When the weather outside is dreary, we look for meals that will warm us up on the inside, and that means: comfort food. And for us, nothing says comfort food quite like a warm and cheesy baked pasta dish. We love this recipe in particular because it’s so flexible, made with pantry staples and jazzed up by adding a few extra ingredients to supplement the meal as a whole – basically, it’s a time for us to go through our fridge and see what all we can throw in there! Our favorite thing to add though is diced pancetta – these crunchy and salty Italian nibbles add extra savoriness to the dish, and give it a little added “umph” in the heartiness department. But you could also use diced ham or bacon, and certainly feel free to add a vegetable, like peas for a pop of color or even cauliflower – this is a great way to “hide” something healthy for the non-veggie eater in the house.
One of the highlights here is the toasty cheese crust that forms while baking. It is a great way to add overall color and texture, and really, who doesn’t love the words “baked” and “cheese” in the same sentence! We add creaminess with a little cream cheese and half-and-half, which go well with the toasty cheese topping. Seasoning is always important, and so Italian seasoning and a healthy amount of freshly cracked black pepper are called for. We like to serve this with either a side salad or with some steamed broccoli; it’s nice to have a little something green for freshness. This is also a great dish to have for leftovers – one less meal to worry about during the week! Baked pasta with pancetta is an absolute fav in our house and we’re sure you’ll enjoy it too!
Cheesy Baked Pasta with Pancetta
Serves 4-6; 40 minutes
- 1 package elbow pasta (or whatever you have on hand)
- 8 ounces pancetta, diced
- 2 cups Italian cheese blend
- ¼ cup cream cheese
- ½ cup half-and-half
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1 shallot, diced
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Cook pasta until al dente (slightly undercooked is best). Drain and set aside.
- In a pan on medium heat, sauté pancetta until slightly browned. Remove from skillet and set on paper towel to drain. Add butter and diced shallot to same pan and saute until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and stir frequently until fragrant, 1 minute.
- Next, add cream cheese, half-and-half, butter, Italian seasoning, and pancetta, and gently whisk to combine. Add pasta to pan and toss to coat with sauce. Add 1 cup of cheese and freshly cracked black pepper and stir until incorporated.
- Scoop pasta mixture into a greased casserole dish. Top pasta with remaining cup of cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is golden brown.
- To serve, top with chopped fresh herbs, like parsley, and grated parmesan cheese. Enjoy!