New recipe Wednesday coming at you, and I’m really excited about this one! I’m working on a whole new series of freezer prep meals, and this Freezer Friendly Penne Bake with Meat & Veggie Sauce seemed like the perfect place to start. Of course this recipe works really well for regular meal prep too! I’ve tried it both ways 😉
I love love the meat and veggie sauce that goes with the penne here. It’s hearty, meaty, and secretly healthy thanks to plenty of sneaky veggies! It all starts with two kinds of meat – you can use whatever you like, but I went for ground chicken and ground beef. Sausage or pork would be great options too. Next comes the veggies: carrots, onion, bell pepper, and of course baby spinach. You could even stop here and just freeze the sauce! Or maybe do a double batch (you’ll need a really big pot!) and freeze half.
When it comes to freezing this dish, you have a lot of options! For those of you with a family to feed, you may want to make half to eat now and freeze half for later in a casserole dish (I recommend this freezer-to-oven safe glass dish). Half the recipe easily feeds a family of 4! Unless you’re all bodybuilders or something. Those of you who are only feeding one or two mouths (or just want to easily be able to take a portion to work for lunch), I highly recommend freezing/baking this right in the 2-cup Souper Cubes you see below! More details are included right in the recipe.
Here’s what the meals look like when you pop them out of the Souper Cubes! It’s actually really easy to pop them out since the silicone is flexible – you can certainly let them sit out for a couple minutes first to make it even easier.
Reheating tips: The recipe includes directions for baking this straight from the freezer to the oven. But if you’re making these individual portions to grab and go, you may be wanting something more along the lines of microwave reheating.
- For best results, take the frozen cube out of the freezer and thaw it overnight in the refrigerator before you’re planning to eat it.
- It’s best to take it out of the bag and stick it right into the container you’ll be using for reheating (ideally something like this one that’s freezer/microwave/ oven/dishwasher safe!).
- When you go to microwave it, it’s best to cover it with something solid like a plate or a silicone cover so that some steam can build up while it reheats.
- Start it off on a defrost cycle for 4-6 minutes, break it apart a bit, give it another 2 minutes on defrost, then microwave on high for about 1 1/2 – 2 minutes to get it nice and hot before serving.
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Freezer Friendly Penne Bake with Meat & Veggie Sauce
- 16 oz whole wheat penne (454 g)
- 1 cup shredded 2% low fat mozzarella cheese (113 g)
- 1 cup shredded parmegiano reggiano cheese (89 g)
Meat & Veggie Sauce
- 1 lb 97/3 lean ground chicken
- 1 lb 96/4 lean ground beef
- 28 oz crushed tomatoes
- 2 15 oz cans no salt added diced tomatoes
- 4.5 oz tomato paste (127 g)
- 4 cups baby spinach (5 oz)
- 1 medium sweet onion, diced (110 g)
- 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped (149 g)
- 2 large carrots, grated (130 g)
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced (24 g)
- 1 tbsp olive oil (13 g)
- 1 tbsp Flavor God Garlic Lover's Seasoning
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp salt (plus more as desired to taste)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
Heat a large dutch oven (I used a 7 qt one, but a 5 qt size should work too) over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Add olive oil and heat until shimmery.
Add ground beef and ground chicken and season with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Brown the meat, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Once the meat is mostly cooked through but still has spots of pink, add onion and garlic and mix to combine. Continue cooking until the meat is cooked through and onion and garlic are fragrant.
Add crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, grated carrots, chopped bell pepper, Flavor God seasoning, red pepper flakes, and remaining salt and pepper. Stir to combine all ingredients, then lower heat to a simmer and cover the pot.
Simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Taste and add more salt as needed as the sauce cooks. In the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the fresh chopped basil. Once the 45 minutes are up, remove the sauce from heat and stir in the baby spinach. Set aside.
In a separate pot, bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil with 1 tbsp of kosher salt. Add pasta, stir, and set timer for 4 minutes (the water will come back up to a boil during this time, but you only need to leave it in the water for 4 minutes total). After 4 minutes, drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water, and immediately add the pasta and reserved pasta water into the meat sauce and stir.
Note: The final steps depend on whether you'll be freezing the dish or eating it now. Follow either the "Freezer Prep Instructions" or "Eat It Now Instructions" as applicable.
Eat It Now Instructions
Pre-heat oven to 350°. Ensure the top rack is placed with enough clearance for your baking dish to fit on the top rack.
If you've cooked the meat sauce in an oven safe dish such as a Dutch oven, you can leave the pasta in the same dish or move it to a greased 9×13" casserole dish. (Note: I prepared half of my pasta to eat now and half for the freezer, so I used an 8×8" casserole dish for baking.)
Mix the parmigiano reggiano and mozzarella cheeses and spread evenly on top of the pasta. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it during the last 10 minutes of baking – if the cheese begins to brown too much, remove it from the oven for serving. Garnish with fresh chopped basil before serving, if desired.
Freezer Prep Instructions
Bake now, then freeze option (great for grabbing individual portions for easy microwave reheating): Pre-heat oven to 350°. Ensure the top rack is placed with enough clearance for your baking dish or Souper Cubes to fit on the top rack.
Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it during the last 10 minutes of baking – if the cheese begins to brown too much, remove it from the oven for serving.
Freeze now, bake later option (great for freezing the entire pasta bake, or if you know you'll have time to bake individual portions before serving): For best results, thaw in the refrigerator overnight before baking. Bake uncovered at 350° for 30-40 minutes. Keep an eye on it during the last 10-15 minutes of baking – if the cheese begins to brown too much, cover with foil for remainder of baking time.
To bake individual portions straight from freezer: Place in an oven safe dish and cover with foil. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes.
To bake entire dish straight from freezer: Ensure the dish is safe to go straight from freezer to oven like this one. Bake at 350° for 1 hour, then remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes until the center is bubbly.
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