Leftovers pasta bake

by Tess Schulze

Not sure what to make for dinner tonight? This is one of my favourite go-to recipes that allows me to throw whatever I have in the fridge into a pot to make a delicious and filling meal.

Thinking about what to have for dinner can be exhausting. We tend to fall into the same old tired routines with meals, we have to plan out our shopping lists, make sure we waste as little as possible and still somehow manage to make a palatable meal for the whole family every night. I know that sometimes after a long day at work, I just don’t feel like thinking about what to have for dinner and I certainly don’t always have the energy to do a shop to get all the ingredients I might need for any given recipe.

It is through this combination of exhaustion and necessity for dinner that I came up with this recipe. It can be as involved or as easy as you want it to be! You can make it a tomato based or a cream based pasta dish – whatever suits your tastes or whatever accommodates what you have in your fridge. You can add or omit any of the ingredients according to any dietary restrictions, as well. Below I will provide you with a general recipe of weights and measurements followed by a recipe that I commonly use, just in case you need some inspiration!


1 lb (500g) pasta*

3-4 tbsp salt for water

8 oz (225g) smoked streaky bacon, chopped

1 ½ tbsp oil

As many mushrooms as you have or want, sliced

1 large onion, chopped

5-8 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 Bay leaves

Spices and herbs

2 cups (300g) leftover meat of any kind

1 ½ – 2 cups (500-600g) chopped veg

Sauce ingredients:


¾ cup (170g) butter

¼ cup (32g) all-purpose/plain flour

2 cups (500ml) milk

2 cups (200g) grated cheese**, plus extra for topping

Salt and pepper to taste


2x 400g tin tomato of any kind (diced, chopped, crushed, passata)***

1 tbsp worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp red wine vinegar or red wine

2 tbsp tomato puree

½ tbsp brown sugar

For your tomato based pasta bake, you don’t need to assemble the sauce in any way other than mixing it into the pasta with the meat and veg.

*Any type of pasta you have in your cupboard will do! Penne, farfalle, fusilli, macaroni, rigatoni…

**A mix of cheese is always nice in this recipe and often ideal when using whatever you have in your fridge.

***If you have fresh tomatoes, I recommend replacing some of the tinned tomatoes with the same weight in fresh.

I use my enamel cast iron Dutch oven for this recipe, but it can easily be done in a casserole dish or slow cooker instead. I prefer to brown and toast some of the ingredients in my cast iron on the hob before mixing all of the ingredients together and baking it. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, you can replicate this process by browning your ingredients in a large pan before mixing it into the pasta and baking.

Now, here is my recipe that includes a random hodgepodge of ingredients that I often have sitting around in my fridge:

Leftovers Pasta Bake

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour and 20 minutes


500g penne pasta

3-4 tbsp salt for water

200g smoked streaky bacon AND/OR chorizo, chopped

1 ½ tbsp oil

500g mushrooms, sliced

1 large onion, chopped

8 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 Bay leaves

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp basil

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp rosemary

1 tsp parsley

200g leftover roast chicken, torn into bite sized pieces

300g green beans, roughly chopped or snapped in half

200g broccoli, in bite size pieces

Cream sauce:

¾ cup (170g) butter

¼ cup (32g) all-purpose/plain flour

2 cups (500ml) milk

2 cups (200g) grated cheese, plus extra for topping

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 175°C.

In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add salt. Pour your pasta in and par boil (boil for half the recommended amount of time on the package).

Heat your largest ovenproof dish over med-high heat (if using a pan to brown your ingredients, use this instead). Add oil and once hot, toss in the bacon or chorizo along with the onions. Once browned, remove the onions and bacon from the dish and set aside.

Add a little more oil if needed and then brown the mushrooms and any other veg you want softened or browned.

Once all of your ingredients are cooked to your satisfaction, put all of the veg and meat back into the dish along with the garlic, bay leaves, herbs, and spices. Stir well and leave to allow the spices to toast for 1-2 minutes.

Remove the dish from the hob and set aside.

For the sauce-

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.

Once it starts to simmer, whisk in the flour to make a roux. Let the roux cook for about 2 minutes, then whisk in the milk while making sure not to leave any chunks of roux behind.

Stir the mixture constantly until just before the boiling point – the milk will be very steamy but don’t let it bubble!

Once the milk is hot enough, stir in the cheese while continuing to stir constantly until it is melted through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When the sauce is done, combine the pasta, sauce, and the rest of your ingredients together (if using a large ovenproof dish, I just mix it all together in that).

Top with the leftover cheese, cover with the lid (foil if you are using a casserole dish) and bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the lid or foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Remove from the oven and let sit, uncovered, for 10 minutes before serving.

Suggestions for other ingredients to use:

Beef, pulled pork, peppers, chilli peppers, courgette, asparagus, spinach, rocket, celery… Honestly, anything you have in your fridge or your garden can be used in this recipe!

Published by manuelagrows

Community garden mentor at the Maxwell Centre

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