Happy National Cheese Day, Everyone!
Not that we need a reason to celebrate one of the best food categories out there, but it’s nice to have an excuse, right? In honor of the holiday, I’m bringing you this Easy Baked Penne recipe that’s every bit as cheesy and gooey as an actual lasagna, but just a little simpler to throw together at a moment’s notice.
This recipe is for one of those nights when you’re craving lasagna but just don’t have enough energy left to put in the time and effort that lasagna requires. The only real difference between this dish and an actual lasagna is the type of pasta used and the number of layers in the finished product. Personally, I consider penne my favorite type of pasta, so not only do we always have tons of it on hand, but whenever I’m experimenting with a new pasta dish, it usually starts with penne.
This recipe came about after a long afternoon of making – and delivering – lasagnas. My husband and I came home from all our deliveries with empty stomachs, and our house still had the heavenly smell of fresh baked lasagna, which seemed to provide the obvious idea for dinner. The only problem was, I just didn’t have it in me to make another lasagna at that point. It had been a long day and a long week leading up to it. I had all the ingredients ready, including plenty of homemade meat sauce, but the assembly process just seemed like more work than I was able to muster at that point.
On the hunt for something less time-consuming, I decided to wing it. I boiled some penne pasta, mixed it with some ricotta and parmesan, sprinkled more parmesan on top, covered it with some still-hot meat sauce, and laid slices of fresh mozzarella on top for the finishing touch. Still in my lasagna routine, I set the oven for 375 degrees and put the casserole dish inside. Since the penne and meat sauce were already nice and hot, it only needed to be in there for about 10 minutes, just enough for the cheese to get good and melty.
When we took it out of the oven and spooned it onto our plates, we found that my “wing it” experiment was a delicious success! It was every bit as delicious as lasagna and only took about 30 minutes from start to finish!
A bit of advice that I have for this recipe: if you’re cooking penne from the box specially for this dish, boil it a couple minutes less than you normally would. This is just to keep the penne from getting too soggy, since it’ll be cooking a little extra once you cover it with sauce and stick it in the oven. This also depends on your personal taste. I like my pasta super al dente, so I never want to take any chances that it might come out soggy.
Like lasagna, this is most definitely a comfort food dish. However, if you’re looking to justify having a big plate of carbs and cheese and want to insert a little green into this dish, you could try adding some chopped spinach leaves either mixed in with the penne, or in between the penne and sauce layers!
It’s worth noting that this is a great leftover recipe. The ease of putting this dish together really relies on having ready prepared meat sauce on hand. You can also just use sauce from a jar if that’s what you have on hand. Bonus points if you already have some cooked penne in the fridge that you’re looking to use up, as you can easily save another 15 minutes that way!
My recipes are typically designed for two people with some room for seconds or leftovers, as I tend to cook for just my husband and myself, but you can easily multiply this one to get more servings out of it and feed more people! The oven cooking time can also be adjusted as needed. The time listed here is based on the assumption that all ingredients (except the cheese) are already hot.
Easy Baked Penne
2-3 Cups Meat or Tomato Sauce (I use homemade but jarred will work just as well)
8 oz Uncooked Penne Pasta (or 13oz Cooked)
1 Cup Ricotta Cheese
½ Cup Parmesan Cheese
1 Cup Fresh Sliced Mozzarella Cheese (or shredded if you prefer)
½ tsp Oregano
½ tsp Basil
½ tsp Pepper
½ tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
½ tsp Parsley (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. When the water is boiling, add your penne, cooking for a couple minutes less than the package instructions. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and set it aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked penne with the ricotta, oregano, basil, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, and half of the parmesan until well incorporated. Spread the mixture into a casserole dish or loaf pan.
- Sprinkle the rest of the parmesan cheese on top of the penne mixture and ladle your sauce on top of parmesan cheese layer to your preference. (I keep adding sauce until I can no longer see the pasta or cheese.)
- Top the dish off with the mozzarella and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until it’s hot all the way through and the cheese is bubbly!
- Let sit for 5 minutes, top with parsley and serve!
I hope you enjoy this recipe and may your National Cheese Day be full of cheese!