Cheese, Beef and Noodle Casserole for Cold Days

by Maris Callahan on January 30, 2012

I know, I know. This recipe sounds like something you would find in a boring church cookbook. Beef, cheese and pasta, all baked together in one nice, artery-clogging casserole dish.

Or maybe something you might have eaten in college on the way home from a party at 3am, from the hot bar at the local 7-11. Not that I would know, since when I was in college I spent my entire weekends, you know, studying. More truthfully, I went to college in Pennsylvania and we didn’t actually have a 7-11. We did, however, have a bagel shop that stayed open until the wee hours and if you are reading this and you went to college with me then stop what you’re doing right now and make yourself a veggie melt on a blueberry bagel.

I digress.

This pasta dish? It might sound lowbrow but it’s really, really good. I ate it for dinner four days in a row and I still think it’s good. I will admit that by Day 4 I was getting a little sick of looking at it, but I wasn’t sick of eating it, that’s for sure .

Before you write me off as a sell-out to the cheese, beef and noodle industries, hear me out. This recipe is everything you could ever want in a dish: it tastes fattening, it is not fattening (lean beef! whole wheat pasta!) and it is cheap – you only need a few ingredients, some of which you probably already own. Really. And it’s easy. If you can boil water for pasta you can probably handle whipping this up on a freezing cold weeknight when you’re thisclose to crawling into bed and staying there until April.

Cheese, Beef & Noodle Casserole

Serves 8 (generous portions)
Adapted from Weight Watchers One Pot Cookbook

What You Need:

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound ground lean beef
6 cups (12 ounces) cooked whole wheat penne pasta
2 cups fat-free or low-fat marinara sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack Cheese


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Heat olive oil in an oven-safe skillet or casserole dish dish over medium heat (I used my cast iron but if you don’t have one, use a regular skillet and transfer the pasta from the pan to an oven-safe dish before you bake). Add the onion, garlic and pepper flakes and stir to combine. Cook until onion is softened. Add beef and cook for approximately ten minutes or until meat is completely browned.

Stir cooked penne, marinara sauce, 1/2 cup monterey jack cheese and parsley into the beef mixture. If you are using an oven safe dish, spread the remaining cheese on top of the mixture. If you need to transfer this from your pot/skillet to a casserole dish, do so first and then add the remaining cheese. Place the dish in the preheated oven and bake until cheese is melted and filling bubbly, approximately 20 minutes.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica January 30, 2012 at 12:18 pm

We have been having some surprise cold weather lately and this sounds perfect!


DessertForTwo January 30, 2012 at 12:31 pm

This sounds so cozy & easy! Everyone should eat this once a week in the winter :)


Erica January 30, 2012 at 12:43 pm

mmmmm there is nothing look a good pasta bake! It seems to get even more amazing overnight in the fridge!


Cookin' Canuck January 30, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Lowbrow? Heck no! This sounds like the ultimate comfort dish to me – one that would be perfect for feeding a crowd, at 3am or otherwise.


Kay January 30, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Looks easy and delicious!


Kathryn January 30, 2012 at 2:43 pm

This is such perfect comfort food, I would love a big bowl of this right now!


Kelly January 30, 2012 at 2:56 pm

We do some version of pasta marinara about once every week or two. It never gets old. I’ve started making my own marinara because it’s SO easy. Yum!


Mom January 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Easy, not fattening and inexpensive! Perfect combination!


amy @ fearless homemaker January 30, 2012 at 3:44 pm

basic or not, this reminds me soo much of a dish my mom would make when we were growing up. total comfort food for me. in fact, whenever i’m having a bad day or it’s chilly/icky outside, this is the type of meal i gravitate towards. yum!


Courtney January 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm

I think it sounds great! A perfect comfort food – plus, I bet my kids would LOVE it.


Melissa@IWasBornToCook January 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm

A dish very similar to this is a staple in our house…it never gets old!


Chris January 30, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Nothing says tummy-warming goodness than a bowl of tomatoey-cheesey pasta on a chilly night. I haven’t had pasta in so long…need to get on that! :)


leslie January 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Nothing wrong with lowbrow. Sometimes the simplest dishes are the best


thatShortChick January 30, 2012 at 7:01 pm

I don’t find pasta “lowbrow,” cheese, sauce, and pasta noodles = perfection.


Marsha @ The Harried Cook January 30, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Comfort food! I make something just like this for dinner quite often, and I am very happy to eat the leftovers for 2-3 days after that. I even love eating it cold from the fridge, but the weather is pretty warm throughout the year :) I bet this tastes hearty, warming and absolutely delicious! Thanks for sharing :)


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella January 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Maris, this doesn’t sound low brow at all to me. In fact I think it sounds absolutely delightful! :D


Lora @cakeduchess January 30, 2012 at 10:12 pm

There is nothing like a yummy home cooked meal and this is definitely yummy:)


Amanda January 30, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Every couple of weeks, I’ll come home late from work and my husband will have cooked dinner and it’s a dish almost exactly like yours. It’s always delicious, but we never have leftovers! Leftovers become non-existant when you have two growing boys in your house.


Blond Duck January 31, 2012 at 6:43 am

Pure comfort.


Lisa {Smart Food and Fit} January 31, 2012 at 6:55 am

I agree pure comfort food! I chuckled at your comment, “looks like a recipe in a church cookbook!” lol


mzt1 January 31, 2012 at 7:10 am

This is just the kind of recipe I was looking for! We all have dinner at different times & need to healthy food.


bellini January 31, 2012 at 8:18 am

It sounds delicious and not boring at all!


Lindsay @ biking before bed January 31, 2012 at 8:19 am

I grew up in PA and there were 7-11s everywhere! I’m sad u missed out on the late night taquitos:) I think the simplest pasta dishes are always the best.


Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine) January 31, 2012 at 10:13 am

Oh goodness this looks delish! Definitely a good Make-on-Sunday-Bring-for-Lunch-All-Week dinner! :)


natalie (the sweets life) January 31, 2012 at 11:01 am

this is the perfect meal for this time of year! i’d be okay eating it for several days :)


Sawsan@chef in disguise January 31, 2012 at 12:36 pm

My mum makes a pasta dish that is very similar to this one and I can eat it 7 days a is that good..thank you so much for sharing your recipe, it is a wonderful healthier way to warm up on a cold day


Nami | Just One Cookbook January 31, 2012 at 12:56 pm

It sounds so nice that the bagel shop is open that late. I would be so happy if that kind of place is open late rather than eating junk food. I made something similar the other day but I love this kind of simple but comfort food for weekday dinners. The different ingredients from mine is red pepper flakes and Monterey Jack Cheese. I will try your version as this is very simple and we can change things around very quickly and easily. Thanks for posting this (don’t even think we get bored with your recipe!).


Angie@Angie's Recipes January 31, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Comforting and tasty! Perfect for cold days.


Geni January 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Doesn’t sound boring to me. Sounds cozy, yummy and wonderful! Excellent pasta dish for sure. I was once a Valley Girl in the 80′s. Sometimes it still slips out. ;)


Susan January 31, 2012 at 1:34 pm

The old recipe contains some fond memories :) I love how you’ve lightened it – still delicious but in a better way.


Liz January 31, 2012 at 6:11 pm

I completely get this dish. I had the same trepidation publishing my spaghetti pie today…and I’m certain that one is in a bunch of church cookbooks. Sometimes wonderful comfort food is not very glamorous, but it’s still delicious. My family would love this casserole :)


katelin January 31, 2012 at 7:04 pm

this seriously looks so tasty. yum.


Terra February 1, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Definitely sounds like a perfect comfort food to me! Sounds delicious, Hugs, Terra


Greg February 3, 2012 at 11:26 am

Yummy, yummy, yummy, I want this in my tummy. That’s a little song I sing when I really like something!


Candace February 4, 2012 at 7:20 am

This is just the sort of meal that my family adores! It looks delicious!


Olga @ MangoTomato February 5, 2012 at 9:29 pm

love! carbs, meat and cheese ;)

I made something similar today with a Mexican twist!


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