Friday, May 13, 2016

Simmered In Tradition: Ragu Pasta Sauce Easy Dinner Bake


My daughter had a slumber party a couple of months ago and she asked that for dinner we do make-your-own pizzas.  It's one of her favorite activities when we have kids over, actually- I make up a batch of dough and let the kids go to town with toppings that I set out.  They stretch the dough and shape it in whatever crazy way they want and then make a mess of the countertop spreading sauce, sprinkling cheese, and liberally applying pepperoni and other toppings.It's kind of great- plus it's an activity and a meal all rolled into one, which is a win in my book.

At this particular get-together a little girl, wild-eyed with flour smeared on her apron as she stretched out her dough, said, "This is awesome!  We never play with food at my house!"
I was kind of taken aback, actually.  This was hardly the "playing with food" that our mothers warned us not to do at the dinner table.

This was cooking.  Working with our hands.  Getting a little messy, sure, but preparing food for a meal and enjoying it too.  I said something along those lines and in response got an excited, "This is the best party ever!!" as she continued to make her food.
This is how I feel when I cook.  This is the happiness I feel creating in the kitchen.  This is the kind of playing with food that should absolutely be encouraged.  I was struck in that moment by the realization that my daughter's friend probably doesn't experience a lot of cooking in her home.  That's sad.  The tradition of nourishing our bodies and connecting with our families as we do so.

I get it.  I so get it.
I'm privileged.  I have the ability to stay home with my kids and prepare meals most days.  I certainly haven't always been in that situation- far from it- and I've been that busy working mom.  I've had like zero time to get dinner ready and on the table.
Look at those beautiful twisty turns and ridges!
I've grabbed far more fast food on the way home than I'd like to admit- in fact, when I was a single parent I realized I was relying a little too heavily on pizza delivery when my small child started saying, "Pizza?" expectantly every time the doorbell rang!

My point is- I've been there.  I understand that it's not realistic to prep a big, complicated meal every night when you're a busy parent.  Thankfully, home cooked meals don't have to be time consuming.  They don't have to be difficult.  They don't have to be expensive.  And best of all?  They can be made ahead!

This Easy Pasta Bake made with store-bought Ragu sauce is perfect- it's warm, filling, and easy.  Get your kids in the kitchen- the younger ones can stir together the sauce and pasta, the older ones can even slice the sausage.  Start your own traditions.  Connect in the kitchen!

I used Ragu Homestyle Thick and Hearty Meat Sauce in this recipe.  Connecting in the kitchen and creating delicious meals for our families doesn't mean we can't cut corners a little by using store-bought products, and this new Homestyle line of sauces is about as close to scratch-made taste as you will find.  They don't have artificial flavors or corn syrup and they have a great bold flavor because they peel, chop and simmer their ingredients and use a special blend of herbs (basil, fennel, oregano and black pepper) to layer and build the flavor.  The price is certainly right for these sauces too- which means I'll definitely be keeping a couple of jars in my pantry for busy nights!

I started out with my favorite pasta shape, cavatappi.  I love the mouthfeel of cavatappi- it twists and turns and those ridges are perfect for a thick sauce like this that really hugs the pasta.  After cooking the pasta to al dente and draining it I mixed in my Ragu Homestyle Thick and Hearty Meat Sauce until the pasta was totally coated.

I sliced Italian sausage links into bite-size pieces, browned them and cooked them through on the stove, and worked them into the mix with the remaining ingredients.

Guess what I did then?

Covered the pan and put it in the fridge until I was ready to bake it so my husband would have a hot meal when he got home.  Not only is this dish quick to throw together but you can do the prep work whenever you have the time- the night before, that morning before work, after you get the kids home from school while they're getting homework done, whatever.  Then when you're ready to eat just toss it in the oven to heat through.

If you prefer yours a little saucier feel free to use another jar of sauce or a can of diced tomatoes into the mix.  :-) And if your kids aren't as picky as mine and you have the time, sautéed peppers, onions, or mushrooms all would have been delicious additions!

Give yourself a break- Ragu has done the heavy lifting here and taken the time to make sure the sauce was made right so you can feed your family well even when life gets hectic.  Have a little fun in the kitchen, enjoy your family, pass on tradition.  Most of all?  Know that good fast food doesn't have to come from the drive-thru lane!

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Easy Pasta Bake

12 oz cavatappi pasta, cooked to al dente (about 7 minutes)  and drained
1 lb Italian sausage links
1/4 C + 2 Tbsp grated parmesan
8 oz shredded mozzarella, divided
1/4 C panko bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Slice sausage links into bite-size pieces.  Cook in skillet on stovetop until browned and cooked through.  In large bowl stir sauce, cooked sausage pieces, 1/4 C parmesan, and 3/4 C mozzarella into pasta.

2. Lightly spray 9"x13" pan with cooking spray.  Transfer pasta mixture to pan and cover with foil.  Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and cook for an additional 5 minutes as breadcrumbs brown.


  1. This looks so good, Nora! I don't have any little ones yet but I totally get how you feel being a little too busy to cook big meals every night, so this recipe is definitely going on my list of 30 minute meals!

    p.s. I too love cavatappi pasta, it's the best hands down!

    - LouAnn

    1. I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as we did! And cavatappi is absolutely the best! :-)

  2. I love an easy dinner option for my family - thank you!! This one looks delish :)

  3. You had me at easy lol. As a busy mom, I am always looking for recipes to add to my collection for quick week night meals. This one sounds perfect. I know my husband will really like the combination of the Ragu meat sauce combined with the Italian sausage!

  4. I need to make this easy pasta bake recipe. Sounds like a winning combo and we love sweet Italian sausage. Saving to try thanks for the recipe!

  5. I need to try this and it sounds so easy and delicious! The new Ragu sauces are amazing!


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