Are you ready for some cozy delicious comfort food? This baked three-cheese Italian penne pasta is one of my family’s favorite meals. With a creamy cheese sauce and tangy tomatoes mixed with the soft noodles- it is the ultimate crowd pleaser. I love fixing it when we have guests over because it makes a full 9 x 13 pan and is easy to double if you have hearty eaters.
I’ve made this cheesy penne pasta so many times over the years and with so many variations I’ve learned it is hard to go wrong! I always come back to this as basic recipe as my favorite. One thing I’ve tried and loved is substituting the mozzarella for pepper jack cheese. I love a good pepper jack anyways so mixing it in adds a nice spice.
The most common variation we indulge in is adding sausage!! It’s soo so good with sausage. I put a few notes in the recipe card on adding sausage, but basically if your using ground Italian Sausage you want it fully cooked and drained. Just toss the cooked meat in with the pasta when you add in the tomatoes and cheese. Many times I buy a pre-cooked sausage link- Hillshire Farms makes some yummy ones. I chop it up into bite-sized pieces and just toss it with all the pasta! So easy and I don’t have to get another pan dirty!
This is a great “service meal”…. a meal you take to a sick friend or family with a new baby on board. Just double the recipe and put half in your own pan (for your dinner) and the other half in a tin 9 x 13 (the cheap ones disposable ones you buy at the grocery store). I make the service dinner so far as topping it with the bread crumbs and butter but I don’t bake it. Take it to your lucky recipient and with the instructions to bake written on the lid or foil. They can bake right away for dinner that night, or store in the fridge or freezer for another night.
These are the tomatoes and bread crumbs I typically use. The seasonings in both compliment the dish well. The bread crumb topping is totally not necessary, but I love a little crunch on the top over the warm cheesy pasta.
- 3 T butter
- 3 T flour
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp basil
- 1/2 tsp parsley
- 2 Cloves Garlic, minced
- 3 C Milk
- 1/2 C Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated
- 1/3 C Mozzarella Cheese, grated
- 1/4 C Fresh Parmesan, grated
- 1 tsp Salt
- Pepper to taste
- 1 can Italian Diced Tomatoes
- 1 box Penne Pasta
- Italian Bread Crumbs + a little butter
- Flat Leaf Parsley (optional)
- Sausage (optional)
- In a large pot, cook pasta. I like to add buillion cubes to the water to season the pasta.
- While pasta is cooking, make your sauce.
- Start by melting your butter in a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add in garlic and seasonings. Allow to cook garlic for a minute or two. Whisking constantly so as not scorch the butter.
- Add in flour and whisk to create a roux. Allow flour to bubble and cook for about a minute, always whisking.
- Add in milk and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil and allow to boil while whisking for 3-4 mins or until sauce thickens.
- Remove from heat and add in salt and pepper. Cool for about 2 minutes then whisk in cheeses.
- If pasta is ready, drain and pour into a greased 9X13 baking dish.
- Pour undrained can of tomatoes over pasta.
- Add cheese sauce. Mix to combine.
- *If adding sausage, you can use precooked sausage that is diced or ground sausage that is cooked and drained. Stir into pasta.
- If I have more cheese, I like to add another layer of cheese on top of the pasta just before the bread crumbs.
- Top pasta with Italian bread crumbs and a small dollops of butter.
- Cover and bake at 350 deg F. for 20 minutes. Remove foil and turn heat up to broil for 2-3 minutes.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving. Garnish with chopped flat-leaf parsley.