Because I'm a busy mom, I love meals that I can make in stages.
And believe me, this isn't applicable to just busy moms. Working women, women in college, women juggling college and work....it's for everyone. It even applies to men! (I just don't think I have any male readers, with the exception of my husband. Hi, husband!)
So, meals made in stages. It means I can do parts of it at different times during the day, or even the night before, and then have minimal work left to do right before dinner time.
I find pasta dishes to be very adaptable to being made in stages. I made a mozzarella marinara bake with turkey and rotini pasta. (I chose to use turkey, but any meat - beef, chicken, turkey, or pork would work just as well. Feel free to adapt to your preferences. Likewise, you could leave out the meat...maybe use mushrooms?)
First I cooked the meat. (1 pound) And in my case, I had already cooked ground turkey in the freezer, which I just defrosted. But you could cook the meat the night before, or that morning while you're running around getting ready.
(speaking of which, what is this concept of "getting ready"? I'm lucky if I can walk out the door as is on time and not be running late!)
After your meat is cooked, combine with your pasta sauce of choice in a pan that will accommodate it all. If you have the time to make homemade pasta sauce, that's awesome, but this mama used Bertolli.
Later, when you find yourself with a few extra minutes, you can grate the cheese. (If you're really super busy, you can bypass this step and use the shredded cheese, but I'm a firm believer in grating my own.)
About 30 minutes before you want dinner to be ready:
-preheat the oven to 400 degrees
-turn a pot of water on high for cooking the pasta. -heat your sauce on low. Everything's cooked, you're just warming.
Once water is boiling, cook your pasta. Cook to minimum recommendations, since it will be baking and will soften just a bit more. Feel free to use your favorite shape, but I recommend using whole wheat pasta. Better nutritionals, and no noticable taste difference when you have a bold sauce like marinara.
Drain pasta when it's finished. Use a 9 X 9 baking dish and pour a layer of sauce in the bottom. Put about half the pasta on top. Cover with more sauce, and sprinkle the cheddar on top. Put the rest of the noodles in, and cover with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan.
Bake for about 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and golden.
And then excuse this picture that obviously was not taken before everyone started eating.