Running from the Law: Give & Take Baked Pasta Casserole

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Give & Take Baked Pasta Casserole

My friend Michelle makes the most amazing creamy cheesy decadent baked pasta casserole I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.  I'm telling you, this pasta casserole is's life-changing. It's a top-secret recipe passed down to her from her mother (who is an incredible chef) and given with love anytime there's a new baby, a death in the family or an occasion calling for amazing home-made comfort food.  I've begged Michelle for the recipe no less than a dozen times and she absolutely refuses to budge on the secret of this amazing meal.  I can't say I blame her - it's become quite the signature dish and absolutely I'd hold that over my friends if I had something that amazing.  I've considered turning to espionage or bribery, but instead, I just keep trying to recreate the pasta casserole over and over.  And I finally think I've come pretty close to creating something (while not exactly similar) just as delicious.  
I made this baked pasta casserole the other night to celebrate my first dinner back after a long weekend away and it blew us away.  Ryan and I each had two full plates, took leftovers for lunch the next day and couldn't wait to come home and have it again for dinner the next night (that never happens).  Mim ate THREE servings the first night and screamed for more every time she finished what was on her tray.  Mac ate some - he's three, so that's saying a lot. I'm pretty sure I could sell this recipe for a million dollars, but I'm going to take my chances and just give it to you all for free in the hope that you will worship my culinary genius-ness for the rest of my life. 
I had a really hard time trying to figure out what to name this dish.  I toyed with the idea of "Sara's Sausage Surprise" or "Awesomesauce Passtarole," but nothing quite worked.  The title "Most Amazing and Delicious Creamy Cheesy Baked Pasta Casserole In The World" seemed a bit long and superfluous.  I think one of the greatest things about this pasta casserole recipe is that it makes enough for TWO entire casseroles (one to eat yourself and one to give to a friend/neighbor or freeze for later) lends itself well to the "Give & Take" part of the title and the "baked pasta casserole" part is pretty self-explanatory.  Honestly, I don't care at all what you call long as you make it and love it.  
I started with a big diced yellow onion, minced garlic and olive oil.  Cook until soft and your entire house smells like Italy.  Then add the sausage and ground burger - beef or turkey or chicken would all be fine, depending on how decadent you want to be (step not pictured).  Once cooked, remove from heat and throw in a big bowl with the most amazing pasta sauce (Bertolli Riserva Marinara), the cheese (shredded and cream), the spices and the zucchini. Don't worry if your sauce is runny or thinner than you think it should be - the pasta will absorb a lot of the juice, so that's totally fine.
Spoiler alert: I even managed to sneak some green vegetables in the pasta without my children knowing or gagging. Actually, if you have kids that aren't necessarily the best veggie eaters, this is the perfect dish to add green veggies to.  I added shredded zucchini that I used a cheese grater on (took 30 seconds), but feel free to also add some chopped spinach (fresh or frozen) or kale.  Also, mushrooms and/or a diced roasted red pepper would be incredible additions.  Don't worry, your kids won't know you added veggies and I guarantee they won't be able to taste it (I won't tell).  
Cook the pasta al dente.  I used penne, but you could really use whatever you wanted.  My husband loves farfalle (bowtie pasta) and while that's good, a round noodle (that the sauce can get into) it better, trust me.  Rigatoni, ziti, elbow, cavatappi or even shells would all make excellent choices.  Actually, I think any pasta would probably be amazing.  It's that good.  Once the pasta's ready, put it in two casserole dishes and spoon the sauce on top.  The more sauce the better, because a lot of it will be absorbed by the pasta.  No need to mix it all up or anything, it'll be fine when you scoop it out. Put a healthy layer of cheese on top of the sauce.  I sprinkled some shredded mozzarella on top and then covered the whole thing in a layer of sliced provolone.  You can go as light (or as heavy) as you want on the cheese.  Trust me when I say that you cannot have too much, just in case you were wondering. 
Bake covered at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until the cheese is melted.  Then remove the foil and bake until the cheese top gets nice and toasty brown.  Serve immediately while hot and melty, but don't be surprised when it's even better reheated the next day.

As I mentioned, this recipe makes TWO entire casseroles.  It's just as easy to make two as it is one, so why not?  You can either drop one off to a friend or family member (trust me, they'll be incredibly grateful) or freeze the second one and pop it in the oven the next time you don't have time to make dinner or want to impress someone with how amazing your cooking skills are.  This recipe is meant to share! 
The highlight of this dish is definitely the sauce.  I used Bertolli's new Riserva Marinara with Parmigiano-Reggiano and it was perfection.  This sauce is part of Bertolli's new line of Riserva sauces, introduced as part of their 150th anniversary (and just in time for Italian Heritage Month). They have four variations: Marinara with Parmigiano-Reggiano, Porcini Mushrooms & White Truffle Oil, Asiago Cheese & Artichokes and Balsamic Vinegar & Caramelized Onions.  They all sound incredible.

But even better than incredible sauce - during the month of October, Bertolli is making a $1 donation to help end childhood hunger in America for EVERY photo shared via social media using the #MyTuscanTable hashtag!  It's that easy!  This is a partnership with No Kid Hungry and each dollar will provide 10 healthy meals to kids in need.  Amazing sauce, amazing company, amazing cause.  I hope you'll share a photo.  You can find more about the celebration and get meal tips/recipes HERE

Give & Take Baked Pasta Casserole
(makes 2 casseroles - one for you to eat, one to give to a friend or freeze)

- 2 jars of Bertolli Riserva Marinara pasta sauce
- 2 boxes of penne pasta
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
- 1 pound ground burger (turkey, chicken or beef)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1-2 zucchini, grated/shredded
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella
- 1 package of cream cheese, softened
- 1 tablespoon Italian spices
- 2 package sliced provolone
1. Cook onion, garlic and olive oil in a skillet until soft (about 5 minutes).  Add sausage (crumbled, no casings) and burger and cook until no longer pink. 
2. Remove from heat and place in large bowl.  Add salt, shredded cheese, cream cheese, spices, zucchini and pasta sauce.  Stir until well combined and all the cheese has melted. 
3. Cook pasta to al dente, according to directions.  Drain and place half of noodles in one casserole dish and half in a second dish.  
4. Cover the pasta with 1/2 the sauce in each casserole dish until it's all used.  Sprinkle any remaining shredded mozzarella on the top and cover with slices of provolone.  

5. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes until the cheese is melted. Uncover and cook until cheese is brown and bubbly (about another 10 minutes).  Serve hot and enjoy!
I'm guesstimating the amounts for all the ingredients because I'm a bit of a wild card in the kitchen and like to go rouge and not use recipes.  I add ingredients all willy-nilly until I get it to taste just right, so don't feel like you have to stick to this recipe exactly - feel free to play around with it and make it your own.  These are the bones to get you started.  And of course, cook/serve with wine!!


  1.!!!! This looks and sounds so amazing. And a meal that you can't wait to have over and over again? Total win!!

  2. This looks incredible and PERFECT for the colder months! Thanks so much for sharing it with us! XO -Kim

  3. Ok this looks amazing!! I'm definitely adding this to my must make soon list!

  4. This sounds delicious. Pinning it for later!

  5. Pasta is one of my love languages!!! Im going to ask just to be positive, but you could just half the recipe to make one, right?! Our freezer is the size of a small Amazon box, nothing fits in it lol.

  6. Yum!!! That sounds and looks delicious!

  7. Ooh I want to make this ASAP! How many people would you say 1 casserole feeds? We are having family over for Noah's birthday and this just may fit the bill!

  8. Yep. This looks like a keeper. Pinning and making soon!

  9. I am always looking for new recipes, this is on my list! xo

  10. I am always looking for new recipes, this is on my list! xo

  11. I leave now I think I could make it by dinner time! I love all things pasta!

  12. Yum! Too bad nobody else will eat pasta in my weird family. They don't know what they are missing.

  13. YUM, looks delish. I love the idea of sneaking in shredded zucchini. I usually dice and add to our marinara sauce too. Great 'make-ahead' dish, easy to throw in the oven once home from work... Sign me up!!

  14. This sounds delicious!!!! And I love the idea of adding the vegetables in there. Mason is actually pretty good at eating veggies (we asked for EXTRA broccoli for him on the cruise - our waiter was impressed) but adding some into the meal without him knowing is an added bonus!

  15. I cannot seem to find that brand of sauce from Bertolli...can you please tell me where you bought it from?

  16. So much yum! I love the picture of the pasta spelling out pasta lol. Gonna have to give this dish a try!

  17. This looks like a great recipe! Thank you so much for sharing this great dish! |I know my kids would love it!

  18. This looks great. I love putting zucchini in my sauce, it makes a great combo with the red pepper. Such a good recipe.
    xoxo Mickey