Baked Pasta Casserole

Baked Pasta Casserole Recipe

Vibrant flecks of chopped spinach and lemon zest, toasted almond slices and oozy, bubbly cheese all enveloping sturdy little pasta shells. Spurred on by many days of dark skies and puh-lenty of rain this winter, I spent an unnatural amount of time mulling over ideas for a baked pasta casserole. I wanted to do something a little different than the standard tomato sauce pasta pan. I also wanted to keep things a bit lighter than some of the cream and/or egg-based classics. I finally got around to giving this a shot the other day, and it was good! It's actually hard to come up with a relatively healthy pasta casserole (well, it had me stumped for a while) - like the pasta salads we've talked about before - everything just has a tendency to get so uber-starchy, drowning in too much sauce or cheese, and out of balance. Anyways, on the casserole front, this is my attempt to rein it in a bit, and still have it taste delicious.

A slice served with a citrus-dressed side salad is a nice lunch. Nibbles from the pan first thing in the morning are also hard to resist. Hint: go for the crusty, golden corner pieces where the sides of the pan meet the bottom.

Baked Pasta Casserole Recipe

I use whole wheat shells here, but feel free to experiment with other short pasta. If you are in a pinch for time forget the baking all together and just toss the cooked pasta with the spinach skillet, and sprinkle with the mozzarella before serving.

extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 pound whole wheat pasta shells
sea salt
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups well-chopped fresh spinach
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds, lightly toasted
zest of 2 lemons
8 ounces mozzerella, shredded or torn into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter/oil a large casserole dish or baking pan - something roughly equivalent to 13x9-inch pan.

Boil the pasta in salted water per package instructions. Drain pasta, toss with a glug of olive oil. Set aside.

In the meantime, heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high. Saute the onions with a couple pinches of salt for a few minutes (or if you want a bit more depth of flavor until caramelized). Stir in garlic. Stir in spinach. Cook for just about 20 seconds, until the spinach collapses a bit. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of the almonds and 1/2 of the zest. Add to pasta and stir and stir - mixing extremely well, a minute or so.

Now sprinkle the bottom of baking dish with the rest of the zest. Add a layer of the pasta to the bottom of the baking pan, now sprinkle with some of the cheese, add more pasta, then more cheese. Finish with a layer of cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until cheese on top is bubbly and melty. Serve sprinkled with the remaining almonds.

Serves 8.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Comments

  • On these dark dreary days, when it feels like spring's just a little too far off, a cheesy baked pasta really does brighten things up. This one sounds both lovely and light!

    Muse in the Kitchen
  • This looks so wonderful and EXCITING. A really great spring recipe.. thank you.

    cookinpanda
  • Mmm, this is making me hungry. And I don't even like whole wheat pasta! There's something wonky going on with the ads on your site. The square one by the top of the actual recipe has been overlapping the actual text for me. I thought it might just be me, but I'm accessing the blog from a different computer now and it's still like that.

    Mara
  • Long-time reader, first-time poster ... this recipe looks amazing! I think I may have to sneak in some spicy sausage to it, just to satisfy my protein-craving boyfriend. Can't wait to try it this week!

    Carolyn in DC
  • Thanks for looking out for me - the fact that there aren't more errors on the spelling/grammar front is a small miracle. I need all the help I can get. If you knew how many people actually saw that error, you'd be horrified. To keep myself sane I try not to think about it. Marisa, I use the almonds for flavor and texture in this recipe. You can leave them out or substitute something else. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking a good-sized heap of caramelized shallots might be good in this - not at all the same, but still delicious. Claudia, I thought you were going to head into haiku territory on us ;) -h

    Heidi
  • "Reign" " rein". Such errant pedantry up with which we shall not put! Delicious looking any way your spell it! Thanks Heidi. You have come thru again..

    elizabeth h
  • This looks awesome, Heidi! Any ideas for a substitute for the almonds? (Gotta make it nut-free). Also, made the Vegetarian Split Pea soup last night and it was awesome! Even my meat-loving husband loved it (though he added a bit of roasted red pepper chicken sausage!!) and proclaimed the lemony kick "just what it needed!" And my 13-month old daughter gobbled it up too! Your recipes are now staples of our dinnertime rotations!

    Marisa
  • This looks like a good alternative to lasagne. I will be trying it. Liked the "reign" it in!! Don't think the Queen was there. Maybe you meant "rein"?

    anniem
  • Heidi, what differences are there between minced and chopped garlic (and any other variation)? Recipes call for one or the other, and I'm curious if it is important enough. I might be imagining things, but it seems to me that minced garlic is stronger in a recipe than chopped. Thank you for your blog - it's given me, a new vegetarian, many wonderful meals to turn to when I am at a loss for ideas.

    Josephene Kealey
  • This sounds lovely. I really loved baked pasta dishes - all of the browned and crunchy bits are fabulous. In fact, I have 8 individual casserole dishes so everyone can have corner pieces! I've tried individual lasagnas too, and fell in love. The pasta turned almost cracker-like. It may not be for some people, but it worked for me. In fact, I think I'm going to make more traditional-style lasagnas tonight!

    bitchincamero
  • this sounds really wonderful. really. wonderful. and i love this photo... because pasta is my best friend and ww with almonds and lemon zest and then MOZZARELLA well damn, girl - i'm a goner...

    claudia (cook eat FRET)
  • What a great twist on baked mac and cheese. I think my girls might even eat this!

    Judy
  • Looks like a great recipe! Can't wait to try it. Thanks for all of your postings!

    Sarah
  • oh my veggie 8 year old will be ALL over this...yum!!!!!! This just might be tonight's dinner as mom is not feeling all too frisky today and some nice warm gooey cheese sounds fantastic :) thanks as always Heidi!

    Jenny
  • The weather is finally starting to warm here, so casseroles have less of a pull on me, but this one looks really good. Okay, just about anything with melty cheese looks pretty good. But I'm going to try that. The lemon zest will certainly liven and lighten it up. I'll likely add fresh-ground pepper as a topper.

    BeckyAndTheBeanstock
  • Mmmmmm.....I am just starting to explore the wonders of lemon zest. I'll try this out on my husband next week!

    Jenna
  • Your pasta pic's made me hungry & I love your way of emphasis...puh-lenty made me smile!

    Sara
  • I made a much more 'indulgent' version of your pasta bake. There is something about the dark and damp days that make you crave baked cheesy pasta. I completely understand where you came from.

    Annie-The Cheesemonger's Wife
  • I love it when you can FEEL texture in food photos. Gorgeous recipe Heidi.

    Dan
  • During the weekend, at some point in time, this will be made. I love this! A great alternative to the usual macaroni and cheese.

    Mary Coleman
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