Pasta is something I try not to cook a lot as a big group dinner because I typically eat a lot of it during the week, my roommates do too. But sometimes it’s nice to make a big dish of baked penne, the king of baked pasta dishes, because then I can eat that throughout the week instead of coming up with different ways to prepare pasta.
This week we’re starting with a simple bolognese sauce. Meat sauce. But it can be serves with just cooked pasta or we can use it for a pasta bake. So much versatility.
So I started my bolognese the same way I’d start anything really: carrots, onion, and celery. The big trifecta that makes up just about any soup or sauce. So I sauteed this stuff down in some olive oil and then added in garlic. What italian dish would be complete without garlic?
After that I added my liquids and herbs. The liquid for this dish is quite simply a can of crushed tomatoes and a little bit of water. I guess you could also use vegetable stock or something, but I think water works just fine. I mean, it’s going to reduce down anyway. As for the herbs, I threw in a couple whole basil stems and some dried oregano. The really quintessential italian herbs if you ask me. Then just let this simmer for a good 20-30 minutes.
While that was simmering, I cooked up the beef in a separate pan. Now you could cook it in with the vegetables, but since I’m using like 80% lean/20% fat beef, it would produce too much fat and make the sauce really greasy. So I cooked it in a separate pan (make sure to season while you cook it) and then drained all the grease out and added it to the sauce.
They key ingredient, in my cheese-loving opinion, is the mozzarella. That’s what I like most about these kinds of dishes. The layer of browned mozzarella on top. So as you can see by my beautiful mountain of cheese above, I used a lot. About 1.5 lbs to be exact. It may seem excessive, but it’s really not. Besides, I figured that showing my mountain of mozzarella would be a lovely addition to this blog post regardless of it’s importance.
You should cook up the penne according to the package directions or however you like to cook your pasta. A couple hints on cooking pasta. After the water comes to a boil, I like to add a nice helping of salt to season the pasta and I also throw in about 1 tbs or so of olive oil. This keeps the pasta from clumping together and forming a mega ball of penne.
After the pasta’s cooked up, I add it to the sauce and mix it together. Then I threw it into a greased baking pan and spread it out into an even layer. Now for the best part. Topping this baby with cheese. Sprinkle that mozzarella on top in a nice, thick layer all around. You won’t regret it. Trust me.
Now it’s all ready for the oven. I cooked it at 350˚F for about 40 minutes to get a nice, browned layer of mozzarella on the top. That way it’s nice and delicious.
The best thing about this is it makes enough for leftovers throughout the week and it can be made ahead of time. I’ve made pans of this and then I throw it in the freezer before baking it to save it for a later date. All you need to do is throw it in the oven. Although, if it’s frozen you’ll have to cook it for longer, and I’d recommend using a higher temperature like 400˚F.
Baked Bolognese Penne Pasta
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours
- 1 onion, chipped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- ¼ cup water
- 2 stems of basil
- 1 tbs oregano
- 1.5 lbs ground beef
- 1 box penne pasta
- 1.5 lbs mozerella
- Preheat oven to 350˚F
- Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat
- Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook until onions are translucent, 5-8 min
- Add garlic
- Pour in crushed tomatoes, water, oregano, and basil stems
- Bring liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes
- In a separate pan, cook ground beef until browned
- Pour out grease and add to sauce, stir to combine
- Cook pasta according to package directions
- Drain and put pasta back into pot
- Pour in sauce and stir to combine
- Transfer to a baking pan and top with shredded mozzarella
- Bake for 40 minutes