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Easy Baked Penne – this easy pasta casserole is FULL of cheese! It’s accidentally vegetarian and no one will know it’s semi-homemade! This is one of the best easy baked pasta recipe I’ve ever made.

baked penne being scooped out of a teal pan with a silver spoon.

Easy Baked Penne Recipe

Years ago I had a friend who introduced me to this easy baked pasta recipe. She made it for a 4th of July barbecue one time and we sat eating it for hours. I’ve been making it for potlucks and family dinners ever since.

When I researched baked penne pasta recipes online before making it, I found that so many of them have meat in them. I thought that was strange, because I’ve only ever had THIS Baked Penne, which is vegetarian. My friend didn’t eat meat, so neither did her pasta recipe. As a result, I’ve always made this without meat. And you know what? I don’t miss the meat at all – plus I often serve it with a side of baked or grilled chicken or some meatballs for protein. After all, it makes a HUGE batch, so we’re often eating it at a potluck.

The recipe is easy, using just a handful of ingredients, and comes together in minutes. Plus, do you see how cheesy this baked penne is??? OMG.

baked penne piled on a grey plate next to a silver fork.

Penne Pasta Bake Secret Ingredients

There are two secret ingredients in this baked penne pasta. Can you guess what they are? They’re two things I’d never seen in a pasta recipe before, but they make the end result so cheesy and creamy I just never leave them out.

By the way, these two ingredients, if they weird you out, are two things I never eat alone. I ONLY use them in recipes, like Cheesy Egg Casserole.

  • The cottage cheese adds body (and protein) to the dish. You don’t taste it at all, plus it makes it even more cheesy. There’s TONS of mozzarella to make you forget about the cottage cheese, but this dish wouldn’t be as good without it.
  • Sour cream adds so much creaminess to this easy baked penne recipe. This result is almost like a creamy tomato sauce.
  • What other ingredients are there? Just pasta, spaghetti sauce, and garlic. You can use any jarred pasta sauce you like (I’ve used a variety of brands). OR, you can make your own red sauce.
  • I always kick it up by adding TONS (5 cloves) of pressed garlic. If you’re not a garlic lover, you can leave that out, but it gives a wonderful flavor to the dish. (Plus, it wards off vampires.) Then you add tons of cheese and bake it up.
  • Shredded Mozzarella Cheese for topping
baked penne in a teal pan.

How to Make Easy Baked Penne

  1. Boil the pasta in a large pot over medium heat until al dente. It will finish baking in the oven.
  2. Stir together the marinara sauce, cheeses, and garlic.
  3. Stir in the pasta and place it in the pan. Add more cheese and some ground black pepper.
  4. Bake until bubbly and golden. Serve with fresh basil.

Tip From Dorothy

Expert Tips

  • If you want to add some meat you can use cooked ground turkey, ground beef, Italian sausage, or leftover cooked chicken.
  • Turn this into baked ziti by using ziti shaped pasta.
  • You can also sprinkle parmesan cheese on top along with the mozzarella.
  • Store leftovers in the fridge in an airtight container and reheat in the microwave.
baked penne being scooped out of a teal pan with a silver spoon.

Easy Baked Penne

3.88 from 226 votes
Easy Baked Penne – this easy pasta casserole is FULL of cheese! It’s accidentally vegetarian and no one will know it’s semi-homemade!
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Yield 12 servings
Serving Size 1 /8th of casserole


  • 1 12-16 ounce box penne pasta
  • 1 24 ounce jar pasta sauce (and brand/flavor you like)
  • 8 ounces cottage cheese , low fat is fine
  • 8 ounces sour cream , low fat is fine
  • 5 cloves garlic , pressed
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella , divided
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  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Cook pasta according to package directions then drain well.
  • In a bowl or in the pasta pan, stir together pasta sauce, cottage cheese, sour cream, and garlic. Stir in pasta, then stir in 2 cups of shredded cheese.
  • Spread pasta in a 9×13” baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 2 cups cheese on top.
  • Bake for 15-25 minutes or until the pasta is hot all the way through and cheese is melted. Serve hot. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Recipe Nutrition

Serving: 1/8th of casserole | Calories: 343kcal | Carbohydrates: 22g | Protein: 21g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 54mg | Sodium: 859mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 6g
Nutritional information not guaranteed to be accurate
Course Main Course
Cuisine American

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If you like this you’ll also like Buffalo Chicken Pasta Bake, Baked Pasta with Sausage, Mushroom, and Spinach, and Creamy Chicken and Vegetable Baked Pasta.

Last Updated on January 20, 2024

Dorothy Kern

Welcome to Crazy for Crust, where I share recipes that are sometimes crazy, often with a crust, and always served with a slice of life.

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Recipe Rating


  1. Love this recipe!! So simple and quick! Have used penne and sometimes fettuccine. Either way it’s delicious.

    1. You can omit cottage cheese – it adds protein and creaminess. You could add some sour cream, maybe about half the amount.