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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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 ceF


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 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.


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