A baked pasta dish, whether it’s stuffed shells, lasagna, baked ziti, or another type of pasta, is a thing of beauty. Somehow, these casseroles are more substantial than a non-baked pasta dish, perfect for make-ahead dinners, kid-friendly, portable, and buffet-ready. I turn to baked pasta recipes over and over again for weeknight dinners and easy entertaining, especially during the colder months.
I’ve made baked macaroni and cheese for a main course or dish for friends more times than I can count. Lasagnas are one of my go-to meals for big crowds, and my family loves to see a cheesy beefy baked pasta dish on the table in a big way. And there are lots of vegetarian options, too! Plus, leftovers heat up like a dream.
So many reasons to love a baked pasta dish and so many ways to make them!
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Best Baked Pasta Recipes: hearty, substantial, make ahead, crowd-pleasing – there are so many reasons to love a baked pasta dinner.Tweet This
When to Make a Baked Pasta
Here are some of the times I lean right into a baked pasta. When:
- Friends are coming over after a winter hike or a ski day.
- I need something to freeze and defrost for a hands-off dinner.
- We need a full-on comfort food meal.
- There is leftover pasta or meat sauce.
- I have a lot of shredded cheese on hand.
- I want a main course that also functions as a side dish, and vice versa.
- I have to bring something substantial to a potluck party.
- A friend needs a meal dropped off for any number of reasons.
- I want to have people over and really don’t want to mess with last-minute cooking, but rather be hanging out with friends (this is the big one!).
Baked Pastas Tips
- Pick a chunky pasta. – Longer noodle-y pastas sometimes work, but they can overcook more easily, so I usually like a thicker, chunkier shape.
- Use a noodle with ridges (rigate). – The little ridges help hold the sauce.
- Slightly undercook your pasta before baking. – The pasta will continue to cook in the heat once combined with the other ingredients before baking and absorb the sauce that it’s cooked with, so you want to leave room for it to become perfectly tender and also more flavorful by absorbing more flavor as it absorbs the sauce while baking in the oven.
- Keep the salt in check. – Think about the amount of salt in all of the components of the dish. You should definitely salt your pasta cooking water, but then keep that in mind when you are salting the sauce and any other components in the dish. The salt level should be just right when all of the elements of the dish come together.
- Broil the baked pasta. – Consider giving it a minute or two under the broiler at the end. If you like a more browned top crust, then a final minute or two under the broiler at the end might get you to where you want to be. Keep a close eye on the dish, though; it can go from golden brown to a little burnt in a matter of a minute.
- Let it rest. – This allows the sauce to finish absorbing into the pasta, and if you are making a layered pasta, like a lasagna, it will also help keep those layers from slicing apart when you serve it. Plus, you won’t burn your tongue.
Make-Ahead, Storage, and Leftovers
Often, when cooking a baked pasta casserole, the make-ahead appeal is part of the allure!
- Most baked pasta dishes can be assembled and then refrigerated for a day or two, covered, before baking and serving.
- Many baked pastas can be baked ahead of time, then cooled and refrigerated for a couple of days before reheating and serving. Reheat in a 350 oven for about 20 minutes until hot throughout. Cover the pan with foil if you don’t want the top to get more browned, and perhaps lift off the foil for the last 5 minutes of baking to crisp up and brown the top a bit.
- Leftovers also can be reheated, either in the main pan itself or in individual portions. I usually reheat leftovers in the pan in the oven. Most times, about 20 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven is a good guideline. Individual portions of baked pasta can usually be reheated easily in the microwave for about 1 minute.
- Most baked pastas are freezable, though those with dairy might be a bit more tricky. Having said that, macaroni and cheese freezes quite well. Look at the individual recipes to see if the casserole is better frozen in its unbaked state or after baking.
- Some casseroles can be baked or reheated right from their frozen state. In that case, you usually want to keep the casserole covered with foil while baking; remove the foil for the final 10 minutes or so.
- Most frozen baked pastas can be defrosted in the fridge for about 24 hours and then baked or reheated in the oven (depending on whether they were baked or not before freezing). Also, see How to Freeze and Defrost Casseroles for more information!