I originally saw this recipe for Neapolitan Layered Pasta Bake on the Rachael Ray show. I have made a couple of minor changes to it and made it with some variations from time to time. It is a very quick and easy recipe to prepare. It was an instant hit with my family and quickly became a much-requested family favourite.
1 lb. pasta (Rachael used ziti with lines – I am assuming she wanted the lines to absorb more of the sauce? – I use pretty much whatever pasta I have on hand. I have tried elbow macaroni, rigatoni, fusilli, and penne and all have worked very well for this.)
1 28 oz. can or jar of prepared pasta sauce – Rachael used canned whole tomatoes (if you would like to make your own sauce using canned tomatoes, follow that link above to Rachael’s site to get her recipe for it). You can certainly use a bolognese or marinara sauce and add meat to this recipe but each time I have made this, I have used a creamy rosee sauce.
basil, oregano, bay leaf, garlic, cracked black pepper, and nutmeg (I add the nutmeg to the Bechamel sauce) are all delicious additions to this recipe (Notes: If you are using a prepared sauce with spices already in it, you may not need to add any more. This is all a matter of taste. With the rosee sauce I use, I like some additional spice. You can also add salt to taste if you like but I never find it needs any because the cheese is salty enough. )
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
2 cups milk
320 grams shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional – one time I didn’t have any on hand and another I totally forgot to add it so I can attest to the fact that it’s really yummy even without the Parmesan! But hey, in my world, the more cheese the better!)
Variations on the Basic Neapolitan Layered Pasta Bake: This recipe is also delicious with some boneless cooked chicken breast cut up and added to it or some sliced pepperoni thrown in but honestly, my absolute preference is the meatless version. It’s just so smooth and creamy! A friend of mine tried this recipe and she threw some leftover (this IS a good one to make when you have some leftover meats to use up!) shrimp in it and she said it was very tasty. I’ll take her word for it – I’m allergic to shellfish! Want to veg it up? Add some leftover cooked broccoli or spinach. It’s really yummy!
Like I said, this is a super simple recipe and really quick to prepare. You can cut down on the prep time even further if you take some shortcuts like buying the already prepared pasta sauce and pre-grated cheese. You need to cook the pasta to al dente according to the package instructions.
While the pasta is cooking, I prepare the Bechamel sauce. Melt the butter over medium high heat and stir in the flour to make a roux. You want to stir this and heat it for about a minute to make it into smooth paste. Whisk in the milk and continue heating and stirring until it thickens up and you have a smooth white sauce. Stir in a pinch or two of nutmeg.
When the pasta is done, drain it and then toss it with the tomato based sauce in the pan it was cooked in until it is well coated. Dump the pasta into a baking dish or casserole pan (I spray it with Pam first). Pour the Bechamel sauce over the pasta and spread it out evenly.
Sprinkle the cheeses over top and bake this in a 350 degree F oven for 20-30 minutes (Rachael says 400 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes but I found that was too much…at least for my oven!) As with all pasta casseroles like this (eg. lasagna), you should let it stand a few minutes before trying to cut and serve.
PS – leftovers are yummy too and this recipe freezes beautifully!
If you try this recipe for Neapolitan Layered Pasta Bake, let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you thought of it or any changes you made.
Looking for another quick and easy weeknight pasta meal idea? Check out this recipe for Easy Lasagna Style Pierogi Casserole!