There is nothing better than pulling piping hot baked pasta out of the oven on a cool evening. What's not to love about tender noodles, hearty sauces, and melty cheese? Every element is a crowd-pleaser, and the perfect cheese pull from that first slice has "love" written all over it.
Thankfully, there is a baked pasta recipe to suit every palate, from veggie-heavy and cheese-free to gooey, rich, and totally nostalgic. It checks all the boxes and easily transforms from a convenient weeknight solution to the main event of a celebratory meal. Plus, those piles of pasta can help stretch more expensive ingredients like meat and cheese, making baked pasta a handy tool for a cook on a budget or one who is looking to feed a crowd. And, of course, this freezer-friendly dish is a go-to if you're hoping to fill your freezer for the winter or want to feed new parents still in the haze of life with a newborn. So bust out your baking dish (ceramic or glass, please), put some water on to boil, and preheat your oven: There's baked pasta on the menu tonight.
Lasagna is an iconic dish that has been coming out of Italian kitchens since the Middle Ages, when one of the earliest cookbooks, a 14th-century manuscript called "Liber de Coquina," instructed cooks to layer thin sheets of boiled pasta with grated cheese and spices. We may never know who decided to add sauce and stick it all in the oven, but our tables — and our freezers — are forever grateful for their ingenuity.
Wide noodles are what set lasagna apart from other baked pasta. Ambitious cooks can show off by rolling out paper-thin homemade noodles rich with egg yolks and cutting them into wide rectangles. If making homemade pasta isn't your cup of tea, let the magic of no-boil noodles save you a lot of time and still deliver major results.
Lasagna bolognese is by far the most popular iteration, combining velvety béchamel and rich, meaty bolognese sauce in each layer. Ricotta adds creaminess and mozzarella provides the cheese pull, though if you're not a fan of cooked ricotta you'll definitely want to explore mornay sauce — béchamel with cheese stirred in — on your next lasagna adventure. It gets cheesy goodness into every bite without the sometimes crumbly texture.
Of course, bolognese isn't your only choice. Substitute meat for mushrooms or braised greens, trade red sauce for an extra dose of mornay, or go totally vegan with a veggie-heavy red sauce and nutritional yeast instead of Parmigiano Reggiano to give a punch of umami to all those veggies.
Baked Macaroni And Cheese
Any busy parent (or college student) will tell you instant mac and cheese has its place, and they're not wrong. Sometimes, though, you need to kick it up a notch and get the oven involved.
When whipping up such a seemingly simple dish, give every step a once-over to avoid any mac and cheese mistakes. Choose a smaller pasta with nooks and crannies designed to hold onto sauce. Elbows and shells are a go-to whether you're using a box or going homemade, while cavatappi, campanelle, or radiatore will give the finished product a grown-up look. When it comes to the cheese in mac and cheese, let flavor be your guide. Start with mild melting cheeses like cheddar and Gouda to create a creamy base when stirred into the roux, then get creative and add in small amounts of punchy flavors (think goat cheese or feta) for a personal twist.
The crowning glory of baked macaroni and cheese is the crispy crust, and there's more than one way to make it your own. Melted butter and Panko will brown beautifully into a light, crunchy lid. Small toasted cubes of bread would be right at home at a classic barbecue restaurant, giving your baked macaroni and cheese a little extra chew. Or you can get really creative with crushed potato chips in fun flavors or cheese crackers for a salty finish with serious crunch. However you top it, get ready for a textural match made in heaven.
Tuna Noodle Casserole
Whether you call it casserole or hotdish, there's something super comforting about this Midwestern icon. All that comfort was born out of convenience, as canned food producers began developing easy-to-follow recipes featuring items like canned soup or vegetables to help home cooks get dinner on the table in record time. Even James Beard wrote a book on the subject, publishing "Casserole Cookbook" in 1955. And tucked in those pages is none other than tuna casserole. And if you've never tried this American classic before, maybe Beard's endorsement can convince you.
At its simplest, tuna noodle casserole is a meal of pantry staples, combining egg noodles, canned cream of mushroom soup, and canned tuna. Most recipes call for tuna in water (just be sure to drain it), but tuna packed in oil can help add extra moisture and rich flavor to the final dish. The humble beginnings make it the perfect baked pasta dish to dress up. Make it a one-pan meal by stirring in diced peppers or peas for a serving of veggies. And if you're feeling ambitious, you can swap the canned soup for a homemade gravy -- which is equally at home in green bean casserole come Thanksgiving. Top it all off with crushed Saltines or your favorite flavor of potato chips (might we suggest salt and vinegar for a nod to classic fish-n-chips?). You'll be potluck-ready in no time, and your grandmother will be so proud.
Are you longing for the flavor of lasagna, but not interested in all that effort? Enter baked ziti. It is Carmela Soprano's specialty and, just like the fictional mob wife, the dish does have Italian roots. Ziti is a long, tube-shaped pasta that originated in Sicily — just like the Soprano family. There, baked ziti was traditionally served at weddings, though it has now expanded to be a feature on any celebration table.
Unlike lasagna, which requires painstakingly layering thin sheets of pasta with sauces and cheese, making baked ziti is a walk in the park. Stir cooked pasta with sauce, meat or vegetables, and cheese, then pour it into a casserole dish. Top with Parmesan and mozzarella, then slide it into the oven and bake until everything is warm and melty.
So why use ziti when we know ridged pasta like penne rigate and rigatoni are ideal for holding sauces? Size-wise, ziti is right between the two (penne is smaller, rigatoni is bigger), so the center hole will trap sauce and small, crumbled fillings. And while the ridges on penne and rigatoni are great for catching sauce in un-baked pasta dishes, the weight of the fillings and time in the oven can cause ridged pasta to crack (especially if they're over-cooked before going into the oven), while smooth and rigid ziti can hold its own.
These ocean-inspired noodle shapes come in a wide variety of sizes, with the smallest appearing in soups (or boxed macaroni and cheese) and the largest begging to be stuffed and baked. The smooth interior and ridged exterior make them ideal for holding fillings and grabbing sauce, which is exactly how they're used in the southern Italian region of Campania.
Baked stuffed shells are all about presentation. Each shell is a pretty all-in-one package that's delicious as the main event or a side dish. The spacious interior has ample room for a hearty amount of filling, so stuff away. Fill them with cheese and veggies, meat and red sauce, or whatever your heart desires. Just don't forget to top them with extra cheese for a melty, gooey finish.
The hardest thing about cooking stuffed shells is ensuring each shell stays intact during the stuffing and baking process. Stir gently while you're boiling the pasta to keep the shells from sticking without being broken by the spoon. Since you'll be giving the noodles time to finish cooking in the oven once they're filled and sauced, remove them from the water when they're molto al dente so they're still strong enough to hold up to being filled — and ensure a perfect al dente pasta once your dish comes out of the oven.
Sheet Pan Gnocchi
Baked pasta is often a labor of love, but you'll be thrilled to know it can also be synonymous with a quick weeknight dinner -- and sheet pan gnocchi is proof. You don't even have to boil water.
Sheet pan dinners are always a fast way to get dinner on the table, but in this dish, the real timesaver is the gnocchi itself. These bite-sized, hand-formed Italian dumplings didn't see potatoes added to the recipe until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though squash was used in northern Italy before potatoes became common crops. Today, potato gnocchi is a common grocery store item (found in shelf-stable and refrigerated varieties), and you never know what new flavor you'll spot in the Trader Joe's freezer aisle.
Whether packaged, frozen, or homemade, gnocchi cooks in just a few minutes when dropped in boiling water. Since it cooks so quickly, the 20 minutes it takes to roast your entire sheet pan dinner is more than enough time for the steam from the veggies and liquid from your sauce to get the dumplings nice and tender, and for them to develop a crave-worthy crispy crust.
Though spaghetti pie sounds like an American fever dream, it is as Italian as they come. Marcella Hazan herself featured a recipe for frittata di spaghetti in her 1978 book "More Classic Italian Cooking," giving it some serious clout.
Hazan notes that this dish is the perfect way to use up leftover spaghetti but, in true Italian fashion, leftover pasta is not something she often found in her kitchen. So boil some water, because if Marcella Hazan says it is worth it, you better believe it. Spaghetti pie can be whatever you'd like it to be. The simplest version is dressed with butter and cheese and held together with a few beaten eggs, giving serious cacio e pepe vibes. For a one-dish meal, spaghetti pi can become a hearty entrée when laden with sausage, veggies, and mountains of cheese. It's surprisingly stunning, great for feeding a crowd, and makes for fantastic leftovers if you, unlike Marcella Hazan, find yourself with day-old spaghetti pie in your refrigerator.
Timballo (also called timpano) is a baked pasta that can really hold its own as the centerpiece at a dinner party. And who better to sing its praises than Stanley Tucci, who loves the dish so much that he sought out multiple versions while visiting Sicily for his CNN show "Searching for Italy." While making handmade pasta florets with Princess Stefania di Raffadali's longtime chef, Tucci describes the dish as pasta, sauce, meat, and cheese tucked into a pastry crust and baked. The showstopper is then turned out onto a serving platter and cut into wedges for diners to enjoy.
Endless variations can be found in every Sicilian kitchen, with some cooks using lasagna sheets or thin slices of eggplant to wrap the central pasta. And, of course, the filling is up to you! Meatballs, ground meat, and vegetables are all fair game. However you fill it, timballo is a baked pasta truly worthy of its place on your celebratory table.
What do you get when you give Italian baked pastas a Grecian twist? Pastitsio, Greece's answer to lasagna absolutely deserves a spot in your baked pasta repertoire. In 1910, Greek chef Nikolas Tselementes began publishing a magazine called "Cooking Guide" — and he changed Greek cooking forever. In fact, Tselementes is so instrumental in the development of modern Greek cooking that Greek folks use his last name as a synonym for cookbook to this day.
With pastitsio, Tselementes combined tubular pasta with béchamel and ground meat then topped it all with more béchamel before putting it in the oven. The beautifully browned crust, reminiscent of moussaka, was the ultimate goal, as Tselementes was known for highly valuing the appearance of food, sometimes even over the flavor.
Some modern chefs prefer to layer the ground meat above the pasta and béchamel for a more dramatic appearance in each slice. However you choose to assemble it, the addition of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and allspice help bring this cousin of lasagna out of Italy, into Greece, and onto your table.
Baked Feta Pasta
Okay, so this one isn't technically baked pasta, but how could we skip over one of the original TikTok recipe phenomenons? If you haven't tried baked feta pasta yet, it's time. It's super simple, quick to get on the table, and a total crowd-pleaser — the recipe for a viral sensation, and all the more reason to add this to your meal plan.
Simply toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in a baking dish, then nestle a block of feta cheese in the middle. Let it hang out in the oven while you cook your pasta of choice, giving the tomatoes time to soften and burst while the cheese starts to melt. Stir the burst tomatoes and melted feta together, mix in some fresh basil, then add the cooked pasta (you saved pasta water to thin the sauce if needed, right?).
That's it. You can dress it up with additional spices like Italian seasoning, oregano, or red pepper flakes, or add protein to round out the meal. Or keep it simple and know you've got a delicious dinner memorized and on the table in about 30 minutes.
Anyone who has participated in a Jewish celebration like Rosh Hashanah has probably had kugel. These casseroles can be served for any meal, at any temperature, and are either sweet or savory — a broad definition if we've ever heard one.
Noodle kugels — which first began appearing in the 16th century as Jews made their way from Italy to France and Eastern Europe and brought noodles with them — are chock-full of dairy, often featuring sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and butter alongside eggs, sugar, and cinnamon. Kugel made its way to America as Jews emigrated from Poland and Hungary (where sweet noodle kugel is called rakott tészta) to the United States, and has found a welcome home on seder tables across the country. The dish is kosher, and many cooks replace standard egg noodles with a gluten-free variety in order to serve the dish on Passover.
What does it taste like? Imagine the love child of bread pudding and buttered noodles. It's sweet, creamy, and mildly crunchy from the baked top. It can be served as a side dish, or saved as a hearty dessert. If you've never had the joy of tasting a sweet noodle kugel, it is high time you whip one up at home. Mix-ins like raisins and toppings like cornflakes and brown sugar vary from recipe to recipe, but there's one constant: You'll want to invite a lot of friends to share.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.