This is a cosy Creamy Pasta Bake “formula” you can make with what you’ve got! Based around a creamy white sauce that makes anything delicious, you just need butter, flour, milk, stock powder (bouillon) and some kind of cheese – but even these have subs. Everything else is up to you!
Use any pasta, long or short. Any cooked or raw meat (chopped or ground/mince). Sausage, ham, canned fish, any vegetable (fresh, frozen, canned, pickled, dried), pickles and olives. You’re only limited by your imagination! (And what’s in your pantry 😂)
Pasta Bake you can make with ANYTHING
This is a recipe for a creamy white sauce to make a big pasta bake using anything you’ve got. Just look in your pantry. Cans of corn? Frozen veg? Random bits of ham, some cooked and raw meats, cans of tuna, salmon or other fish?
How about some floppy “about-to-die” bits of veg – zucchinis, carrots, celery, eggplant. Half used jars of olives and pickles, pizza topping leftovers, and any pasta you’ve got, long or short.
Basically, ANYTHING that’s smothered in this creamy white sauce, then baked until bubbly and golden is going to taste sensational.
Welcome to the first in a series of “Make this with anything!” recipes, coming to you over the next few weeks!
The Creamy Pasta Bake “formula”
Here’s the formula for this “anything goes” creamy pasta bake:
Creamy Pasta Sauce
“Make This With Anything” creamy pasta bake is based on a creamy white sauce that makes anything taste great! Here’s what you need – and it’s highly flexible so read the notes underneath for alternatives and substitutions for every ingredient.
Pasta – any long or short pasta except tiny rice size pasta like risoni/orzo (use this recipe instead).
Butter – substitute with olive oil + switch 1 cup of flour for cream (if you can). Butter is flavour, so try not to skip this. Sub with margarine.
Flour – any type of flour fine here. Default is plain white / all purpose flour. Sub with cornflour/cornstarch (for GF option)
Milk – any type. Dairy, non dairy, full fat, low fat, fresh, long life, milk powder (reconstituted). 1.5 cups milk can be substituted with water.
Stock powder OR bouillon cube – chicken or vegetable. Sub with 1/2 cup extra parmesan + salt to taste.
Parmesan – fresh (from the fridge) is best, but even long life will work here (ie the parmesan sold in the pasta aisle). Sub with 1 tsp extra stock powder.
No stock powder OR parmesan? Add shredded cheese instead!
Add Ins – meat, vegetables, bacon, ham, fish. Fresh, cooked, canned, frozen, pickled! See below for more info for things that require cooking vs things that don’t require cooking.
Here’s what I used for the pasta bake in the top 2 photos: shredded cooked chicken, chopped cook pork, sliced red onion, frozen peas, carrots and corn. YES I seriously just raided my fridge!
How to make creamy pasta bake with anything
Firstly, gather your Add Ins and determine if there are ingredients that need cooking. The pasta bake is only in the oven for 25 minutes or so which is not enough time to cook raw meat and vegetables so they need to be cooked before mixing with the pasta and sauce. See list below of things that should be pre cooked.
Then use one of these methods:
1. No cook Add Ins
For things like canned tuna, frozen and canned corn, baby spinach, olives.
Make the creamy sauce, then just pour it over the cooked pasta and Add Ins, mix it up then bake.
2. Raw Add Ins
For all raw meats and raw vegetables, like zucchini, bell peppers/capsicum, mushrooms.
Chop everything up then cook it on the stove with a splash of oil, pinch of salt and pepper;
Mix in the flour, then add the milk and creamy sauce flavourings;
As it heats up, the flour will thicken the sauce;
Pour it over the pasta, mix than bake.
3. Roasting Vegetables
Roasting adds terrific flavour to any vegetable, so I highly recommend it for roast-able veg like pumpkin, eggplant, sweet potato, and even broccoli and cauliflower.
Chop into 2.5cm/1″ pieces;
drizzle with oil, salt and pepper (add a sprinkle of dried herbs if you want)
roast at 220°C/430°F for 20 minutes, tossing in the last 5 minutes, until caramelised on the edges;
meanwhile, make creamy white sauce; and
pour over pasta and roasted veg, toss and bake.
Pasta Bake Add ins – cook vs no cook
1. No cook Add Ins
Add Ins that do not require pre cooking are things like:
cooked chicken or other meats, ham, corn, canned salmon and tuna, cured meats
fresh or frozen spinach (or other leafy veg)
frozen peas, corn and diced veg*
grated carrot, zucchini
canned, jarred and pickled vegetables – corn, sun dried tomatoes, capsicum/bell peppers, pickles, olives
2. Add Ins that require cooking
Add Ins that require cooking include things like:
raw meats, fish, prawns/shrimp, bacon, sausages
vegetables – zucchini, carrot*, bell peppers/capsicum, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin, sweet potato, eggplant
* Frozen diced veg tends to be softer once thawed, giving it a head start with cooking. So small frozen veg doesn’t need to be precooked, whereas fresh does.
The recipe video below shows me making this a creamy pasta bake with chicken, bacon and baby spinach where the chicken and bacon is cooked in the same pot the sauce is made. Here are the Add Ins I used:
What pasta to use for pasta bakes
This pasta bake can be made with any pasta, long or short, including:
short pastas – penne, ziti, macaroni / elbow pasta, rigatoni (pictured above), spirals, shells, wheels, orecchiette, bow ties (pictured below)
long pastas – spaghetti, fettuccine, linguine, parpadelle, egg noodles
only the exception is Risoni/Ozro and other tiny pasta – use this recipe instead.
Make this with a mix of pasta using whatever opened packets you’ve got in the fridge!!
Also, while pasta bakes are traditionally thought of as made with short pastas, they are SO GOOD made with spaghetti and other long pastas (see this Bolognese Baked Spaghetti for a sneak preview!).
Pasta Bake TIPS
6 – 8 cups of add ins is the cooked quantity, so be mindful of vegetables that shrink a lot once cooked (eg mushrooms, spinach). For leafy greens like spinach, assume they will shrink to about 1/5th of the raw volume, and mushrooms shrink to about 1/3.
Saucy and flexible!This recipe makes a generous amount of sauce, so there’s plenty of flex for how much Add Ins you use.
Storage – keeps VERY well because it’s an extra saucy pasta bake (pasta absorbs liquid very quickly, most pasta bakes are dried up and sad the next day whereas this is not).
Freezing pasta bakes – freeze cooked leftovers, or freeze unbaked (best method – cool all components, assemble then freeze)
Bake from frozen – it will takes ages (over an hour!) but can be done!
Undercook the pasta by 2 minutes per packet because it will cook more in the oven. This way, your pasta won’t be mushy and overcooked – and it keeps better too.
Some pasta bake combinations
In case you happen to be one of the few people in the world who currently has access to every and any ingredient your heart desires, here are some suggestions for combinations:
Chicken, bacon and spinach (per video below) – 500g/1.2lb chicken thigh or breast, 200g/7oz bacon chopped, 120g/4oz baby spinach
Tuscan Chicken with mushroom and spinach – 500g/1.2lb chicken thigh or breast, 300g/10oz sliced mushrooms, 120g/4oz baby spinach (remember, mushroom shrinks a LOT!), 270g/9oz sun dried tomatoes (drained)
Salmon or Tuna Mornay (per video below) – see recipe (canned tuna or salmon and corn)
Sicilian Tuna – 2 big cans of tuna + jar of sliced olives (drained) + sun dried tomatoes + frozen spinach (thawed and stirred through)
Italian Beef or Pork and spinach – 500g/1lb beef or pork mince (ground beef) + 2 tsp Italian herbs +pinch red pepper flakes + 350g/12oz frozen spinach
Sausage and kale – 500g/1lb Italian sausage, + 4 cups kale
Tuscan vegetable – 8 to 10 cups (2lb/1kg) mix of capsicum/bell peppers, red onion, zucchini, mushroom, eggplant (veg shrink when cooked)
Fishermans Pasta Bake – 500g/1lb white fish, 2 cups frozen diced veg (corn, carrot, peas), 1 leek (or onion)
Ground chicken or pork (mince) with mushrooms – 500g/1lb pork or chicken, 500g/1lb mushrooms, sliced (mushrooms shrink a LOT)
Chicken and broccoli – 500g/1 lb broccoli florets, 500g/1.2lb chicken thigh or breast
I hope you find this creamy pasta bake “formula” useful. And share what combinations YOU come up with!! I’d love to hear! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Here’s the recipe video to make the sauce and pour it over things that don’t require cooking (like canned salmon or tuna, corn, olives):
And here’s the recipe video to make a creamy pasta bake where you start with raw things like chicken and vegetables that need cooking:
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Creamy Pasta Bake "formula" - make this with ANYTHING!
- 500g / 1lb pasta (any short or long except risoni/orzo) (Note 1)
- 1 tbsp salt (for water)
Creamy Sauce (Note 2 for subs)
- 4 tbsp (60g) butter , unsalted
- 2 garlic cloves , minced (optional, sub 1 tsp powder)
- 5 tbsp flour , any (GF option Note 2)
- 5 cups (1.25 litres) milk , any fat, any type
- 2 tsp stock / bouillon cube or powder , chicken or veg
- 3/4 cup (75g) parmesan
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
Choose ONE flavouring (optional)
- 1 tsp EACH thyme and parsley , or any other dried herbs
- 1/2 tsp EACH mustard, garlic, onion powder
- 8 cups Add Ins - raw or cooked meats, bacon, ham, diced vegetabes (frozen, canned, fresh), canned or fresh fish (Note 3)
For Cooking RAW Add Ins (like raw chicken, mushrooms, zucchini)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 2 cups (200g) cheese , shredded (Note 4)
- Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
- Pasta - Boil water with 1 tbsp salt. Add pasta, bring back up to boil then cook per packet directions MINUS 2 minutes. Should be just cooked, still slightly firm in middle. Drain, return to pot.
Cooking RAW Meat & Vegetables
- Heat half butter & 1 tbsp oil in a large pot over high heat. Stir in garlic for 10 seconds, then cook your raw meat and vegetables with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Meat must be fully cooked - will not cook further in oven.
- Add remaining butter, melt. Mix in flour, then follow Creamy Sauce step 2 onwards.
- Start here if you have NO COOK Add Ins (like canned tuna): Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and stir for 10 seconds, then stir in flour.
- While mixing, gradually pour in about 1/3 of the milk. Once the flour-butter mixture is incorporated into the milk, pour in remaining milk and mix.
- Add remaining milk, stock powder, parmesan, pepper and herbs (if using) and mix. When the milk starts to heat up, mix constantly to make sure the white sauce doesn’t catch on the base.
- After 4 - 5 minutes, the sauce should be thick enough that you can draw a path across the back of a spoon (see video).
Assemble & Bake
- Return cooked pasta into pot. Mix with sauce and no-cook Add Ins.
- Spread in large casserole dish, top with cheese and bake 25 minutes until golden and bubbly. Serve!
- Butter - sub margarine. Sub with olive oil + switch 1 cup of the milk for cream (if you can, to make up richness/flavour). Butter is flavour, so try not to skip this.
- Flour - any type of flour fine here, white, wholemeal, self raising, gluten free. Cornflour/cornstarch gluten free sub: Mix 3.5 tbsp with splash of water and add that in with the milk.
- Milk - any type. Dairy, non dairy, full fat, low fat, fresh, long life, milk powder (reconstituted). Up to 1.5 cups milk can be substituted with water.
- Stock/bouillon powder or cube or seasoning - chicken or vegetable (Vegeta is my fave). Sub with 1/2 cup extra parmesan + salt to taste.
- Parmesan - fresh (from the fridge) is best, but even long life will work here (ie sold in the pasta aisle). Sub with 1 - 1.5 tsp extra stock powder.
- No stock powder OR parmesan? Add 2 cups shredded cheese instead!
- cooked chicken or other meats, ham, corn, canned salmon and tuna, cured meats
- fresh or frozen spinach (or other leafy veg)
- frozen peas, corn and diced veg*
- green onion, red onion, grated carrot, zucchini
- canned, jarred and pickled vegetables - corn, sun dried tomatoes, capsicum/bell peppers, pickles, olives
- raw meats (ground/mince^ or chopped, chicken, beef, lamb, pork, turkey, pork), fish, prawns/shrimp, bacon, sausage
- fresh vegetables - zucchini, carrot*, zucchini, bell peppers/capsicum, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin, sweet potato, eggplant
- onion, garlic
- Chicken - boneless thigh best, followed by breast and ground/mince
- Ground/mince meat - chicken, beef, pork, turkey, 500g/1lb, recommend adding 1/2 tsp each onion, garlic, paprika and thyme for extra flavour, plus 3/4 tsp each salt and pepper
- Chopped meats - use steaks, chops (cut into bite size pieces or strips), pork tenderloin
- Fish - any white fish fillet or salmon. Sear whole fillets then flake and stir into sauce. Or cook cubes of fish with the sauce, like in the video with chicken.
- Do not use stewing meat - it will be tough and chewy
- Chop into 2.5cm/1" pieces;
- Drizzle with oil, salt and pepper (add a sprinkle of dried herbs if you want)
- Roast at 220°C/430°F for 20 min, tossing halfway;
- Add to pasta, mix up with sauce, bake per recipe.
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