Main Dish | April 3, 2021

Three-Cheese Italian Pasta Bake

Are you ready for some cozy delicious comfort food? This Three-Cheese Italian Pasta Bake is a favorite, with a creamy cheese sauce and tangy tomatoes mixed with soft noodles- it is the ultimate crowd pleaser. Easily doubled, this dish is perfect for a crowd!

An overhead shot of half of penne pasta bake in a white roasting pan. There is a small bowl of basil and a small bowl of pepper to the side.

What Is Three-Cheese Italian Pasta Bake?

This dish is a simple crowd-pleaser consisting of penne pasta, a creamy cheese sauce, and diced tomatoes.  It is all baked together in the oven for a warm, cheesy dish.

An overhead shot of a white baking pan full of Italian pasta bake. The dish is garnished with basil and cherry tomatoes.

What Do I Need To Make This Italian Pasta Bake?

For this recipe you’ll need to add the following to your grocery list:

  • 16oz penne pasta
  • 4 tbsp salted butter (divided)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 14.5 oz diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • cherry tomatoes and fresh basil as garnish (optional)

A picture of ingredients needed to make Italian pasta bake.

How Do You Make Three-Cheese Italian Penne?

Begin by cooking your pasta according to package directions.  You want to cook the penne to al-dente, leaving a bit of bite to your pasta. Because we are baking this dish, you don’t want it to get mushy in the oven.

1. In a saucepan, melt 3 tbsp butter.

2. Add in minced garlic and whisk for 1-2 minutes until garlic is fragrant.

3. Sprinkle in flour and whisk 1-2 minutes until flour mixture has a nutty aroma.

4. Slowly whisk in 3 cups of milk.  Bring to a boil, while constantly whisking, and whisk until thickened.

Steps 1-4 of how to make Italian pasta bake.

5. Stir in seasonings (oregano, basil, parsley, salt and pepper). Remove from heat.

6. Stir in grated cheddar, grated mozzarella, and grated parmesan.  Stir until cheeses are melted, set aside.

7. Prepare a 9×13 baking pan by spraying with non-stick spray.  Add drained pasta to the baking pan.

8. Top pasta with canned diced tomatoes (liquid included).

Steps 5-6 of how to make Italian pasta bake.

9. Pour cream cheese sauce on top.

10. Gently toss to combine.

11. Top with bread crumbs and small tabs of remaining butter.  If you have leftover shredded cheese, you can add this below the breadcrumb layer.

12. Cover dish with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Turn over to broil, and remove foil. Cook for an additional 1-3 minutes to brown the top. Serve immediately.

Steps 9-12 of how to make Italian pasta bake.

Variations

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!

An overhead shot of half of penne pasta bake in a white roasting pan.

Italian Pasta Bake Q&A

Do you cook pasta before baking it?

For this dish, yes.  There are no-boil lasagna varieties, but for most baked pasta recipes – you are required to boil the pasta prior to baking.

How long do you boil pasta before baking?

I always recommend under cooking your pasta, or cooking it to “Al-dente” or leaving a bit of bite to your pasta.  If you cook it fully, it may become soggy while baking.

Should I cook this covered of uncovered?

Baked pasta is cooked covered.  This prevents it from drying out in the oven.  Some recipes, like this one, call for the cover to be removed at the end to brown the top.

Should I rinse pasta?

Do Not Rinse.

Pasta should never, ever be rinsed for a warm dish. The starch in the water is what helps the sauce adhere to your pasta. The only time you should ever rinse your pasta is when you are going to use it in a cold dish like a pasta salad or when you are not going to use it immediately.

An overhead shot of a white baking pan full of Italian pasta bake. The dish is garnished with basil and cherry tomatoes. The shot it zoomed in.

A Great Service Meal

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.

An overhead shot of half of penne pasta bake in a white roasting pan. There is a wooden spoon over the baking pan.

I love pasta dishes! Do You Have Other Recipes?

We do!  Be sure to check out our:

A 3/4 shot of Italian pasta bake. There are cherry tomatoes and basils garnishing the dish.

DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? HAVE QUESTIONS?

Tell us if you make this Italian Pasta Bake? We love to hear from those who make my recipes.  If you want to keep up with our newest recipes, make sure you follow is on Facebook and Instagram, and make sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

5 from 1 vote
An overhead shot of half of penne pasta bake in a white roasting pan. There is a small bowl of basil and a small bowl of pepper to the side.
Three-Cheese Italian Pasta Bake
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
25 mins
Total Time
45 mins
 

This three-cheese Italian pasta bake is so easy to throw together, made with a creamy cheese sauce and tangy tomatoes it's a sure crowd pleaser!

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Cheesy Baked Pasta, italian pasta bake, Three Cheese Pasta
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 407 kcal
Author: Aubrey
Ingredients
  • 16 oz Penne Pasta
  • 4 tbsp butter (divided)
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 Cloves Garlic minced
  • 3 cups Milk
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp parsley
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese grated
  • 1/3 cup Mozzarella Cheese grated
  • 1/4 cup Fresh Parmesan grated
  • 14.5 oz diced tomatoes canned
  • 1/4 cup Italian Bread Crumbs
  • cherry tomatoes & fresh basil optional as garnish
Instructions
  1. Begin by cooking your pasta according to package directions.  You want to cook the penne to al-dente, leaving a bit of bite to your pasta. Because we are baking this dish, you don't want it to get mushy in the oven.
  2. In a saucepan, melt 3 tbsp butter.
  3. Add in minced garlic and whisk for 1-2 minutes until garlic is fragrant.
  4. Sprinkle in flour and whisk 1-2 minutes until flour mixture has a nutty aroma.
  5. Slowly whisk in 3 cups of milk.  Bring to a boil, while constantly whisking, and whisk until thickened.
  6. Stir in seasonings (oregano, basil, parsley, salt and pepper). Remove from heat.
  7. Stir in grated cheddar, grated mozzarella, and grated parmesan.  Stir until cheeses are melted, set aside.
  8. Prepare a 9x13 baking pan by spraying with non-stick spray.  Add drained pasta to the baking pan.
  9. Top pasta with canned diced tomatoes (liquid included).
  10. Pour cream cheese sauce on top.
  11. Gently toss to combine.
  12. Top with bread crumbs and small tabs of remaining butter.  If you have leftover shredded cheese, you can add this below the breadcrumb layer.
  13. Cover dish with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Turn over to broil, and remove foil. Cook for an additional 1-3 minutes to brown the top. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Variations

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!

Italian Pasta Bake Q&A

Do you cook pasta before baking it?

For this dish, yes.  There are no-boil lasagna varieties, but for most baked pasta recipes - you are required to boil the pasta prior to baking.

How long do you boil pasta before baking?

I always recommend under cooking your pasta, or cooking it to "Al-dente" or leaving a bit of bite to your pasta.  If you cook it fully, it may become soggy while baking.

Should I cook this covered of uncovered?

Baked pasta is cooked covered.  This prevents it from drying out in the oven.  Some recipes, like this one, call for the cover to be removed at the end to brown the top.

Should I rinse pasta?

Do Not Rinse.

Pasta should never, ever be rinsed for a warm dish. The starch in the water is what helps the sauce adhere to your pasta. The only time you should ever rinse your pasta is when you are going to use it in a cold dish like a pasta salad or when you are not going to use it immediately.

Nutrition Facts
Three-Cheese Italian Pasta Bake
Amount Per Serving (2 oz)
Calories 407 Calories from Fat 126
% Daily Value*
Fat 14g22%
Saturated Fat 8g50%
Trans Fat 1g
Cholesterol 37mg12%
Sodium 562mg24%
Potassium 378mg11%
Carbohydrates 54g18%
Fiber 3g13%
Sugar 8g9%
Protein 16g32%
Vitamin A 523IU10%
Vitamin C 5mg6%
Calcium 258mg26%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

24 thoughts on “Three-Cheese Italian Pasta Bake

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  1. I have a really big family of 8, most of them teenage boys, so I have to cook with pasta a couple of times a week to keep within my food budget. I’m always looking for a new pasta recipe. I love this one because it looks easy to put together and even though it’s really cheesy, it still looks fresh and light with all the herbs and tomatoes. Thanks for the recipe, I can’t wait to try it out.

    1. Hi Amy, Oh my goodness.. I had 3 younger brothers and yes.. teenage boys can eat a lot!! Hope you (and the boys) love it!

    2. My daughter will not eat pork or any red meat. Do you think chicken could be used in this. It sound wonderful but I do like a little meat.

      1. Chicken is a great idea! Roasted or grilled chicken cubed and mixed in would be a delicous alternative to sausage! Let me know how it turns out!

  2. This looks so good! I think I have all the ingredients ; I’m going to make it tonight! Love thats it’s so simple!

  3. Hi Aubrey, This looks delicious and I know my son and his girlfriend would love this. I do have a question, someone asked but it never got answered. Are the seasonings (oregano, basil, parsley, etc…) dried or fresh? Thanks so much and keep the recipes coming they all look good. :)

    1. Oh how fun! So I did dried! I have done fresh but usually if I do any kind of fresh, I’ll just sprinkle them on top at the end- not bake them. Good Luck with your dinner!

  4. Love this recipe. Great tasting pasta.
    I will say that I cut the oregano by 2/3. Three tspn seemed like a lot for such a strong herb. it also turned my sauce a little green with just the one tspn. I can’t imagine 3 TSPns. so i don’t know how you get such a white sauce given those realities.
    PS. Caps unintended. For some reason browser insists on caps.

    thanks