Hearty Baked Penne Pasta {Freezer Meal}

Delicious dinner recipe? Check. Freezer friendly? Check. Makes a lot of leftovers? Check. Approved by all ages in the family? Check. Feeds a large group of people? Check. Easy to make? Check!

Baked Penne Pasta

I’ve been making this Baked Penne Pasta Recipe for a while now. It’s finally time for me to share it with the world. If any of you dear readers out there embark on making this recipe, the world will be a better place. Share the love and impress your eaters.

To get started with the hearty-gooey-tasty deliciousness, you make the sauce first.

Ingredients for Baked Penne Pasta

Start by softening up your garlic and diced onion in some olive oil. (PS-here is a little tip on how to dice an onion!) Now add your ground beef and brown it up until there is no pink showing. (Here is where you can find meat you can trust, btw.)

Browning ground beef

At this point, things will start smelling really good and your toddler will begin his attempts to climb up your leg. When he fails, he will likely take any loose-fitting pants down with him. Just sayin.

Now that your toddler is occupied watching fire trucks on your iPhone (wait, I’m not supposed to do that before two years old, right?) Well, at least I’m not cooking pantless anymore. I digress.

After the meat is browned up, drain off some fat and add in the tomato sauce and tomatoes. You could sub these two for two jars of marinara if you want. Add your salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and anything else you feel it needs.

Now let it simmer on low for about 25-30 minutes. After that, remove 3 to 4 cups of the sauce to a different bowl to cool down. You’ll see why in a bit.

Making tomato sauce

After you get that sauce a-simmerin’, start multitasking. If you need to shred your cheese (here is why you should shred your own cheese by the way) go ahead and do that. You can also start to boil your pasta. Make sure to undercook it a tad. Seriously. If not, you’ll have some funky texture going on after it bakes in the oven.

In another bowl, combine your creamy stuff: ricotta, egg, 2 cups mozzarella, parmesan, salt, and pepper. Give it a good stir. But not TOO good of a stir. Just enough to mix it together, k?

Once pasta is cooked and drained, mix it with your cheese mixture. After the pasta and cheese mixture is combined, add in that cooled pasta sauce I told you about earlier. You did follow my directions, right?!

Once you’ve mixed that together, you have a delicious, gooey mess.

Pour the pasta into a baking dish. 

Pasta in a 9x13 dish

Now top it off with remaining pasta sauce.

Pasta & sauce in a 9x13 dish

Now finish it off with a layer of mozzarella.

Cheese on top of pasta in a 9x13 dish

If you’re planning on freezing this meal, this is the point in which you put your lid on and freeze it. Here are the freezing containers we use and recommend.

Either freeze your baked pasta at this point, or….

Freezer meal

Bake it!

Baked Penne Pasta in a 9x13 dish

Let it cool a bit before serving it up.

Baked penne pasta next to a green salad

Goodness. I need to make some more after writing this post.

Here’s the recipe:


Baked Penne Pasta

  • Author: Thriving Home
  • Prep Time: 45
  • Cook Time: 20
  • Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1012 1x
  • Category: Pasta
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Italian


Freezer Friendly Baked Penne Pasta Recipe. Easy, kid-friendly dinner idea. Great for large groups too.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds ground beef (or one pound ground beef & one pound Italian sausage) Here is where you can find meat you can trust.
  • 1 can (28 ounce size) whole tomatoes, with juice
  • 2 cans (14.5 ounce) tomato sauce or marinara sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 16 ounces whole wheat penne pasta
  • 1 tub (15 ounces) whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 11/2 pounds mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg


  1. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add diced onions and garlic and saute for several minutes, or until starting to soften.
  2. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Drain off fat, leaving a bit behind for flavor and moisture.
  3. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Stir and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
  4. After that time, remove 3 to 4 cups of the sauce to a different bowl to cool down.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  6. Begin to boil your pasta. Make sure to undercook it a tad–especially if freezing!
  7. In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, 2 cups of the grated mozzarella, Parmesan, egg, and a dash of salt and pepper.
  8. Drain the pasta and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking. Pour it into the bowl with the cheese mixture and barely mix it together.
  9. Add the cooled meat sauce that you set aside earlier and toss to combine.
  10. Dump the pasta mixture into a large greased casserole dish or lasagna dish. (I ended up using a 9×13 AND a 9×9 dish to fit all of it!)
  11. Spoon the remaining sauce over the top, then top with remaining mozzarella cheese.
  12. Bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbling. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.
  13. Hint: Sprinkle chopped parsley over the pasta before serving!


Freezer Meal Instructions To Freeze: Prepare the casserole up until you are supposed to bake it, but do not bake. Wrap the unbaked pasta tightly before putting in the freezer. To Prepare: When ready to cook, thaw in the fridge (may take up to 48 hours) or thaw in the microwave on defrost setting. Bake at 375 degrees according to instructions. If cooking directly from frozen state, increase baking time by 1 to 1 ยฝ hours (total baking time of about 2-2 ยฝ hours).

Looking for more ground beef recipes?

Check out our Top 10 Ground Beef Freezer Meals!

Ground Beef Freezer meals

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  1. Emily says

    Can’t wait to try this! But I have some questions, because I live overseas and these canned products are not readily available – can I use fresh tomatoes instead of whole canned ones? If so, about how much fresh? And about how many cups for the marinara sauce and ricotta cheese? (I make these myself, so I’m not sure how much the cans are translated into cups). Thanks!!

  2. Ashley says

    Could you make this vegetarian, without the meat? I have a picky eater who wonโ€™t eat pasta with meat in it.

  3. Don jacobs says

    Perfect for college students or someone who really does not know how to cook

    • Polly says


  4. Emily says

    Hi ๐Ÿ™‚ I want to gift this to a family friend who just lost his wife. He lives alone, so I would probably give him half of the recipe in a smaller container. Do you know if this would change the baking time or temp? Ty!

    • Rachel says

      Hi Emily, that is so sad but I’m thankful you are there. Food speaks a thousand words. I don’t think you will need to change the temp or the time on this one. Just watch it and make sure it’s bubbly on the sides and warmed all the way through. Since everything is already pre-cooked in it, you’re just wanting it to get nice and hot.

  5. Marissa says

    Made this for my momโ€™s birthday and she loved it! Very delicious <3

    • Rachel says

      Awesome, thanks for the feedback, Marissa. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Shelly Johnston says

    What is the calorie count per serving?

    • Rachel says

      I’m sorry. We don’t provide that information at this time.

      • Colleen says

        Iโ€™m looking to make this for my daughters high school basketball team. Could this be made in a crock pot? And if so, Would you cook the noodles as indicated in the recipe? How long in the crock pot? Thanks

  7. Laura says

    I’m excited to make this recipe! Due to schedule issues, I’d like to make it a couple days ahead of time. Would it be safe to stay in the fridge for 2-3 days prior to baking or would you recommend freezing and thawing?

    Thank you!

    PS – I’m so happy to have found your website. Thank you for what you two are doing. It is so helpful and encouraging to have women like you who are honoring God and sharing your gifts with others!

    • Rachel says

      Yes, 2-3 days in the fridge should be just fine. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement, Laura. Makes our day!

      • Cathy H. says

        I prepared this dish on a Thurs afternoon, refrigerated til Saturday when I baked it for a party. It turned out great! I had some leftover and froze in containers with two servings. Defrosted in refrig and reheated beautifully. Delish recipe. ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Rachel says

          Wonderful to hear that, Cathy!

  8. Mika says

    This was a great recipe! I made it with my mom and our whole family enjoyed it. Also, it made a lot so we could save some for the next night.

    Rachel and Polly: I love what you do! I think that it is so great that you do what you love and what you are good at while honoring God. Keep it up!

    • Rachel says

      Wow, thank you for the nice comment, Mika. Our goal is to share all of this–recipes, parenting articles, reviews, etc–to truly help others and glorify God. Makes me happy to know it’s helping you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. BL says

    Hi! Is there a way to substitute meatballs for the ground beef?

  10. Kristin says

    Can you make this without ricotta? My kids are not big fans. If so do you suggest replacing it with mozzarella?

    • Rachel says

      I have never tried it without ricotta. Cottage cheese is any easy replacement, but I’m guessing they might turn their noses up at that too. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m sure it can’t hurt to add mozzarella in place of the ricotta. It’s definitely worth a shot.

  11. Lunt Davidson says

    When you use a glass container with lid, as pictured, do you still need to wrap the food in plastic before freezing?

    • Rachel says

      If the lid is pretty air tight, you should be fine. The main thing to remember with frozen food is that air is your enemy.

  12. Claire says

    Is it 1.5 POUNDS of cheese or 1.5 cups of cheese?

    • Rachel says

      The recipe is correct! Very cheesy!

  13. Micheala says

    This was easy as pie and SO DELICIOUS. It took a little time, but wasn’t complicated, and for my small family it made three meals! I feel so productive!! Love love love this.

    • Rachel says

      We LOVE this! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and let us know. So glad you enjoyed it.

  14. Angie says

    Could this be made a couple days ahead of time, but not frozen? Would the noodles get too mushy if it was refrigerated for 2 days, or so?

    • Rachel says

      Oh yes, that would be fine!

  15. Amy J. says

    Can I cook this and then freeze it? I’m supposed to bake and a freeze a meal to have ready to go when called on and am trying to find a good recipe.

    • Rachel says

      This would be better unbaked and then frozen. Some pre-cooked options that might work instead: On-the-Go Chicken Burritos, Make Ahead Breakfast Sandwiches, Slow Cooker Pot Roast, or any of our soups (my personal favorite is the Tomato Bisque). Hope that helps!

  16. Rebecca says

    Can you please tell me how many servings this makes? Thank you!

  17. Nancy says

    Do you have any nutritional values to your recipes? I’m with Suzanne, what are the instructions for cooking after its been frozen? You give a time, but no temps.

    • Polly says

      Hi Nancy. At this time we don’t provide the exact nutritional information for our recipes. I think there are tools out there to gather this but at the time, we just provide the ingredients and directions. Sorry! I’ve also updated the recipe to clarify freezer cooking instructions. Thanks!

  18. Suzanne says

    What are the instructions for
    Cooking after its been frozen??