Kitchen Hacks

Why Pasta Pie is the Make-Ahead Recipe (and Leftover) You've Been Seeking

October  6, 2015

The good place to put all the leftover pasta.

When I worked at the CIA (meaning The Culinary Institute of America—though if not prompted, I will let strangers assume otherwise), I lived in a pretty average apartment. Okay, it was huge by my now New York City standards, but up in the gorgeous Hudson Valley, it was pretty average, maybe even cramped. I loved (and I mean LOVED) hosting dinner parties in this apartment, and it was a very regular occurrence. Often, it was just a handful of local friends, sometimes it was quite a crowd. Sometimes, there was a theme, but more often, the only theme was “delicious things to eat and drink.” 

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As the evening waned (and after more than a few glasses of bubbly), I would apologize to my guests for not having a microwave to make use of the plentiful leftover selection. A microwave was mostly unnecessary to my life, except for one thing that really is best reheated in the microwave: pasta. I thank this hurdle for yielding something that I now am totally, beyond obsessed with: pasta pies. I used to make these beauties with leftover pasta (and that’s great), but I love them so much that now I make them fresh from beginning to end. (And later, I reheat the leftovers in my microwave.)

So what’s great about pasta pies?

  • The texture: it’s unbelievably crispy on the top, bottom, and sides (but wonderfully soft and juicy in the middle). It’s like the top layer of the lasagna, but amplified.
  • It’s so adaptable. Turn any of your favorite pasta combinations into a pie, whether from leftover form or from scratch. 
  • You can make it ahead. Form the pasta pie and hold it in the fridge (or for a shorter time at room temp), then finish in the oven when guests arrive. You can present the whole pie to diners and they can slice however big of a piece they want. 
  • The leftovers are really good. Even if you made it from leftovers, the leftovers are good. And as someone who hates eating the same thing over and over all week, that’s a major plus. 


A few things to keep in mind when making your pasta pie:

  • Undercook the pasta. Remember that the oven will continue to cook the pasta, so just like with ziti or lasagna, undercook your noodles by a few minutes—enough that they are flexible, but still have bite. 
  • Make it saucy (…er). A similar note: The oven will dehydrate things a bit, so a little extra sauce (or a slightly thinner sauce than usual) doesn’t hurt. 
  • Remember that inclusions can affect the way things slice—so make things bite size or in a similar shape/size to the pasta. 
  • Let pasta shape determine pie shape. Long pasta, like spaghetti or bucatini, can be wound into rounds like a spiral, while shorter pastas can be arranged facing top to bottom. Both look pretty awesome, both whole and when sliced!

Next, a few flavor ideas:

  • Because you can never go wrong with Marcella’s anything: a simple pasta pie with Marcella’s tomato sauce is maybe my favorite pasta pie of all. Throw in fresh mozzarella and top with plenty of basil and everyone will swoon. Consequently, this is my actual favorite, so recipe, including shaping, is below.
  • And speaking of Genius Recipes, this combo is amazing, and makes a mean pie, too. 
  • Try this recipe with ziti or penne, stack them in a cake pan, and watch the crowds swarm. 
  • A classic pasta that makes a beautiful pie. Add plenty of cheese on top.

Pasta Pie with Fresh Mozzarella and Basil

Makes one 9-inch pie

1 1/2 pounds bucatini or other long pasta
1 recipe Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce
12 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, grated (as best you can, larger chunks are okay)
6 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 bunch fresh basil, roughly chopped or torn

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 

How do you use up your pasta leftovers? Tell us in the comments below!

Photos by James Ransom

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  • mare
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    L. Watts
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!


mare February 24, 2016
My mom made frittata di pasta every Sunday in the summer. We took it to the beach instead of sandwiches. leftover cooked pasta, eggs, park cheese, fresh parsley, mixed and them fried in a deep fringe pan, flipped and fried again, then cool and cut into wedges. Bucatini is a must! I make it with buttered pasta and fresh herbs. Perfect summer fare, cook in the morning, serve in the evening!
Heather W. October 12, 2015
I remember seeing pasta frittata for the first time on the Frugal Gourmet, the first cooking show I loved when I was a kid. It was one of the first recipes I made by myself. I just made something related this week, using chickpeas and Spanish seasoning and binding with eggs.
Dessito October 12, 2015
My reference for something similar is Greek pastitsio. It's a specific recipe -- with minced lamb and a collection of spices where cinnamon takes center stage -- not necessarily meant to use up leftover cooked pasta. But I like the idea of extending the pasta casserole idea in the way suggested here.

Like many of the other commenters, I am not convinced it's worth doing this sort of dish "strand by strand." Layering it in a rectangular heat-resistant oven dish will continue to be my choice.
Fred R. October 11, 2015
My mom has been making this for just about as long as I can remember. (and I'm 58) We'd always have it the next day or a couple of days later and it was always amazing. She would just take the pasta, put it in a frying pan and cook it on low until it was....well...a pie......Deelish.

L. W. October 11, 2015
YES--catalinacruz, "strand by strand" my foot! I started laughing uncontrollably! I guess strand by strand would look great, but I really have better things to do with my time.

I could imagine using lasagna noodles, piece by piece, on their sides and in the pan like a giant roll-up. Cheese and such on every piece as you roll, maybe on top of a lasagna-cut-to shape bottom "crust".

But spaghetti strand by strand--talk about micro-managing your pasta!
Susan S. October 11, 2015
Exactly what I thought. I can just see me winding pasta about the bottom of a springform pan and dipping every other into the gravy and cheese AND eating each delectable strand, whoops, no pie.!
Lori October 11, 2015
Oh my goodness! I want to visit each of you! Your suggestions and creations sound even better than the recipe! I love a great "baked spaghetti" but I don't think I'll be arranging it strand by strand.
catalinalacruz October 11, 2015
"Strand by strand" !?!? How about dumping in the pasta, layer by layer, for those of us who are not into the zen of spiral-strand forming. It will not be as artistic (or time consuming), but will taste just as good.
Mary W. October 11, 2015
The recipe looks delicious. My grandmother always made a baked spaghetti that took all day to cook. To this day, it is one of my favorite meals. We have a garden with several basil plants that have gone out of control. Since I won't be buying basil, how much chopped basil is in a "half bunch"? Thanks!
Jenny N. October 11, 2015
Leftover pasta is excellent in a frittata. I usually saute the pasta with a little olive oil and garlic, then add cooked veggies (if using). Seasonings can vary, of course, but basil, Parmesan, and pepper flakes brighten it up for me. Making sure there's enough oil, I add my beaten eggs and cook it. I sometimes slide it onto a plate and turn it back onto the pan, but I often top it will mozzarella and stick it under the broiler until lightly browned. Top with tomato sauce if desired!
cucina D. October 11, 2015
this is a common famiglia favorite in my household, ours is a version called "il timpano" which includes pasta, meats, sauce and cheeses all layered and wrapped in a thin outer dough/crust, baked and served as a savory pie. this recipe was made famous here in the US when featured in the movie "Big Night". Your version is wonderful, as mine is a laborious process, this could easily be made for a weeknight meal, etc.
Another way we use left over thin spaghetti is to mix it into a frittata, one of my ultimate favorites :);_ylt=AwrB8pqyaxpWOzgAi7gunIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTIzZGZpcTRlBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1nBG9pZAM1Y2I2ZDhhZmRhNjEwYTVkM2E2NjAzZTIxMjFmNjNkMARncG9zAzQxBGl0A2Jpbmc-?.origin=&!+-+ricettenuove+Resources+...&p=il+timpano+recipe&oid=5cb6d8afda610a5d3a6603e2121f63d0&!+-+ricettenuove+Resources+...&b=0&ni=288&no=41&ts=&tab=organic&sigr=114fk72k0&sigb=15gvh5q2h&sigi=12lbf6hll&sigt=129cqsh21&sign=129cqsh21&.crumb=h/yGt.fCTnQ&fr=yhs-mozilla-004&
Linda October 11, 2015
My Italian family reheats leftover pasta and sauce in a frying pan. We melt butter in the pan, add the leftover pasta and sauce and fry until crispy. Stir while heating so that every piece gets coated. Delicious! Almost better then freshly cooked pasta.
Gabriela J. October 9, 2015
In Brazil, we call this "macarronada".
Susan S. October 11, 2015
Now I know I won't starve in Brazil! I will look up the recipe for
" macarronada"
Margo H. October 7, 2015
Does it freeze okay?
sally1102 October 6, 2015
What is it that holds the pie together? I'm wondering because I want to make a butternut squash sage version but without adding too much (or any cheese). Do you think that would hold together just from the drying out process?
Gianfranco S. October 7, 2015
I think the cheese holds the pie together in this recipe. I add beaten eggs in the recipe I use (4 beaten eggs per 500g pasta).
sally1102 October 9, 2015
Thanks, Gianfranco! I made a version of this last night with butternut squash sage sauce, brown rice pasta, a little parmesan, and added 3 eggs per your recommendation. It was DELICIOUS and held pretty darn well, though I think one more egg would have been even better.

Margo - I do think this would freeze well in pieces. Not sure about whole.
Pisanella October 11, 2015
Is this a typical Italian dish?
Anna October 11, 2015
Love your take on this recipe! Have to ask tho, do you assemble it strand by strand as it says the recipe?
Pete October 6, 2015
My grandmother always made pizza chena around Easter time. Don't let the name fool you, it's nothing like the image that first comes to mind. It's basically a pasta pie. Ricotta is mixed with eggs, grated parmesan, mozzarella in it's most basic form. Chopped meats such as mortadella, salami, sausage, etc. are added. Other chunky cheeses can go in. This cheese mixture then has pasta, usually penne or ziti mixed in. The whole mess is then added to a pie crust. You can either leave the top open (my favorite) or cover with another piece of pie crust. But leave it open and top it with more cheese and let it get browned up and crunchy. This is a kitchen sink kind of recipe. Anything can go into. I've taken leftover pasta in cream sauces, some leftover chicken, added some leftover broccoli and whatever else the tupperware gods were willing to give me out of my refrigerator and have coaxed out some classics. Don't want to deal with a pie crust? No problem, just grease up a springform pan. But leftover pasta (or freshly cooked for that matter) is the key.
Susan S. October 11, 2015
It is fun but sometimes challenging to use leftovers. I like your ideas since like vodka, everything is good with pasta!
Gianfranco S. October 6, 2015
I can also recommend the Maltese version of pasta pie. The basic one is called "Mqarrun il-forn" or "Ghagin il-forn" (translates to "pasta in the oven" such as this or "Timpana", which is basically the same recipe, but encased in a shortcrust or puff pastry ( They are often eaten as snacks, but also served for lunch or as a first course for big celebrations (eg Christmas day).