Baked Pasta Casserole Recipe

This baked pasta recipe features vibrant flecks of chopped spinach and lemon zest, toasted almond slices and oozy, bubbly cheese all enveloping sturdy little pasta shells.

Baked Pasta Casserole

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.

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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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This was off the chain. The flavors were complex enough to impress foodies (me) but the dish was comforting enough for a stressed girl during college midterms (also me). Brava for mac n’ cheese re-imagined.


Lovely, lovely, lovely. The brightness of the lemon, the cheesiness of the cheese, crunch of the almonds, the buttery spinach… altogether delightful.
I used leeks instead of onions–milder flavor, worked very well.
Caroline in DC’s idea of putting in spicy sausage is an excellent one; another alternative, perhaps, is to serve a small fillet of fresh salmon on the side, steamed simply, with barely a touch of butter. I’m not vegetarian and I do like fish or meat in my meals, hence these thoughts. But I have to say, even without the meat, I found this recipe very satisfying.
It is now on my list of to-make-frequently.


I tried this tonight, adding a little left over italian sausage and parmesan cheese, and it was fantastic. This is definitely going into my regular rotation.


I have been following your blog for sometime now and have made many of your recipes, although converting US to UK measures requires a bit of guess work sometimes ;-). I made this recipe last night and just wanted to say that it tasted great! The lemon zest made it taste and smell really fresh and bright. My other half was most impressed!
Thank you for such a great idea.
P.S. I will be having a go at the Balck Bean Brownies this weekend!


Mmmmmm….. I just finished a bowl of this pasta and I had to post and THANK YOU!
It just so happened I had all of these ingredients on hand so it was perfect timing.
I half expected it to be, oh, bland I guess. I should never have doubted you. Soooo yum.
Thanks Heidi


I made a modified version of this recipe, and it was fantastic! I used chopped brussel sprouts instead of spinach, and robusto cheese (randomly picked at the store) instead of mozz, no almonds or zest. The BF ate most of it, he was even picking at my plate when done with his.
Thanks for all the wonderful recipes!!!
Some whole wheat pastas are good, others aren’t. I like the Whole Foods brand.


Typically whole wheat pasta does absolutely nothing for me except snarl. THIS looks YUMMY though. Kudos!!!


I read your blog all the time, but this is my first comment. I tried the baked pasta for dinner last night and LOVED it. The lemon/garlic aroma was mouth-watering and I like that it was not weighed down by a heavy sauce. I also really enjoyed the crunch of the almonds. Fabulous dish! I think I will try the anzac cookies next.


This looks delicious. I just found your blog. I love it. I will keep checking back and bookmark it.


I made this with kale and put in some lemon pepper since it turned out that I didn’t have any lemons.
Thank you for the wonderful idea.


Wow, just gave this a run and it is great. Added in some fresh basil, sun-dried tomatoes and shredded parmesan (also, too much salt, but that’s all my fault). Keep ’em coming. 🙂

Just Joe

I usually have all of these ingredients on hand so I could make this on a moment’s notice. What a great recipe. Thanks!


I am thinking lacinato kale and soft asiago or smoked mozzarella would be good. I will have to substitute pine nuts, as my better half hasn’t figured out that they count as nuts as well.


I always check your site for new different recipes I can try, this one was my first and I think it turned out great…I got my 2 yr old picky eater to actually enjoy this meal (she loves pasta but wasn’t sure about how it looked after a minute she gave it a try and ate her whole slice…I can’t wait to see what you will put up next!!! Thanks!!


This is the first time Ive been on your website, this recipe is really good my family loves pasta. It is difficult to find easy and delicious veg pasta recipes, Thanks and I hope to see a lot more veg recipes.

Sue Govender

I love your web-site, and this is a delicious recipe I am going to try. From the south of Spain, thanks and congratulations.


A definite hit in our house and so easy to make. I will definitely make it again!


This looks outstanding. I must try a baked pasta casserole, nothing beats crispy and chewy pasta loaded with cheese. Almonds seem like a great addition. Thanks!
The Peanut Butter Boy


I’ve never seen whole wheat pasta look so appetizing!


I used to be abhorred by casseroles. Too many flashbacks to my mom’s tuna casserole and all of those we were forced to eat in the church basement. This dish is a whole new realm! I may be getting cured of my PTCD (post traumatic casserole disorder)


I really like this idea, the balance is good. I’ve just started using spelt pasta, which I really enjoy, so satisfying. I think I’ll try something similar using that. The idea of having a slice for lunch sounds delicious.


Your posted recipes always give me an idea and inspiration for my daily routine working schedule and hard job…. Thanks..
I think Casserole is a kind of food such as Chameleon..
This recipe was today’s bunch menu..
It ‘s fabulous…


Spectaculaar. I used toasted pignolias instead of almonds and Parmagiano Reggiano instead of mozzarella because that’s what I had on hand. I also threw in a handful of organic golden raisins and some beautiful fresh thyme from the farmer’s market, and they were a superb addition. Thank you for this recipe!


Veggie casseroles are always a good thing to keep in the cooking arsenal and this one looks simple but yummy!
Thanks for changing your blog slightly. I like having the last three posts right up front and easy to get back to.


Gorgeous pic, Heidi! Sometimes it surprises me how alike are our food preferences. I love pasta, spinach, almonds and mozzarella, too!
I’ll try this recipe as soon as possible, it sounds really really delicious 🙂


Absolutely delicious! What is up with the toasted almond craze right now? It seems like they are everywhere. Which is absolutely FINE with me!


I’m so happy you are enjoying this one! Thanks for taking the time to leave your nice notes and feedback. I’ll try to think of some other twists on the baked pasta for you 🙂 -h


I cooked this Friday evening and was asked by my boyfriend, “who are you?”
I thought to myself – just a girl inspired by a picture!
It was delicious and the lemon filled the kitchen and was a surprising treat!


That looks really good! Looks like a good way to get some spinach into my daughter without her noticing too much LOL


Heidi, you help those of us who want to add more vegetarian food to our lives. It doesn’t have to be black and white. We can definitely use more plant food added to our carnivore lives. You’re on my RSS feed to make sure I get a dose of you all the time. You’re the personification of a NUTRIENT 🙂
To go along with Carolyn in DC, I have a carnivore man I feed, so two paper thin slices of Procuitto, chopped finely and fluffed into the spinach before wilting made a huge success with miniscule amounts.
Also, I used Tilsit (Tilsiter) cheese slices in the layers – Marvelous!

Alicia Kelso

oh boy … that looks incredibly enticing and delish!


oooh i really wish i had some mozz on hand! this will definitely be *tomorrow* night’s dinner–simple and easy, i’ll still have the energy for this one when i get off work. thanks heidi!!


Wow! That picture is too mouth watering! Me and my family love pasta, now i’m sure gonna try this out. Thnx for sharing!


How would collard greens (like kale, probably not mustard greens) be for a substitution? Recently I so totally prefer them to spinach and have used them as a mix in for bunches of pasta and potato dishes. So tempted to try this lemony take on baked pasta…


Very fun your manner of cooking Heidi ,I love the mushroom colors , I think it’s a plate for a hungry “Popeye “, can I add a green Olive in this way ? certainly !


This recipe was our dinner last night and it was delicious.
Speaking of baked things, I would love to see how many varieties of innovative baked potato toppings you could come up with. I love the way your mind works.


Wow this looks amazing! I’d been wondering for a long time how to make baked pasta healthier too, and now I know it’s possible! 🙂


I visit your blog often and definitely glad I dropped by today! This dish really rocks!
It would be awesome if you shared a pasta recipe (or two) with Presto Pasta Nights. It’s my weekly roundup of great pasta dishes from around the world. Yours would definitely shine!


heidi, i made pasta the other day with 101 cookbooks in mind–it was a whole wheat carbonara with roasted garlic, sauteed spinach, fresh thyme, and lots and lots of fresh ground pepper, and it was so good and wholesome and thrown together from whatever i had on hand, and i felt you’d be proud! can’t wait to try this pasta bake, i am anticipating the deliciousness of the almonds. love it, as always!


yummers. pasta casserole should always be made in a wide, shallow baking dish to maximize the crusty top.
michelle @ TNS

michelle @ TNS

Heidi, you never cease to amaze me.. I love the way you make me see food through your eyes.
This makes perfect use of chunky whole wheat pasta, in all its tweediness.

Julie VR

for heidi
oh pasta you rock
in all your beautifulness
i want to eat you
the end


What a neat twist-lemon, spinach and mozz-my mom’s tuna mac casserole may be dethroned!! Beautiful photo!


I was just a fan before this pasta…now I’m a dedicated groupie. It’s fantastic. Beautiful with a simple salad and a good Sauvignon Blanc. Not only is it delicious, I love this recipe for its uniqueness: no marinara, no sauce no same-old-baked pasta. I can’t wait to make this for others! Thanks!


I am about to embark on a year long sabbatical cooking and eating Southern. This is going to be one of my last meals before I give my life and my waistline to Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Sweet Potato Pie.
Another great recipe and photo!


Formidable! It looks beautiful in the photo. Maybe using gorgonzola and pinenuts might also be a possible combination as well.


Heidi, another visual winner. The “crusty, golden corner pieces where the sides of the pan meet the bottom” is my favorite part! (Love the heels of bread, too.) Looking forward to making it this weekend! xx jld


That looks great Heidi! I love baked pasta dishes! I recently made Baked Rigatoni with homemade basil and garlic marinara:) there’s nothing like making your sauce at home!:D


I just found your web site! I love it! Everything looks fantastic, can’t wait to try some recipes out.


I just found your web site! I love it! Everything looks fantastic, can’t wait to try some recipes out.


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.


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.


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


“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!


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”?


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!


this sounds really wonderful.
and i love this photo…
because pasta is my best friend
and ww with almonds
and lemon zest
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!


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


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!


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.


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


Your pasta pic’s made me hungry & I love your way of emphasis…puh-lenty made me smile!


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.


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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