Weeknight Pasta Bake

Usually I do most of my cooking on the weekends or holidays and my wife is on everyday weeknight duty.  But things have been so busy lately and my wife has had to work late a few evenings, so I have had to pick up some of the weeknight meals.  Like everyone else in the world, I don’t have the time on a Tuesday to get super creative and spend lots of time making something amazing.  So I had to come up with some easy recipes that I can throw together while I am chasing the kids around to get their homework and everything else done; which means no measuring, just throw it together and get it in the oven.  This baked pasta is definitely weeknight worthy, and everyone in the family likes this dinner.

To keep this simple, I made sure the ingredient list was short.  I used a jar of spaghetti sauce (you can use any sauce you like) and a package of shredded mozzarella.  For a pound of pasta, use a whole jar of sauce and the whole package of cheese.  No measuring required.  The smallest ricotta cheese container I saw at the store is about twice as much as I need, so I just estimate about half when I put that in.  No need to measure there either.  From the picture, it looks like I was measuring out the parmesan, but I only did that to give an idea of how much I used.  Normally I just grab a handful and sprinkle that over the top.  Other than waiting for water to boil or the pasta to bake, this takes minimal work.

In an effort to try to keep this at least a little bit healthier, I used a whole grain pasta the first time I made this recipe.  That worked out so well that I decided to use that every time.  I don’t know if that is any healthier than regular pasta (it sounds like it should be), but it was at least worth a try.

If I were feeling more creative and taking time with this, I might saute some mushrooms or cook some other veggies and mix them in with the pasta.  But since this was meant to be a super quick recipe I skipped that.  I thought about mixing some spinach in with it and making it a pasta Florentine kind of thing.  But I think I realized that would probably turn this from a family favorite to a family flop (at least with the kids) in a hurry.  This recipe is a great base to launch your creativity from, so go ahead and experiment with any veggies your family likes.

Weeknight Pasta Bake

  • 1 pound penne (I like whole grain pasta)
  • 26 oz jar pasta sauce
  • 1 cup low fat ricotta (I get a 15 oz container and use about half)
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella (one 8 oz package is just the right amount)
  • ¼ cup shredded parmesan

Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Once the water boils, stir in the pasta and cook until just al dente (probably about 9-10 minutes). Drain the pasta and put it back in the big pot. Add the jar of sauce and the ricotta and stir to thoroughly combine. Stir in one cup (about half the package) of mozzarella. Dump the whole thing into a 9×13 baking dish and top with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan (if using). Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Let it cool for about 5 minutes before serving.


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