Make Ahead Chicken Parm Meatball Casserole

I love make ahead meals!  On nights when I actually have some time to cook, I usually make what we are eating that evening, as well as an extra meal to freeze for another night.  Alternatively, I make a meal and double the recipe so that I can freeze the extra portion for later.  There is nothing better than coming home from work on a busy evening, and pulling a fully cooked (yet home made) meal out of your freezer.  Ah, the sweet things in life...

This recipe was an adaptation of Betty Crocker's, but as always, either one will work.  It has all the flavors and goodness of chicken parmesan, without the hassle.  It uses very few ingredients, and comes together quickly, and even better - freezes beautifully!  It's kid & budget friendly, so it's a keeper in my books, enjoy!

Chicken Parm Meatball Casserole
2lb ground chicken
1 c bread crumbs
1 c panko
2 eggs
any other seasonings you enjoy - I added garlic powder, seasoning salt, black pepper, pinch of cayenne
1 box uncooked penne
1 can tomato sauce
4 c shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 450.  In a large pot of salted water, cook pasta as per directions on box, ending the cooking time early by one minute.  Drain & set aside.  Meanwhile combine the first 4 ingredients plus your preferred seasonings in a large bowl and mix by hand.  Form 1" meatballs and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment (for easy clean up).  Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. If you are eating this the same day, lower your oven temp to 350 at this point, otherwise turn the oven off. Once pasta is cooked, mix with tomato sauce in a large bowl.  Add in cooked meatballs and toss to combine.  In a 9x13 baking dish, spread half of the pasta/meatball mixture.  Spread half of the cheese on top.  Add the remaining mixture, and then remaining cheese.  If you are eating the same day, place in the 350 oven for about 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.  If you are freezing for another day, allow the casserole to cool down completely before wrapping in plastic and then foil.  On the day you would like to eat it, take it out of the freezer and allow it to defrost to room temp.  Put in a 350 oven uncovered for 20 minutes.

Serve this with a quick salad - either a garden or caesar, and voila!  Dinner in a pinch!