Million Dollar Baked Penne

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!

This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades!  We serve it at all our family gatherings because its SO good, so easy!  The homemade sauce is incredible and the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness is to live for! Baked Penne

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.

This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades!  We serve it at all our family gatherings because its SO good, so easy!  The homemade sauce is incredible and the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness is to live for! 

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.

This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades!  We serve it at all our family gatherings because its SO good, so easy!  The homemade sauce is incredible and the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness is to live for! 
  • 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.
This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades!  We serve it at all our family gatherings because its SO good, so easy!  The homemade sauce is incredible and the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness is to live for! 
  • Once your sauce is made, you combine it with al dente pasta.  This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades!  We serve it at all our family gatherings because its SO good, so easy!  The homemade sauce is incredible and the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness is to live for! 
  • Layer half of your saucy penne – then comes the extra zero to make a million – the hidden mozzarella, provolone, sour cream layer.
This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades!  We serve it at all our family gatherings because its SO good, so easy!  The homemade sauce is incredible and the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness is to live for! 

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.

This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades!  We serve it at all our family gatherings because its SO good, so easy!  The homemade sauce is incredible and the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness is to live for! 
  • 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.
This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades!  We serve it at all our family gatherings because its SO good, so easy!  The homemade sauce is incredible and the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness is to live for! 

A million dollar perfection.

LOOKING FOR MORE ITALIAN PASTA RECIPES?

This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades!  We serve it at all our family gatherings because its SO good, so easy!  The homemade sauce is incredible and the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness is to live for! 

Can I Make Baked Penne Ahead of Time?

  1. Yes!   Take care that your noodles are cooked al dente and are rinsed in cold water so they don’t keep cooking.
  2. Assemble Baked Penne according to directions up until baking.
  3. Tightly cover Baked Penne with foil and refrigerate.
  4. 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.

This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades!  We serve it at all our family gatherings because its SO good, so easy!  The homemade sauce is incredible and the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness is to live for! 

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.

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©Carlsbad Cravings by CarlsbadCravings.com

This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades!  We serve it at all our family gatherings because its SO good, so easy!  The homemade sauce is incredible and the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness is to live for! 
This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades!  We serve it at all our family gatherings because its SO good, so easy!  The homemade sauce is incredible and the hidden layer of creamy/cheesiness is to live for! 

Million Dollar Baked Penne

This Million Dollar Baked Penne has been a family favorite for decades and is destined to become one of YOUR new family favorites!  It’s 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!
Servings: 8 -12 servings
Total Time: 1 hr
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 45 mins

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Ingredients

  • 1 pound penne pasta, uncooked
  • 6-8 slices provolone cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese more or less to taste
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese more or less to taste

Sauce

Instructions

  • Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions just until al dente – don’t overcook! Strain and rinse with cold water.
  • In a Dutch oven, brown ground beef, sausage and onion over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 30 more seconds. Drain grease. Add all remaining Sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Meanwhile preheat oven to 350 degrees F. When oven reaches full temperate, mix cooked pasta with Sauce. (We wait to mix so the pasta doesn’t continue to cook in the sauce.)
  • In a 9×13 pan, layer evenly: ½ the pasta, ½ mozzarella, all provolone, all sour cream, remaining pasta, remaining mozzarella and top with Parmesan.
  • Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted. Broil until cheese is golden. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired.

Notes

  • *You just need enough provolone to cover the 9×13 in a single layer. Typically 8 slices medium provolone or 6 large slices as pictured from Costco.
  • 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 Make Baked Penne Ahead of Time

  1. Take care that your noodles are cooked al dente and are rinsed in cold water so they don’t keep cooking.
  2. Assemble Baked Penne according to directions up until baking.
  3. Tightly cover Baked Penne with foil and refrigerate.
  4. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes then uncover and continue to bake and additional 20-30 minutes or until completely warmed through.

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.

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76 Comments

  1. Elizabeth says

    Love, Love, Love this Million Dollar Baked Penne recipe! Thanks for sharing, I’ll be making it real soon…my husband is drooling over it 🙂 Do you think I could sub Greek Yogurt for the Sour Cream? Wishing you a Happy Day!

    • Jen says

      Hi Elizabeth! I’m excited for you to make it and love that your husband is already drooling over it! I personally wouldn’t sub Greek yogurt as I think it has a much more distinct taste than sour cream and the flavor wont blend as well with the cheeses but that is just my personal preference. If you end up trying that way. let me know how it goes!

  2. Tara says

    This secret layer of cheese and sour cream sounds heavenly! Any advice on cooking time if I’ve frozen it immediately after making? Thaw first or can it be cooked from frozen? Thanks for any guidance

    • Jen says

      Hi Tara! I would bake from frozen covered with foil for about 50 minutes then remove foil and continue to bake until hot and bubbly – it might need an extra 10-20 minutes. Hope this helps!

  3. julie says

    So glad I found this recipe in my email today! I was going to make lasagna, but couldn’t really find a recipe. This was wonderful, and easier to put together. Thanks!

    • Jen says

      It sounds like the timing of this recipe was meant to be! I love that you made it already and I’m so happy you enjoyed it! Thanks Julie!

  4. Rachel says

    This looks amazing, as all of your recipes do! Apologies if this is a dumb question, but do you freeze it before or after baking it? Definitely going to try this—would love to make and freeze for nights when we have a babysitter watch the kids and feed them dinner! 🙂

    • Jen says

      Hi Rachel! I was just adding freezer directions to the recipe 🙂 What a great idea for babysitter nights! You let the casserole cool completely after assembling and then, cover and freeze BEFORE baking then bake from frozen for approximately 50 minutes covered, remove foil and continue baking until hot and bubbly. Hope this helps!

  5. Rod Bauer says

    This was incredible! Easy and very good. My picky family gave it the “you can make this again”. Always a good sign. Thanks, Rod

    • Jen says

      Yay! Thank you so much Rod! I’m thrilled it will be a regular at your house 🙂

  6. Gerontologist says

    I have been making mine this way for 25 of my 39 years of marriage. Also, I do my lasagna this way, because we hate cottage cheese. All of your recipes look yummy.

    • Jen says

      My mom must have gotten the idea from the same recipe as you back in the day 🙂 I hope you can try some of my recipes soon!

    • Jen says

      You are so welcome, hope you love it!

  7. jennifer says

    Hi, this looks great!! Is the Italian sausage out of the casing? Can’t wait to make this

    • Jen says

      Hi Jennifer, I will clarify in the recipe – it is bulk Italian sausage so the kind you buy outside of the casing like you would fresh ground beef or in one pound tubes (like Jimmy Dean). Hope this helps!

  8. Lily says

    Yummy will be making this pasta this weekend thank you for sharing

    • Jen says

      You are so welcome! Hope you love it!

  9. Christine Jones says

    I just finished making the sauce for the Cheesy Million Dollar Baked Penna. Owwwww My it is delicious. I am really looking forward to finishing this dish for dinner tonight. My family will love it. Thanks for sharing this incredible recipe. I will continue to Pray for your health and Gods healing hand.

    • Jen says

      Thank you Christine! I hope you family absolutely loved it! Above all, thank you so much for your prayers, that means the world to me and I know they make a difference! xo

  10. Amber says

    I just made this tonight and my family loved it. My husband said “that was delicious.” This is a rare compliment from him as I am not the best cook 😉 Thank you so much for your website and for sharing your recipes. I am looking forward to trying them all. My thoughts and prayers are with you for health and healing.

    • Jen says

      Hi Amber, I am thrilled your family, including your husband, loved this recipe! I hope you continue to find more family favorites here! Thank you also so much for your prayers. That means everything to me! May God bless you and yours as well! xo

  11. Susan says

    Absolutely delicious! My family loved it, thank you once again for an amazing recipe!

    • Jen says

      You are so welcome Susan! I am so happy it was a hit with the fam!

  12. Teija says

    I am making this tonight and can’t wait! My youngest is on the XC team at school and has a meet tomorrow and likes to eat pasta the night before. He will be thrilled with this!! I’ve had success with all your recipes so far, so I have no doubt this one will be just as delicious as everything else I have made of yours. 🙂 I hope you are feeling good, I think of you often and wonder how you are.

    • Jen says

      Hi Teija, I hope you and your family loved this recipe! How awesome are you to make pasta especially for your son before his meet! Thank you for your kinds words about my recipes and my health as well – you sure know how to make a girl feel loved! I hope you and your family are having a fabulous October! xo

  13. Susan Scott says

    Thanks for this recipe, I made a double batch tonight and everyone loved it. Very delicious.

    • Jen says

      You are so welcome Susan!!!

  14. Layne Schwabedissen says

    loved that layer of cheese!

    • Jen says

      Can’t go wrong with lots of cheeeeese 🙂 So happy you enjoyed it!

  15. Marcie Longchamps says

    This was sooo good, and easier than lasagna. Grown kids are making it in their own kitchens now, which speaks volumes! About to make another batch and freeze for Thanksgiving weekend to break up the turkey overload! Have NEVER made a reject recipe from your website. Happy Being Thankful Week 🙂

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Marcie! I am thrilled this was a hit and that your grown kids are now making it too – that makes me so happy! I am honored/flattered/relieved you have never had a reject recipe from my site, that is the ultimate compliment, thank you so much!! xo

  16. Lisa says

    I have to give ya’ll a breakdown of the 3 men that I made this for so everyone understands how good this recipe is… my dad “hates cheese,” my husband “hates casseroles,” and my teenage son “hates anything resembling lasagna!” I just made this recipe for the 3rd time in 3 weeks per their request! Ya’ll need to make this asap!

    • Jen says

      You are awesome Lisa! I LOVE LOVE LOVE your comment and the thought of all 3 men enjoying this pasta! I’m so happy it is such a hit! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! Happy New Year!

  17. Carla says

    Just curious if beef bouillon is the granules or the paste?

    • Jen says

      I use the granules but I’m sure the paste would also work. Enjoy!

  18. Marcia says

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! I made this tonight and it was a huge hit! My husband said it was better than anything you could get in a restaurant…and that’s high praise coming from him because we’ve eaten at a lot of restaurants all over the states!

    • Jen says

      You are so welcome Marcia, I’m thrilled it was a huge hit and I’m flattered your husband loved it so much! Thanks for making my day!

  19. Sophia says

    Amazing spring pasta ! I will make it this weekend and enjoy with my friends. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Jen says

      Thank you Sophia! I hope you love it!

  20. Cindy says

    Hi Jen!! I’ve made this a few times I luv it!! Ty!! I’m thinking of making this without the cheese n sour cream and baking so basically just pasta n sauce to save on money for a catering because I just luv this sauce so much!! What would you recommend me to do diff if all a want is meat sauce and pasta I’m also adding mushrooms. Do I need to add more tomato sauce or purée ty so much again?!

    • Jen says

      Hi Cindy, I’m so happy you love this recipe! Nope, you don’t need to do anything differently! Enjoy and good luck with your catering!

      • Cindy says

        Thanks again Jen!!! Glad I ck this I’m at the store now n on a tight budget lol

        • Jen says

          You are so welcome! Enjoy!

  21. Kasey says

    For a healthier option, could I sub plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream portion?

    • Jen says

      Sorry for the delay Kasey, just got home from an Alaskan cruse and was without internet! My guess is that Greek yogurt won’t hold up as well in the oven but you can try it!

  22. Susan says

    Made this for my family last night and everyone loved it! Thanks for an awesome recipe once again. It definitely is going to the rotation.

    • Jen says

      You are so welcome! I’m so pleased it’s a new family favorite!

  23. Rachel says

    So good! I finally made this after bookmarking it when it was first posted. Definitely worth the effort to make the sauce. Plus you can make it ahead and heat the day of. It took about a hour in the oven when cold from the fridge. Perfect recipe for a crowd. Could be a great holiday dinner, especially since it can be made ahead.

    • Jen says

      Hi Rachel, I’m so pleased you loved it after waiting so long to make it! And I agree, the homemade sauce makes it so much better and it is perfect for a crowd!

  24. Desiree says

    Hi Jen!

    Just a little note, you didn’t indicate how long to bake the penne covered before uncovering. 😉

    Another delicious recipe!

    Thank you!

    • Jen says

      Hi Desiree, I’m so happy you loved it! You bake uncovered the entire 30 minutes before broiling per step 5.

  25. Desiree says

    I’m sorry, Jen! I was looking at the directions for making it ahead of time!

    Thank you

  26. Terri Presta says

    I have made this a few times and it delicious. I was wondering if you think it would work if I layered it in a 6 quart crockpot?

    • Jen says

      Hi Terri, I have never tried it, but in theory it should work 🙂

  27. Lynn H. says

    Hi Jen,
    If made with gluten free penne would this be gluten free, then? Thank you!

    • Jen says

      Yes, you would be good to go!

  28. Jack L. Armstrong says

    Dear Jen,
    I recently discovered your website and couldn’t wait to try one of your recipes. I made your million dollar baked penne (for adults) and million dollar mac ‘n cheese (for kids) for a large luncheon at church this afternoon. Both recipes were enormous hits! My church provides winter shelter for the homeless, and the extra pans of pasta I made will feed the homeless this evening. Your ragu truly is the best! Every chef makes this claim, but in your case, it is true! Thank you and God bless,
    Jack Armstrong

    • Jen says

      Welcome to my site Jack! I’m so pleased both my Million Dollar pastas were a huge success and that you loved my ragu! What a wonderful service you provide for your church and the homeless. God bless!

  29. Deb says

    I wanted to let you know your sauce was delicious! We really enjoyed this. I followed it exactly except I only used 1 pound of Ground Beef. I look forward to trying your Lasagne Recipe since this sauce was so good. Thank you for sharing!

    • Jen says

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment Deb, I hope you love the Lasagna equally as much!

  30. Kara says

    I made this tonight, and was doubtful about sour cream and almost substituted ricotta, but went ahead and used the sour cream. Amazing. It was fabulous. I did double tomato paste and garlic, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. Everyone loved it!!!

    • Jen says

      YAY! I’m so happy you tried the sour cream, loved it and it was a hit with all! Thanks Kara!

  31. Tiffany says

    Hello,

    I am looking forward to making your million dollar baked penne. One question – for making ahead of time and refrigerating, how long should I bake it covered before uncovering?

  32. Tam says

    Hi, I am making this tonight and I saw in the article that there is a mention of cream cheese. Is that just for the mac and cheese or do you use a mixture of sour cream and cream cheese in the penne as well?

    • Jen says

      Hi Tam, sorry for the confusion, there is no cream cheese in this baked penne recipe. Enjoy!

  33. Blake says

    Good afternoon!

    I was thinking about cooking this recipe, but my girlfriend is a pescatarian.

    Do you think the recipe will be good if I just remove the meat or should I try to find something different? We are both big fans of baked pasta, and this sounded delicious.

    Appreciate your feedback – I’m a rookie to cooking.

    • Jen says

      Hi Blake, sorry for the delayed response, I have been swamped with the holidays. Yes, I still think this baked penne would be delicious without the meat. You may need to tone down the spices a little because you have one less pound to season. Good luck!

  34. Annette says

    Hi there! This recipe looks fantastic and much easier than lasagna. I don’t have provolone cheese or sour cream at hand though (writing this during covid lockdown and i’m afraid the supermarkets are short on supplies!). I do have cottage cheese on hand and creme fraiche. How can I utilise either for a substitute? Any tips?

    • Jen says

      Hi Annette, I think both of those would work great! I would mix them together and just spread in an even layer. Good luck!

  35. Cindy says

    I made this ahead and baked from frozen. It was delicious, however, I doubled the recipe and made too much. This is a silly question, but I have never frozen meals before. Is it okay to keep it and eat leftover if I baked it from frozen? If so, about how many days do you think it would keep since there is sour cream in it?

    • Jen says

      Hi Cindy, you can absolutely keep leftovers. It ultimately comes down to the freshness of your ingredients when you froze it. I would say you it’s good for 3-5 days.

  36. Lisa H says

    Hi Jen

    Can this be made without any meat? Would I have to change any of the other ingredients?

    Thanks…Lisa

    • Jen says

      Absolutely! The Italian sausage is very flavorful so I would anticipate adding additional Italian seasonings and a dash more red pepper flakes to taste after simmering.

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