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This White Cheddar, Broccoli and Bacon Pasta Bake recipe is a hearty, satisfying and flavorful meal in one skillet! Smoky bacon, fresh vegetables, and tender noodles come together in a rich and creamy cheese sauce with onions, garlic, and fresh herbs. Serve the baked pasta alongside a simple green salad, a loaf of crusty Dutch oven bread, or a pan of sweet cornbread for an easy dinner any night of the week.

Cheesy pasta bake with bacon and broccoli in a cast iron skillet

A cheesy pasta bake just brings everyone together around the table! The addition of fresh rosemary and thyme, crispy bacon, and bite-size broccoli florets elevates this rigatoni pasta bake recipe and sets it apart from the rest. While it’s comforting and cozy, the baked pasta with cheese is even special enough for entertaining! Your guests will instantly feel at ease, and you certainly won’t hear any complaints from the little ones.

Which type of pasta is best for baking?

I used mezzi rigatoni here, a shorter version of classic rigatoni, with a ridged external surface and a large diameter and thickness. Other good pastas for baking include penne, regular rigatoni, ziti, rotini and medium shells. It’s best to use a fairly sturdy, thick pasta that can stand up to the rich, heavy sauce and the extra time in the oven.

Do you cook pasta before making pasta bake?

Yes! In this case, you’ll need to boil the pasta before adding it to the rest of the ingredients and baking it in the oven. While the pasta boils, you can prepare the bacon, broccoli and cheese sauce so that your prep time is minimal.

Rigatoni pasta in a colander

Ingredients for a Pasta Bake Recipe

This is just a quick overview of the simple ingredients that you’ll need for the baked pasta with cheese. As always, specific measurements and complete step-by-step instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Bacon: I prefer thick-cut bacon for its hearty texture.
  • Broccoli: fresh, bite-size florets are best.
  • Butter: for cooking the onion and making the white sauce.
  • Onion, garlic cloves, thyme and rosemary: add savory, earthy flavor to the cheesy sauce.
  • All-purpose flour: thickens the sauce.
  • Milk: use whole milk or 2% milk for the best flavor and texture. I don’t recommend skim milk here.
  • White cheddar cheese: I like this sharp version from Cracker Barrel, but any similar variety will work.
  • Pasta: I prefer mezzi rigatoni, but any similar short pasta shape will work.
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper: enhance the other flavors in the dish.
  • Ground nutmeg: that little “something” in the background that adds warmth to a white sauce.

How to Make a Cheesy Pasta Bake from Scratch

While there are quite a few steps involved in preparing this dish, none of it is difficult! This pasta bake recipe doesn’t need to be too time-consuming either, so long as you have various components cooking at the same time. For instance, you can cook the bacon and stir together the sauce while the pasta boils. Let’s get started…

  1. Boil pasta, then drain.
  2. Fry bacon until crispy.
  3. Cook broccoli in bacon drippings, just until bright green.
  4. Sauté the onion, garlic and herbs.
  5. Make the cheese sauce.
  6. Stir the cooked pasta, bacon and broccoli into the sauce; sprinkle with additional cheese.
  7. Bake in a 400° F oven for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese on top is nice and brown.
Broccoli and bacon on a plate.
Cheese sauce in a skillet
Process shot showing how to make pasta bake
Square shot of hands serving a pan of cheesy pasta bake

What to Serve with Baked Pasta with Cheese

Wondering what to eat with pasta bake? The good news is that you don’t need much! You’ve got the veggies, meat and pasta all in one dish, which means the extras can be very simple. Here are some easy sides that go well with the cheesy dish:

Close up front shot of a broccoli pasta bake in a pan

Make Ahead Pasta Bake Recipe

Assemble the dish up to 24 hours in advance. Keep it covered in the refrigerator. When ready to bake, allow the skillet or baking dish to sit on the counter and come to room temperature for at least 30-60 minutes before baking according to the recipe instructions. If the dish is cold when it goes into the oven, you will likely need to add some extra baking time. Keep a close eye on the skillet and cover the pasta loosely with foil if it starts to get too brown on top before it’s heated through.

Can you freeze this rigatoni pasta bake recipe?

I do not recommend freezing this particular pasta bake, since the creamy white sauce may have a tendency to “break” or separate when thawed.

Storage

Leftover baked pasta will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

How to Reheat

Cover and reheat leftovers in a 350°F oven for 20-25 minutes, or until warmed through. You can also reheat individual portions in a microwave for 1-2 minutes on high power. If the pasta seems dry after sitting in the fridge, try adding some extra butter and/or chicken broth to the pan to loosen up the sauce.

Easy pasta bake recipe in a skillet with broccoli and bacon.

Recipe Variations

  • If you don’t have a 12-inch cast iron large skillet, you can transfer the pasta mixture to a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish before baking.
  • Any short pasta shape will work. Good options include mezzi rigatoni (shown here), medium shells, rotini, penne, classic rigatoni and ziti.
  • Substitute frozen, thawed broccoli florets for the fresh broccoli. Since frozen florets are typically soft when thawed, you do not need to cook them in the skillet before adding them to the dish. Just make sure that they’re thawed and drained really well so that they don’t water-down the pasta bake.
  • Add crushed red pepper flakes to give the pasta bake a spicy kick!
  • Use any cheddar cheese that you prefer. If you don’t have white cheddar, use regular sharp cheddar or even a mild cheddar. Pepper Jack, Monterey Jack, Colby, and mozzarella cheese will all work, too.
  • Cooking for a smaller family? Cut the ingredients in half and bake the pasta in an 8-inch square dish.
Overhead image of rigatoni pasta bake with bacon broccoli and cheese.

Tips for the Best Pasta Bake Recipe

  • Cook the pasta just until al dente, because it will continue to cook while it bakes in the oven. You don’t want to end up with overdone, mushy rigatoni in your pasta bake.
  • Use thick-cut bacon for the best flavor and texture. If you’re substituting with regular thinner bacon, increase the total number of slices to equal about 2 ounces total.
  • This recipe has plenty of sauce to keep the baked pasta from drying out. You’ll also cover the top with plenty of shredded cheese to lock in the moisture, and be careful that you don’t bake the casserole for too long. Since all of the ingredients are already cooked and your cast iron skillet is already hot, the dish will only need about 20 minutes in the oven.
  • Bake the pasta uncovered so that the cheese on top turns brown and the edges get crispy.
  • Fresh herbs really brighten up a warm, cozy casserole. You’ll have plenty of rosemary and thyme in the sauce, but you can also garnish the top of the pasta bake with extra parsley, thyme or basil.
  • Grated Parmesan cheese would also be delicious on top of this pasta bake recipe!
Hands holding a pasta bake in a skillet

More Easy Pasta Bake Recipes to Try

Cheesy pasta bake with bacon and broccoli in a cast iron skillet

White Cheddar, Broccoli and Bacon Pasta Bake

5 from 1 vote
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 45 minutes
Total: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 6 people
Calories 614 kcal
This White Cheddar, Broccoli and Bacon Pasta Bake is a hearty, satisfying and flavorful meal in one skillet!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 (16 ounce) box mezzi rigatoni, penne, ziti, rigatoni or other similar short pasta
  • 5 slices thick-cut bacon (about 2 ounces), chopped
  • 1 cup fresh broccoli florets
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) salted butter
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or about 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (or about ½ teaspoon dried rosemary)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups 2% or whole milk
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded white cheddar cheese, divided
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400° F.
  • Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain.
  • Meanwhile, in a 12-inch cast iron skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, reserving 1 tablespoon of drippings in the pan.
  • Add the broccoli to the skillet and cook until bright green and heated through, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the skillet.
  • Add the butter to the skillet and melt over medium heat. Stir in onion, garlic, thyme and rosemary; cook until the onion is soft, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Stir in the flour; cook for 2 minutes. Very gradually whisk in the milk; bring to a simmer. Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in 1 ½ cups of cheddar, salt, pepper and nutmeg until cheese melts. Add cooked pasta, bacon and broccoli; toss to combine. Sprinkle remaining ½ cup of cheddar on top.
  • Bake until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is golden brown on top, about 20-25 minutes. Garnish with additional thyme, if desired.

Notes

  • Cook the pasta just until al dente, because it will continue to cook while it bakes in the oven. You don’t want to end up with overdone, mushy rigatoni in your pasta bake.
  • Use thick-cut bacon for the best flavor and texture. If you’re substituting with regular bacon, increase the total number of slices to equal about 2 ounces total.
  • This recipe has plenty of sauce to keep the baked pasta from drying out. You’ll also cover the top with plenty of shredded cheese to lock in the moisture, and be careful that you don’t bake the casserole for too long. Since all of the ingredients are already cooked and your cast iron skillet is already hot, the dish will only need about 20 minutes in the oven.
  • Bake the pasta uncovered so that the cheese on top turns brown and the edges get crispy.
  • Fresh herbs really brighten up a warm, cozy casserole. You’ll have plenty of rosemary and thyme in the sauce, but you can also garnish the top of the pasta bake with extra parsley, thyme or basil.
  • If you don’t have a 12-inch cast iron skillet, you can transfer the pasta mixture to a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish before baking.
  • Any short pasta shape will work. Good options include mezzi rigatoni (shown here), medium shells, rotini, penne, classic rigatoni and ziti.
  • Substitute frozen, thawed broccoli florets for the fresh broccoli. Since frozen florets are typically soft when thawed, you do not need to cook them in the skillet before adding them to the dish. Just make sure that they’re thawed and drained really well so that they don’t water-down the pasta bake.
  • Use any cheddar cheese that you prefer. If you don’t have white cheddar, use regular sharp cheddar or even a mild cheddar. Pepper Jack, Monterey Jack and Colby will all work, too.
  • Cooking for a smaller family? Cut the ingredients in half and bake the pasta in an 8-inch square dish.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/6 of the pasta bakeCalories: 614kcalCarbohydrates: 66gProtein: 24gFat: 28gSaturated Fat: 16gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 74mgSodium: 704mgPotassium: 452mgFiber: 3gSugar: 9gVitamin A: 846IUVitamin C: 16mgCalcium: 402mgIron: 2mg
Keyword: baked pasta with cheese, cheesy pasta bake, Pasta Bake, rigatoni pasta bake
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. Laura says:

    5 stars
    The flavor was amazing! Comfort food at it’s best! mmmmmmm

    1. Blair Lonergan says:

      Thank you, Laura!