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ingredients

1 Lb. Fresh Cheese filled tortellini (I prefer the Rana brand)
1 Lb. Ground beef
4 Chicken or Turkey Italian Sausages
2 28-oz. Cans San Marzano tomatoes
1 6-oz. Can Tomato Paste
1 Small yellow onion, chopped
3 Garlic cloves, finely minced
1 Tbsp. Dried oregano
1 Tbsp. Dried basil
1 Tsp. Onion powder
1 Tsp. Garlic powder
1 Tbsp. Sugar
1 Tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 Tsp. Calabrian Chili Flakes
20 Grinds of fresh ground black pepper
2 Dried Bay leaves
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
Cooking spray
1/2 Cup shaved or grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 Lb. Mozzarella Cheese

DIRECTIONS

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2) Make Sauce. In a large skillet add one tablespoon of olive oil and heat. Add chopped onions and sauté until translucent (about 2 minutes). Add the garlic and stir into the mix for one minute.

3) Add the chopped meat and break up with a spoon. Brown the meat. Drain off any excess fat.

4) Add the tomato paste and one can of water (use tomato paste can). Stir until it mixes into the meat and onion. Add all the seasonings except the sugar. And mix into the sauce. Let cook for about 15 – 20 minutes to let all the flavors come together.

5) Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and heat. Add the sausage and brown well on all sides. When really brown, remove from the skillet and slice the sausage into chunks.  Put to the side until we put the whole thing together.

6) In a blender, add the canned tomatoes and blend to make a sauce. Add to a large stock pot. Add the large skillet of meat, tomato sauce and all the seasonings. Stir into the tomatoes. Add in the chopped sausage and sugar.  Stir to combine.

7) Cook the sauce over medium low heat for one hour. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

8) If you are baking the tortellini dish right away, there is no reason to let it cool. If you are assembling the dish to refrigerate and bake the next day, let the sauce come to room temperature before proceeding with the next steps.

9) Mix the tortellini (DO NOT COOK TORTELLINI AHEAD OF TIME) with two cups of the meat sauce in a large casserole dish. Mix in all but two tablespoons of the parmesan cheese and half the mozzarella.  Stir to combine.

10) Top the casserole dish with more parmesan and the remaining mozzarella cheese. Cover with tin foil and bake for 40-45 minutes until hot and bubbling. Remove foil and bake 10 more minutes.

11) Serve with my garlic bread for a delicious and comforting Italian meal.

NOTES:  Everyone loves a good baked pasta dish.  And this Cheese Tortellini with Meat Sauce recipe hits all those warm, Italian comfort food notes.  This dish uses a homemade meat sauce of beef and chicken sausage but you could use ground turkey, pork sausage or any combination that you like.  In a pinch, jarred sauce works just fine.  I’d just use a good quality sauce like Raos.

The sauce takes a while to make (as do all great, Italian meat sauces) but this can be made in advance.  Then, when you are ready to make this dish, you can just assemble and bake.  You can even prep the whole thing the day before and bake off on the day you are serving it.

A couple of tips to make this dish ahead of time so you just have to bake the day of serving:

.  Make your sauce one to three days before serving.  Let it cool completely before assembling the dish.

.  Use fresh, store bought tortellini.  I’m a big fan of Rana’s cheese tortellini but Buitoni also works.  You find these in the deli section of the supermarket and they are fresh, not frozen. 

.  Can you use frozen tortellini?  Absolutely.  I just prefer the fresh pasta.

.  Do not cook the tortellini before assembling.  They will cook in the sauce as they bake.  Since you are assembling this the day before, don’t worry if they are frozen.  They will thaw in the sauce and cook up beautifully.  NOTE:  If you are making the sauce and this dish same day, I’d let the frozen tortellini sit on the counter for at least a half hour before assembling.  It will help with even cooking.

.  Toss your sauce, cheeses and pasta in a large casserole dish.  Spray tin foil on one side with cooking spray and put that side down over dish.  Place in the refrigerator until ready to serve (no more than two days). 

.  Let dish come to room temperature for at least 1/2 hour before baking.

And that’s it.  Do all the work ahead of time for an easy, stress free and delicious dinner.  Serve with a salad, garlic bread and a bottle of red wine for the perfect meal.

Try serving my Cannoli Dip for dessert (it is a family favorite).  Looking for other Italian inspired meals?  Try my:

Stuffed Shells for Two
Eggplant and Zucchini Lasagne

Crispy Eggplant Parmesan Slices

Zucchini Lasagne Roll Ups

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