This Cheesy Pasta Bake with Tomatoes and Havarti is a perennial favorite at our house! Family-friendly and an easy, delicious entree!

The tasty penne pasta recipe is mixed with gooey cheese, tomatoes, black olives plus basil, and red pepper flakes for an out of the ordinary meatless entree.

Cheesy Pasta Bake in red crocks

Why You’ll Love this Pasta Bake

  • It’s a delicious, flavorful meatless meal!
  • The additon of Havarti cheese makes every bite gooey and wonderful.
  • We love this during Lent when we go without meat on Fridays.

I recall the first time I made this Baked Penne Pasta Recipe almost two decades ago. Bill came home from work, inquiring about dinner as is his routine. When I shared the name of this pasta dish, he grew quiet before asking, “Are you serving me fish???”

His culinary vocabulary grew by two new words that day. Penne is a tubular type of pasta. Havarti is a creamy Danish cheese. Neither are fish. Lesson completed. But soon this became one of those pasta dishes that is a regular on our menu. This gooey upscale mac and cheese is delicious, comforting, and adored by the whole family.

Overhead view of Pasta Bake with Tomatoes and Havarti in white casserole dish

Easy Pasta Recipe

Kraft Deluxe or my Creamy Italian Sausage Pasta are the sorts of pasta dishes Katie adores. But this spicy penne pasta recipe quickly became a family favorite, especially with the pasta-loving daughter. She often requests this “spicy mac and cheese” for her birthday dinner and it makes the rounds every Lent when we need a vegetarian pasta recipe. Easy Pasta Recipes are a favorite of the cook, too!

How to Make a Pasta Casserole

There’s a simple formula to make easy pasta dishes like penne pasta recipes.

First, make a flavorful sauce. This spicy pasta sauce is made of tomatoes, onions,  garlic, basil, red pepper flakes, and chicken broth. Easy to find ingredients, that combine to make a tasty sauce.

Next, cook the pasta properly. Bring the water to a full boil, then add a good tablespoon or more or so of salt. The water should be briny like seawater for the best-tasting pasta.

Also, use a large pan with enough water to cover the pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente or to the tooth, meaning it is a minute or two undercooked so as not to get mushy when baked in the oven. Most pasta boxes give you the timing for cooking pasta al dente.

Make sure the water is boiling continuously. Also, stir occasionally so the pasta does not clump together. Drain and mix with the pasta sauce.

Finally, mix in the other ingredients, like cheese, olives, peppers, mushrooms, depending on the recipe. This is where there is an opportunity to tweak your cheesy pasta bake. Mozzarella can replace the Havarti. Black olives can be omitted if your family does not approve.  Top with real Parmesan cheese if desired and bake as directed.

Overhead view of cheesy pasta bake

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does Pasta Bake Mean?

It’s simply a pasta dish with sauce, topped with cheese, then baked until hot.

Why Is My Pasta Mushy?

This happens when your pasta sauce is watery and when you add the cooked or parboiled pasta to the sauce, the pasta absorbs the excess liquid as it bakes. The pasta sauce in this recipe is nice and thick, so the precooked pasta does not get mushy as it bakes.

How Do You Store a Pasta Casserole?

First, make sure it doe not sit out at room temperature longer than 2 hours or you could risk getting a foodborne illness from the leftovers. Once it’s cooled, either cover the casserole well with plastic wrap or move the pasta into an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Can You Freeze Baked Pasta?

Yes, pasta with sauce can be frozen, but from experience, the pasta can get a little softer as it is reheated.

Make sure your pasta has cooled, then cover well with plastic wrap then foil or place in an airtight container. Store in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.  To serve, reheat in the oven in an oven-safe dish or microwave until hot.

What Are Good Substitutes for Havarti Cheese?

Besides Mozzarella, other good substitutes include Monterey Jack or Fontina.

More Meatless Meals You Might Enjoy:

This recipe was first shared in March 2014. Photos and text were updated in 2020.

Cheesy Pasta Bake in red crocks

Cheesy Pasta Bake with Tomatoes and Havarti

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Yield 6 servings

A gooey, upscale mac and cheese with penne pasta and havarti cheese!

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 10 ounces Havarti cheese, shredded
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup sliced black olives
  • Fresh basil, chopped, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot. Saute onion and garlic till onion is translucent.
  2. Add tomatoes, basil, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt. Stir well. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Cook till liquid is reduced.
  3. Check for seasonings and add more pepper flakes and salt if needed.
  4. Cook pasta in well-salted water according to package instructions.
  5. Drain well and mix into tomato sauce.
  6. Add Havarti and toss till well combined.
  7. Pour into a large, greased baking dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan, then olives.
  8. Bake at 350º for about 20 minutes, till hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with basil if desired.

Notes

!Adapted from American Favorites by Betty Rosbottom

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 494Total Fat: 27gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 52mgSodium: 1019mgCarbohydrates: 45gFiber: 7gSugar: 12gProtein: 21g

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