Monday, March 16, 2009

Penne Bake

It's been cold and rainy here for the past four days, so casseroles have been the meal of choice. We wanted something with pasta and sauce, but baked, and so Penne Bake was born. On a related note, check out: for a scientific discussion of tubular pasta behavior (thank you Google).

1/2 lb. whole wheat penne pasta (or other tubular pasta such as ziti or rigatoni)
approx. 2 cups pasta sauce, homemade or from a jar (my recipe is here)
1/2 lb. ground beef, thawed
1 sm. onion, finely diced
1/2 c. ricotta cheese
1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, shredded
1-2 T. olive oil
Optional: a handful of mushrooms, 1/2 bell pepper, a few cloves of garlic, a couple zucchinis, a small head of broccoli, a handful of spinach, or other seasonal veggies*, in bite-size pieces

Cook noodles according to package directions. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 and:
  • Saute onions in approx. 1 T. olive oil over medium heat until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add ground beef and brown, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. (If you're using frozen beef, just use lower heat and a lid to help the beef thaw in the skillet as you go.)
  • For veggies: In another skillet heat another T. of oil and saute veggies until softened or browned, as you like. Garlic is recommended here. I used mushrooms in ours, which I sauteed in olive oil and a little butter until they had lost most of their moisture and were slightly browned.
  • Heat pasta sauce over gentle heat until hot.
Multitasking makes this recipe go more quickly:

Layer ingredients in a large casserole dish, lasagna-style. Don't forget a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the dish to help prevent sticking. The order we used was (sauce), pasta, meat, mushrooms, ricotta, mozzarella, sauce, repeat. End with a cheese layer on top.

Cover your dish with a lid or aluminum foil so it doesn't dry out. Cook until the edges of the casserole are bubbly, about 20-30 minutes. (Less if all of your ingredients are still hot.) If desired, remove the cover for the last 10 minutes to brown the cheese. Enjoy! (There'd be a picture of the finished product if it hadn't been devoured so quickly...I think we all burned our tongues.)

*A short note on eating in season: In the US you can look up what veggies are in season in your state here: . It all depends on climate; in NC we get the best vine-ripe tomatoes in August, while in CA they can grow them almost all year. Eating in season makes it easier for you eat locally-grown foods and support your local farmers and economy. Many farmers' markets run year-round, and you may be surprised how many things grow even in winter! (Google "farmers' market" and your town to find one in your area.) Our local farmers' market has lots to offer, and you can find local and seasonal produce at any grocery store if you look carefully. Enough from my soapbox...


  1. You've created a really excellent blog here. I feel so inspired!
    Do you know if there's a search function or gadget so one could go back to find that darned recipe for [x]?

    Once again, excellent job. I'm probably going to do this one when I get a casserole dish.

  2. If you add an egg into the ricotta cheese (I usually use a cup of ricotta though) before you bake it, it's real nice (and really baked ziti at that point). I've made similar variations with ground spicy sausage instead of ground beef that are quite good.

  3. That does sound good! Thank for the idea.