This chicken Parmesan pasta bake makes for a great gift, or it can go in the freezer to enjoy later. Karen Schneider / For The Forecaster

Now that we’re past the holidays, let’s settle into the winter – what there is of it – with some cozy comfort food. I made this pasta bake recently to stash into my daughter’s freezer. She can thaw and bake it on one of those hectic had-to-work-late then get-to-the basketball game nights. I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about.

This hearty people-pleasing pasta dish is also a good one to take to a neighborhood potluck, gift to a busy household as I did, or freeze in individual portions to have on hand for yourself.

Karen Schneider cooks and writes in the village of Cundy’s Harbor. You can reach her at or 504-0545.

I used penne pasta this time around, but rotini, bowtie, ziti, small shells or other small pasta can be substituted. You may also want to add some other goodies to the mix such as a handful of fresh basil, a couple cups of julienned spinach or colored peppers, or a heaping cup of small broccoli florets. Thinking of what my grandchildren would like best, when I made it I threw caution to the wind and added a liberal layer of pepperoni slices to the middle cheesy layer.

Who doesn’t like a big, crisp Italian salad with homemade vinaigrette? Well, here you go. The addition of ricotta salata, an Italian sheep’s milk cheese that has a salty, slightly tangy flavor, makes this extra special but if you can’t find it, feta will do.

Just don’t be stingy with that dressing. And if you want even more cheese added to the meal, a generous dusting of fresh grated Parmesan on that salad will do nicely!

Chicken Parmesan pasta bake


1 pound penne pasta

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, diced

3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 to 1 1/2 (25-ounce) jars marinara sauce


Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning, or to taste

2 heaping cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup panko or Italian breadcrumbs

3 tablespoons butter, melted


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil. Cook pasta to the al dente stage. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup pasta water and set aside.

While pasta is cooking, to a large skillet add two tablespoons olive oil and the onion. Saute for five minutes then add chicken. Generously season with salt and pepper and Italian seasoning. Cook over medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes or until chicken is done, stirring to ensure even cooking. Add garlic and cook for about one minute, stirring constantly.

Add marinara sauce to the skillet and heat through, then add pasta and stir to combine, adjusting amount of sauce and adding pasta water one tablespoon at a time until pasta is well-coated.

Turn half the pasta into the prepared baking dish then evenly sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella and half of the Parmesan. (This is also the time to add veggies, pepperoni, etc., if using.) Spoon the remainder of the pasta on top of the cheese then sprinkle the remainder of the mozzarella over it.

Combine the panko/bread crumbs with the remaining Parmesan and sprinkle over the top. Pour melted butter over the cheese and crumbs.

Cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes or until bubbling. (The baking time will take longer if the pasta has been previously frozen or refrigerated.)


Remove foil and continue to bake until the top is browned. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees if needed, or place under the broiler for a few minutes.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Big Italian salad

3 romaine hearts, washed, dried and cut into large, bite-sized pieces

1 large red bell pepper, chopped

1 half red onion, sliced thin


1 European cucumber, chopped

2 carrots, peeled into ribbons

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup sliced banana peppers

1 cup pitted olives

Ricotta salata, crumbled to taste


Place all the ingredients except for the cheese in a large bowl. Right before serving, add about half the dressing and toss well. Add more dressing little by little. Toss in the cheese.

Yield: 6 servings

Homemade Italian vinaigrette

1 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves

1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano


2 cloves garlic, peeled

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

3/4 cup olive oil

Heaping 3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons honey

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blitz to blend.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

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