Sauce Options
- My favorite - and what can make this really special - is to use frozen Roasted Tomato/Vegetable Sauce that's stocked in the freezer from last season's garden. If you have access to tomatoes during the growing season, I highly recommend making this super easy roasted sauce to turn to for quick winter meals - the flavor is out of this world. Not even kidding.
- If you don't have a sauce you can pull from the freezer, it's really easy to make one from canned pureed tomatoes, an onion, garlic, and seasonings: sauté the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil, add the tomatoes, some salt and pepper and a few Italian herbs like basil, oregano, and thyme. Boil and then turn down to let it simmer while the pasta cooks.
- Of course, you can use a large jar of purchased pasta sauce - no shame around here for that! I would splurge for a really good one, if you can.
Okay, does this really only take 10-15 minutes to put together?
Yes, and here's how:
- Put the pasta to boil in a pot of salted water (you do have to get the water started beforehand, but it's hands-off and should only take a few minutes depending on your stove). Set the timer for 1-2 minutes less than the directions on your package.
- While the pasta is boiling, add the sauce to a pan big enough to also hold the pasta when it comes time to mix (I like my stainless everyday pan for tasks like this). Bring to a boil and add the cream cheese, stirring until melted. (Note: if you'd like to add a meat that isn't cooked yet, brown first in the pan and then add the sauce and cheese, otherwise add cooked meat after the cream cheese has melted.)
- While the sauce is cooking, grate any cheese you need (it's okay to use pre-grated here, we're cooking long enough that it will melt nicely).
- Drain the pasta when the timer goes off and add it to the sauce, stirring to coat everything well.
Here's the key to getting the cheesiest baked pasta:
Add a layer of cheese in the middle!
Add half the coated pasta to a baking dish, layer with half the mozzarella cheese, add the remaining pasta and top with the rest of the cheeses.
Note on sizing down and the baker pictured: I made a half recipe for these photos (we don't need a full 3-quart pan for regular dinners - it works great halved) and baked in in a 11x9-inch oval ceramic baking dish similar to this one.
Um, yes please. Trust me - it's worth the extra pan to clean to get that extra cheesiness.
"My husband said this was a keeper! I used diced tomatoes, onions, garlic for the sauce and slice smoked sausage for the meat. I also used vegetable pasta - great way to get vegetables in the kids." -Helen
Baked Pasta with Cheese FAQ
There are a couple ways that baked pasta is preferred, at times, to just boiled pasta with sauce.
The first is that you can add layers of cheese that melt deliciously.
The second is that baking the pasta gives it a crispy crust in addition to the browning cheese.
Finally, it's the perfect way to make a dish in advance and have it cooking in the oven while you're entertaining or doing another task and it's piping hot at serving time.
For this recipe, yes, but only until the pasta is al dente, or slightly undercooked. The bake isn't in the oven long enough to cook dry pasta and water would need to be added.
The pasta takes about 8 minutes to cook (depending on your pasta's directions) and in that time you are getting the sauce ready, so you really aren't losing any time.
My favorite side dish is always a nice green salad made with lettuce, spinach, or kale. A chopped salad in winter is another option.
If you're looking for something cooked, a side of steamed or roasted broccoli or green beans is good.
Many people like garlic bread with pasta (though I've done away with the double carb thing years ago).
Mozzarella and parmesan are classic, but I've had good results mixing them with fontina for more bite and even plain jack cheese when I've been out of mozzarella. Sheep cheese for those you don't do cow dairy work as well.
Side Dish Options
- Orange Almond Salad with Orange-Balsamic Vinaigrette
- Green salad with Homemade Vinaigrette Salad Dressing or Perfect Honey Mustard Dressing
- Kale Cranberry Salad Recipe with Feta & Pecans
Simple Cheesy Baked Pasta
- 1 pound pasta Penne, Rotini, Ziti, etc.
- 4 cups tomato pasta sauce, 32 ounces
- 4 ounces cream cheese*
- 3 to 4 cups grated mozzarella cheese
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 pound ground meat (beef, turkey, sausage)** optional- leave out for meatless
- In a large sauce pot, cook pasta about 2 minutes LESS than according to directions.
- While pasta is cooking, brown the meat, if needed, and make/heat the pasta sauce in a pot big enough to mix with the pasta. Once the sauce is boiling (and meat cooked) add the cream cheese and stir until mixed in. Turn the heat down and let the sauce simmer.
- Grate any of the cheeses, if needed.
- Drain the pasta and return it to the cooking pot. Add the sauce mixture and stir until evenly coated. Or visa versa - add the pasta to the sauce if it's in the larger pot. Your choice.
- Grease a 3-quart baking dish (13x9-inch) and spoon half of the pasta mixture onto the bottom. Sprinkle half of the grated mozzarella cheese and then top with remaining pasta. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella on the top, as well as the Parmesan.
- Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
More Family Friendly Dinner Ideas
This recipe has been updated - it was originally published in February of 2010.Disclosure: affiliate links in this article will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price. Click here to read our full disclaimer and advertising disclosure.