This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades! The ridiculously delicious hearty, sausage, garlic infused tomato sauce, the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness and crowning gooey cheesiness make this taste like a million dollars AND it is quick and easy to make, fabulous for a crowd, freezes beautifully and doesn’t break the bank!
I grew up on a version of this Million Dollar Baked Penne. And I am forever grateful for those satisfying rich forkfuls of memorable foodie bliss. Baked Penne was served at almost every big family gathering of my immediate family and my married sisters family alongside my sister’s Garlic Parmesan Butter Breadsticks. And it is still a family favorite today.
My mom still bakes and freezes it for make-ahead company meals and just last week, I was asking my niece what her favorite food was and she said, “Baked Ziti,” which is our family’s affectionate name for Baked Penne because we prefer penne pasta as opposed to ziti pasta. And you just might prefer this Baked Penne to lasagna as it is another Italian American comfort food stuffed with yummy layers, but without all the fuss.
Now what makes this Baked Penne soooo good? Like “a million dollars good?” A few different factors, but let’s start with the ridiculously delicious Carlsbad Cravings homemade ragu sauce. Many Baked Penne Casseroles don’t use homemade sauce but even worse, there isn’t enough sauce resulting in dry pasta casserole – noooooo! – but that crime is not committed here or you can just strip away that “million dollar” title.
The robust sauce itself is a homemade simmering of mostly pantry ingredients: beef, Italian sausage (or you can use all beef if you prefer), onions, garlic, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, a dash of sugar, beef bouillon and plenty of aromatic seasonings. This sauce is one of my favorite all purpose ragus and it knocks the sauce of store bought.
You are welcome to use store bought marinara if you are in a pinch but you will definitely want to add more seasonings and I promise the “homemade” version is very simple. It really is as easy as cook the meat then dump in the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes.
Once your sauce is made, you combine it with al dente pasta. It is very important to not overcook your pasta because it is going to continue to cook in the oven.
Layer half of your saucy penne – then comes the extra zero to make a million – the hidden mozzarella, provolone, sour cream layer.
The what?! I know it might sound odd, but please trust me. This is the same intoxicating hidden layer (plus mozzarella!) I use in my crazy popular, rave reviewed Million Dollar Macaroni and Cheese and I actually got the idea from this Baked Penne. The creamy, cheesy center sandwiched in between pasta works like a dream in that Macaroni and Cheese it is likewise the best part of this Baked Penne. The hidden layer of mozzarella, provolone and sour cream melts when baked for a ridiculous amount of velvety creamy, cheesy gooey goodness.
We top this brilliance with the remaining penne and top the penne with more mozzarella followed by freshly grated Parmesan cheese. At this point you can freeze or refrigerate for later or immediately bake until bubbly golden perfection.
A million dollar perfection.
Want to try this Million Dollar Baked Penne?
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