Janine Gilbertson's Granite Kitchen: Baked pasta dishes are as easy as 1-2-cheese

By JANINE GILBERTSON October 16. 2018 10:51PM

Baked Macaroni (JANINE GILBERTSON)

Coming up with dinner ideas can be a challenge, even for someone who writes about food.

I often have people ask me where I get my ideas every week or sometimes people assume I read tons of cooking magazines or binge watch Food Network. Both assumptions are incorrect.

The ideas tend to start when I’m out shopping for groceries; I’ll see a seasonal item or something that looks particularly fresh and buy it, then decide what to do with it when I’m staring blankly in the fridge or panty, wondering what to make when everyone is hungry.

For a quick meal, pasta is always an option, but there are many different things you can do with pasta besides boiling it and adding a sauce.

Lately, since it’s been so chilly outside, I’ve been in the mood to make casseroles and baked pasta dishes. They’re hearty, don’t take much time to throw together and the combinations are endless.

If you want to try a baked pasta, the simplest way to go is to use a tomato-based sauce and a pasta noodle of choice, mix your ingredients together and top it off with a good quality cheese like a Parmesan or Romano, then stick it in the oven to bake. It’s a great alternative to a spaghetti dinner.

If you want to try other baked pastas, consider dressing your pasta with a pesto sauce and adding some interesting vegetables like sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes. I made a baked pasta using these ingredients and it was delicious. Once it came out of the oven and we were enjoying it, I started thinking of ways to make it again, this time using Feta cheese instead of Parmesan and adding in a layer of fresh spinach. This is another way ideas are born.

Sometimes I come across ingredients in unlikely places. A couple of weeks ago I was in TJ Maxx and strolled through their kitchen section. I came across some gourmet pastas, olive oils and vinegars. Some of the brands were the same ones I buy at fancy gourmet food stores, so naturally I checked the expiration dates, then stocked up. Part of the haul was a package of mushroom pasta that I turned into a baked pasta creation, so when you’re out and about, it’s definately worth it look for ingredients and inspiration in unlikely places.

Baked Macaroni



1 lb. package elbow macaroni, cooked

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 T. olive oil

1 sweet onion, diced

1 1/2 c. baby bella mushrooms, sliced

28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 tsp. garlic salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 T. balsamic vinegar

2 tsp. sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 c. Romano cheese, shredded

2 T. fresh parsley or basil, if desired, for garnish



Add the olive oil to a sauté pan and set over medium high heat. When the oil is warmed, add the onion, mushrooms, garlic and ground beef. Cook for about 10 minutes until the ground beef is no longer pink and the vegetables have softened. Add crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, garlic salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and sugar. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray and add the cooked macaroni, spreading in an even layer. Spoon tomato sauce over the macaroni, then spread the cheese on top. Cover with aluminum foil and set in an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Remove from oven and garnish with fresh parsley or basil, if desired.
Baked Ziti with Chicken, Capers and Artichokes 

Baked Ziti with Chicken, Capers and Artichokes



1 lb. package ziti, cooked 

1 T. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. chicken breast, cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks

1/2 c. chicken broth

3/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

8 oz. jar artichokees, drained

1/4 c. capers

8 oz. jar pesto

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 c. Parmesan cheese

fresh parsley or basil for garnish, if desired



Add olive oil to a sauté pan and set over medium high heat. When the oil is warmed, add garlic, chicken breast and sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the chicken and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked throughout. Transfer the chicken mixture to a large bowl and add the chicken broth, capers, pasta, artichokes and pesto, then mix well to combine. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray and add the chicken and pasta mixture, spreading into an even layer. Sprinkle cheese over the top then cover with aluminum foil and set in an oven heated to 350 degrees. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Remove from heat and garnish with parsley and basil, if desired. 
Baked Mushroom and Broccoli Pasta 

Baked Mushroom and Broccoli Pasta



1 lb. mushroom pasta, cooked

1 sweet onion, chopped

2 c. broccoli crowns, chopped

1 red or orange bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic

14 oz. package mushrooms, sliced

1 tsp. Kosher salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/4 c. truffle olive oil, divided

1 c. mozzarella cheese

1 c. Romano cheese

fresh parsley or basil, chopped, for garnish, if desired



Add two tablespoons of the olive oil to a sauté pan and set over medium high heat. When the oil is warmed, add the onion, peppers, garlic, broccoli and mushrooms. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Transfer to a large bowl and add the remaining olive oil and mozzarella cheese; stir well to combine. Transfer mixture to a baking dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then top with Romano cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and set in an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted, then remove from oven and garnish with parsley or basil before serving, if desired.

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