Cheesy Baked Penne Bolognese

Cheese Baked Penne Bolognese

These are my favorite kinds of family dinners:  cheesy, baked, and made ahead.  Comfort food.  But!  It’s technically a lightened up version because it uses reduced fat cheese, whole wheat pasta, and ground turkey instead of beef.  If you aren’t in the habit of buying these lightened up items, it really does get easy once you’re used to it.  Almost anything you make with beef can be made with turkey or chicken:  lasagna, meatloaf, chili, stuffed peppers, tacos!  JD and the kids don’t even notice anymore, and I think we all prefer it that way.  I still like beef from time to time, and sometimes you just need a nice steak or beef burger.  But since poultry is healthier and cheaper, why not use it as a substitute when you can? 

You can exchange the cream cheese or mascarpone for ricotta if you want, all in equal proportions—just use 12 ounces all together of whichever kind you like.  I had leftover mascarpone from making JD’s birthday cake, and I didn’t want it to go to waste.  You can also leave out the turkey altogether and make this a vegetarian meal, or you could substitute the turkey with cooked lentils. 

This baked pasta, like pretty much all my casseroles, makes a LOT!  I can fill one 9×13 Pyrex dish plus a what I call a half-size casserole dish (side dish-sized).  You could fit all this in one large, but it will be packed in pretty tight, and I think it looks and tastes better if it’s packed more loosely.  


Total Time:  2 hours

Serves:  8 large portions

Difficulty Level:  Easy



Extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, small diced

1 ½ pounds lean ground turkey

1 pound whole wheat penne

2 tbsp dried oregano

1 ½ tbsp granulated garlic

1 tbsp dried fennel seeds

30-36 ounces of your favorite marinara sauce

8 ounces reduced fat cream cheese

4 ounces mascarpone cheese

16 ounces freshly grated low moisture, part skim mozzarella, divided in half

Salt and pepper

4 ounces freshly grated parmesan

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

Dried parsley



  1. Add olive oil to a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onion, and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the turkey, and brown thoroughly.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne, and cook until done, about 10 minutes.  Drain the pasta, and set aside.
  4. Add the oregano, garlic, fennel seed, and marinara sauce to the turkey mixture.
  5. Let the sauce come to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer, and cook uncovered for 15 minutes.
  6. Add the cooked pasta, turkey sauce mixture, cream cheese, mascarpone, and 8 ounces of the grated mozzarella to a large mixing bowl. Fold everything together, letting the hot pasta and sauce melt the cheese.
  7. When everything is incorporated, taste, and season with salt and pepper.
  8. Add pasta to a large casserole dish, and spread it out evenly. (see cook’s note)**
  9. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  10. Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella evenly over the pasta. Sprinkle the parmesan over the pasta.  Sprinkle the panko breadcrumbs and the parsley on top.
  11. Cover the pasta with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes.  Turn the oven up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the foil, and finish cooking for an additional 10-20 minutes, or until the top is brown and crunchy, and the cheese is bubbling. (see cook’s note)***
  12. Allow the pasta to rest for 20 minutes before serving.

**Cook’s Note:  If you are making this in advance to bake later, stop after this step.  Add the cheese and breadcrumbs right before baking so the topping doesn’t get soggy.

***Cook’s Note:  If you are making this in advance and putting the pasta straight from the refrigerator to the oven, you will need to adjust the cooking time.  I’d add about 15 minutes to the covered cooking time, and about 5 minutes to the uncovered cooking time.


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