CEiMB: Cheesy Baked Penne

I hope everyone had a nice Valentine’s Day! I know a lot of people “don’t believe in it” because it’s a “Hallmark holiday” and all that, but I actually love it :) First of all, there are the girly decorations – lots of pink, red, and purple hearts. That appeals to me in every way. Then there is the whole notion of telling the ones you love how much they mean to you. Well, I’m all about that! I get why people are against the holiday. I agree that Valentine’s Day should not be the only day people go out of their way for each other. I guess I just like any excuse to acknowledge how lucky I am to have such awesome people in my life.

All of this is not to say that I’m an advocate of expensive dinners, red roses, or heart-shaped boxes of candy. No, no. Those things are all great for some, but I’m more of a goofball who likes to spend the day running through the fountains at Centennial Park, eating a roll of Shockers, or drinking beer at my favorite local place. Unfortunately, this year none of that was to be as my Valentine has been quite sick all week and weekend. Poor guy. He thinks he has the plague. I’m pretty sure it’s just a cold, but I was still happy to take the opportunity to spoil and nurse him, just like he did me several weeks ago when I was the one who felt like death. Part of his spoiling was in the form of this baked pasta dish.

When he came in to the kitchen to see what we were having, I told him I made him baked penne. Then he asked, “Well, what’s in it?” To which I replied, “Pasta, sauce, and cheese.” And he asked if that was all. I said yes, and he was shocked. He said, “No surprises? Nothing else? Usually there is, like, vegetables or something.” HA! I told him there were no veggies this time, and he said, “Oh, you are spoiling me tonight!” Apparently my attempts at being sneaky and forcing him to eat vegetables these past couple years have not gone unnoticed :)

As usual, I made a couple changes. I decided to try brown rice pasta just because. I saw it at Trader Joe’s and thought it was an interesting idea. Since I’m not a fan of cottage cheese, I omitted it completely. I added a bit more ricotta but cut it with plain yogurt and a splash of milk to supplement some of the creaminess lost by using only ricotta. For the seasonings, I decided to add a bit more crushed red pepper and some fennel seed because I love the licoricey taste it adds, like sausage. The end result was a bit underwhelming, to be honest. I love, love, love cheese and don’t think I’ve ever thought anything was too cheesy. Until now. I was missing a bit more tomato sauce, and I think I would have doubled the sauce or cut down on the cheese or both. Otherwise, it had great flavor! The pasta, on the other hand, was not a hit. I didn’t notice any difference the first time around, but when I reheated the leftovers, the pasta nearly disintegrated. I cooked it several minutes less than the package recommended, but it lost all texture and was kind of a mushy mess. In its defense, this makes a ton of food with large servings for the calorie count. I just think it would be better after a few tweaks. Ryan was thrilled with it nonetheless, so my mission was accomplished. Thanks to Lindsey of 71 Cookbooks for her CEiMB pick!

Cheesy Baked Penne

1 pound dry penne pasta
6 ounces nonfat, plain Greek yogurt
15 ounces low fat ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons fat free milk
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded, divided
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
15 ounces crushed tomatoes
8 ounces no salt added tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 ounce parmesan cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the yogurt, milk, ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup mozzarella and parsley in a bowl and stir with a fork to incorporate and set aside. Cook pasta until tender but still firm, a minute or 2 less than the package directs. Drain.

Heat the oil in the same pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, rosemary, fennel, chili flakes, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes until sauce thickens slightly. Return pasta to pot with sauce and turn off heat. Add cheese mixture.

Spray a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray then transfer pasta mixture to pan. Top with remaining 3/4 cup mozzarella and the parmesan. Bake until heated through and cheese is melted, 30 minutes.

6 servings
Adpated from Ellie Krieger’s Four Cheese Baked Penne


February 17, 2011. recipes.


  1. Chaya replied:

    Looks like such cheesy goodness.

  2. Bri replied:

    I don’t care how lackluster you may have found this dish, the picture is absolutely droolworthy! I seriously wanted a heaping bowl of that as soon as I saw it. I remember thinking this one was bland, too. Thanks, also, for telling us about the brown rice pasta being a no-go. Always wondered about it!

  3. Kayte replied:

    Well this LOOKS terrific. Really, it does. The mushy pasta bit doesn’t sound very good, however. I have to say, that over here, if one combines pasta and cheese in almost any manner, the guys will eat it…seriously it’s a guy thing to love cheese and pasta no matter what! lol

  4. Amanda replied:

    Strange question… do you think it would be possible to substitute cottage cheese for the ricotta in this recipe? I would think so as I am able to in most recipes that call for it. I usually drain the cottage cheese first to give it a bit more of a ricotta texture…

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