Baked Cheesy Pasta

This is less of a recipe and more along the lines of food assembly, but it’s super easy, versatile, and it feeds a crowd, no problem.  It is a great potluck dish, it can be kept in the freezer then popped in the oven, and if you have leftovers, they’re yummy too.  Kids love it, and it’s easily adaptable for both vegetarians and meat eaters alike.  I have a friend who is a new mom, so I’m publishing this now because it’s especially suitable for when you have a bad case of baby brain.

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 Minutes

Serves: 12 people

Ingredients

  • 1 box Penne
  • 1 650ml Jar pasta sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 500g tub Ricotta
  • 1 can Chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 1 box frozen meatballs (optional)
  • 3 cups grated mozzarella

Preparation

  1. Preheat Oven to 375F.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions, except under cook by 1-2 minutes. Drain pasta.
  3. Put pasta back in the pasta pot.  Add tomato sauce, ricotta, chickpeas, spinach, and meatballs.  Pour chicken broth into the pasta jar and shake it up to loosen the excess sauce.  Pour into the pasta pot.  Stir well to combine all the ingredients.
  4. Pour pasta mixture into a 9×13″ lasagna pan.  Top with grated mozzarella.  Bake 30 minutes in preheated oven, until cheese is melted and browning in spots. Let stand for 5 -10 minutes before serving.

Tips

  • Under-cooking pasta is key when you’re making a baked dish.  The pasta will continue to cook in the oven and will absorb moisture from the sauce, the veggies, and the cheese.  If its is fully cooked going in, it will be mushy when it comes out.
  • You can also use arugula instead of the spinach, or a blend of the two, or even kale if it is your preference.  But add the greens.  They add an element of freshness to what is an otherwise heavy dish.
  • If you are adding meat, other options are: Browned chunks of Italian sausage; cooked ground beef; cooked ground sausage; cooked chicken.
  • If you are making this a vegetarian dish, add a can of drained, rinsed cannellini beans to up the protein content.
  • You can substitute cottage cheese for ricotta.  I do this for our family because it is easier for me to find lactose free cottage cheese than lactose free ricotta.
  • If you don’t have to feed a crowd on the day, split this recipe up into two 9×9″ baking pans.  Top one with half the amount of mozzarella and bake as directed.  Omit the mozzarella from the second one and wrap it tightly in foil; freeze for up to 3 months.  When you want to use it for a fuss-free dinner, take it out of the freezer the night before to thaw in the fridge.  Preheat oven to 350F and cook for 30 minutes with the foil on, the remove the foil, top with mozzarella, and bake for a further 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and browned. If you forget to thaw it you can cook it from frozen, but it needs to be a low heat for a longer period of time.  It will depend a lot on your oven, but try 325F for 90 minutes total, removing the foil and topping with cheese for the last 30 minutes.

Let us know if this works for you and any variations or additions you would make.  And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for other X-Rated Food ideas and impression.

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