This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades and is destined to become one of YOUR new family favorites!
This Baked Penne Pasta recipe is loaded with hearty sausage, garlic infused tomato sauce and a hidden layer of creamy, gooey cheesiness that tastes like a million dollars AND it is quick and easy to make, fabulous for a crowd, freezes beautifully and doesn’t break the bank!
Oh how I love a hearty pasta from my Classic Lasagna and One Pot Chili Mac to my 30 Minute Spaghetti Bolognese, Cheesy Skillet Penne, Cheesy Tortellini Al Forno and Cheesy Taco Pasta Bake. There is just something so richly satisfying and decadently delicious about pasta. Still, my most popular pasta recipe by far is my Million Dollar Macaroni and Cheese, for good reason. That epic best-macaroni-and-cheese-ever was inspired by this Baked Penne.
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 this Baked Penne 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.
How to Make Baked Penne
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.
- Once your sauce is made, you combine it with al dente pasta.
- 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.
Looking for more Italian pasta recipes?
- Baked Italian Meatballs (and Spaghetti)
- Skinny Fettuccine Alfredo
- Parmesan Meatballs and Orzo
- Lasagna Soup
- Shrimp Scampi
- Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta
Can I Make Baked Penne Ahead of Time?
- Yes! Take care that your noodles are cooked al dente and are rinsed in cold water so they don’t keep cooking.
- Assemble Baked Penne according to directions up until baking.
- Tightly cover Baked Penne with foil and refrigerate.
- Bake, covered, at 350 degrees then uncover and continue to bake and additional 20-30 minutes or until completely warmed through.
Tips and Tricks for Baked Penne
- You can substitute the Italian sausage for lean ground beef.
- You can substitute the penne for your favorite pasta.
- It is very important to not overcook your pasta because it is going to continue to cook in the oven.
- 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.
- Add veggies such as zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, etc. to the pasta sauce if you wish.
How to Freeze Baked Penne
You can freeze this Million Dollar Baked Penne, but just keep in mind that milk products tend to change in texture somewhat, so your cream cheese/sour cream center might seem slightly curdled after baking, but it will still taste the same.
To freeze Baked Penne:
- Assemble Baked Penne according to directions but do not bake.
- Allow penne to cool down completely before tightly covering with a double layer of heavy duty foil.
- Layer penne and keep for up to 3 months in the freezer.
- Bake penne from FROZEN. Bake covered (with foil) for 60 minutes, then uncover and bake an additional 15-30 minutes OR until hot throughout.
Want to try this Million Dollar Baked Penne?
Pin it to your PASTA, DINNER or CASSEROLE Board to SAVE for later!
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