Scott and I both have Italian ancestors. Scott’s maternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather were Italian, which meant our mothers did a lot of Italian cooking. In addition, Scott served a 2 year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Italy, which meant he did a lot of Italian cooking and eating during those two years before our marriage. Needless to say, Italian foods are featured weekly on our dinner menu. I’ve shared our whole wheat AMAZING pizza dough recipe awhile back, and we have a couple more regular Italian dishes, one of which I will share with you today.
We’ve made pasta bake for years and years, though it wasn’t until about 2 years ago that Scott remembered how much he loved Besciamella when he had been in Italy, and so he did some research and came up with a fabulous Besciamella sauce recipe (white sauce), that we love to use with red sauce in our lasagna, pasta bakes and other pastas. When you combine the marinara with the Besciamella, you get a lovely pink sauce.
My kids LOVE this pasta bake and I love that it tastes great with a whole wheat pasta (some pasta recipes don’t taste wonderful with whole wheat pasta)! I have a favorite Marinara Sauce that you can get from Costco. It’s the White Linen Collection of Gourmet Pasta Sauces by Victoria. I love that there are so few ingredients, no sugars and corn syrups, all real foods, no preservatives!
When making the Besciamella white sauce, I’ve used both whole milk and heavy cream and a mixture of the two, all of which are great. I wouldn’t advise using a very watery milk substitute like non -fat cows milk or rice milk etc. You need that cream. I make my Besciamella first, put half of it aside in a glass jar for another day, while I’m bringing my water to a boil for my pasta. I cook the pasta according to package directions, preheat my oven, and once the pasta is done and drained, I put the dish together like I would a lasagna, in layers. From start to finish, you’ll spend a little less than an hour in the kitchen with prep and bake time.
You can optionally add cooked ground meat to this pasta bake as you would a lasagna, or cooked carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, spinach etc. There’s so much you can do with it! You can make this recipe ahead of time, in the morning or the night before, cover it and store it in your fridge. It’ll take a little longer to cook this way because it’s cold, but just keep the foil on until it’s warmed through (maybe 30-40 min?) and then take it off for the last five minutes which will allow the cheese on top to melt nicely. You can use the leftover Besciamella to make another pasta bake, or save it to make a lasagna or a pasta with pink sauce. Enjoy!
Best Pasta Bake and Besciamella Sauce
makes 1, 9×13 pan; serves 8-10
16 oz whole wheat Fusilli Pasta (or another pasta shape like shells, penne etc)
3-4 c marinara sauce (I use a 40 oz jar from Costco, though I only use about 3/4 of the jar.)
1 1/2 c Besciamella (white sauce…I save the other half for another day. Recipe is below)
2 c mozarella cheese, grated
Besciamella (this makes enough for 2, 9×13 pans)
5 T butter
4 T whole wheat flour
3 c whole milk or heavy cream
2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Combine Besciamella ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 5-10 minutes, until thickened. Whisk constantly. While whisking, Bring water to a boil in a large pot and cook pasta according to package directions. Remove from heat and drain. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread 1/4 c marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Pour half the cooked noodles on top of the sauce. Cover with half the marinara sauce, about 1 1/4 c, 3/4 c besciamella sauce, and 1 c mozarella cheese. Repeat adding the remaining noodles, and the same amount of marinara sauce, besciamella and cheese. Cover with foil and cook for 10 minutes, take foil off and cook another 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted.