This Cheesy Vegetable Pasta Bake recipe is loaded with fresh spinach, tomatoes, garlic, parmesan, and mozzarella cheese. A hearty and healthy vegetarian recipe is the perfect pasta dish for a busy weeknight. This baked vegetable pasta is super kid-friendly because kids love pasta and cheese, even if you sneak in some greens and make it a spinach pasta bake.
Why I Love This Vegetable Pasta Bake Recipe
My 5-year-old baby girl adores “ba-sketti” (or spaghetti for the rest of the world) but since she is 5, if it doesn’t look exactly like her adorable little mind thinks it should, then I have a problem. Hence my conundrum last week when I placed this gorgeous dish on the table for dinner after I mistakenly told her earlier in the day that we were having spaghetti for dinner. She wasn’t too happy with the “yucky green pieces” inside but once I bribed her with some homemade french bread to give it a taste, she devoured her helping and had another after!
This spinach pasta bake recipe is one that I had forgotten all about until I was doing some organizing of my recipe collection and I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when I found the well-worn 3×5 recipe card with this gem on it.
As a food blogger, I get so involved in creating new recipes that I often forget about the home run classics I’ve already got in my repertoire! I always love an easy pasta recipe and this really comes together quickly. You’ll love whipping it up on a busy weeknight.
How to Make Baked Vegetable Pasta
Baked pasta is a very family-friendly dish, both for the home chef as well as the kids. None of the steps are intimidating, which makes it a good recipe for a beginner cook to try out, especially with very little knife work required.
Cook the pasta in a large pasta pot. Use salted water and the cook time according to the directions on the box of pasta. Drain.
Prepare the vegetable pasta sauce in a large skillet by sautéing onions, garlic, and Italian canned tomatoes together until the sauce reduces.
Wilt the fresh spinach by adding it into the hot sauce in handfuls, stirring it in so it can wilt, then add more.
Combine pasta, sauce, and mozzarella cheese in the pasta pot then transfer it into a large, deep casserole dish. Add more shredded mozzarella over the top.
Broil the pasta bake in the oven for 2-3 minutes until the cheese melts and browns on top.
What to Serve with Vegetable Pasta Bake
Generally speaking, this vegetarian pasta casserole pairs well with anything normally served with an Italian dish. Because the base of the recipe is pasta, be sure at least one side dish is a vegetable or salad. You need to balance out those carbs. Listed below are a few suggestions but feel free to find others:
- Classic green salad with a homemade garlic balsamic vinaigrette
- Steamed or sauteéd vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, zucchini, or yellow squash
- Italian focaccia bread with a garlic olive oil dipping sauce
- Garlic Parmesan Spaghetti Squash
- Butternut Squash Gratin
- Oven-roasted vegetables with garlic and parmesan cheese:
- Garlic Parmesan Bread Sticks
- Italian Stuffed Mushrooms
Vegetable Pasta Bake Recipe FAQs
The pasta doesn’t get a chance to dry out for this specific recipe because it doesn’t spend much time in the oven. This healthy recipe is prepared first on the stovetop. Then you layer it in the oven-safe baking dish before sticking it under the broiler for just a few minutes. You only want the cheese to bubble and brown. The pasta won’t dry out because it isn’t inside a hot oven for a long period of time like other pasta bake recipes.
Sorry, but this is a big no! The powdered parmesan cheese in the green cans is mainly buttermilk powder, salt, and then a bit of parmesan cheese. Not only will the pasta bake be way too salty, but this “cheese” will leave a sandy, gritty texture in the finished dish. Instead, grab a triangle of fresh parmesan cheese from the refrigerated section of the store, grate it up at home, and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Using real parmesan results in the best pasta bake recipe you’ve ever tasted.
Italian canned tomatoes are simply diced tomatoes that are already cooked and have the seasonings needed for this vegetarian pasta bake. You can find them by the other canned tomatoes and tomato sauces at your grocery store. They aren’t any more expensive than standard canned tomatoes and they do save time! You can use standard canned tomatoes in this recipe but you’ll need to add the garlic, basil, and oregano on your own so the pasta bake recipe has the proper seasonings.
Can I use other pasta shapes besides penne?
Absolutely! Feel free to use any other dried pasta in this vegetable pasta recipe. Keep in mind how the shape of the pasta impacts the amount of sauce, vegetables, and cheese that will stick to the noodle once it is cooked. Rigatoni, fussili, shells, ziti, and penne all work really well to capture all the goodies in the pasta. Other flat pastas will result in the same taste, but just won’t build up inside each noodle.
How do I use the broiler for this recipe?
Using a broiler may be a new experience for a beginning cook. You might not know even where to find it on your range. Where it’s located depends on the type of oven. For electric ranges and ovens, you’ll usually find the broiler in the drawer under the oven. That’s right, that handy drawer isn’t for storing pans or lids! First, turn the broiler to high, place the pasta bake pan inside the drawer, and close it. Check on it every 30 seconds because it can go from zero to burnt very quickly.
For a gas oven, the broiler is inside the range at the top. To use it, move the rack inside the oven to the top position and turn the broiler to high. Add the pasta casserole onto that upper rack. Same as with the electric broiler, watch it very carefully and pull it out once it browns all over the top.
Baked Vegetable Pasta Recipe Variations
Being a home cook provides endless opportunities to experiment with recipes, personalizing them to your tastes and creativity. Any of the following variations would be great spin-offs of this cheesy spinach pasta bake recipe:
- Add protein to the dish by tossing in a pound of any seasoned, cooked meat. Ground beef, Italian sausage, or diced chicken make great additions to the baked vegetable pasta.
- Add mushrooms to the garlic and onions, then let them sautee until softened. The mushrooms will add a great depth of flavor to the dish, especially portobello mushrooms. Use about 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms.
- Add cream to the sauce for a richer sauce experience. Wait to add about ¼ cup of heavy cream until the very end of the sauce reduction so the cream doesn’t curdle.
- Use different cheeses to create a more interesting flavor profile. The recipe calls for mozzarella cheese and while it is great for a stringy cheese experience, there isn’t a ton of flavor from this cheese. Try a completely different cheese option or mix a few various ones together. Provolone, goat cheese, Gruyére, burrata, or ricotta would all pair well in this spinach pasta bake.
Watch How to Make Vegetable Pasta Bake
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Cheesy Vegetable Pasta Bake
An easy pasta recipe that uses all your favorite vegetables then bakes in the oven to make all the cheese melted and golden brown!
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: 10 servings 1x
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound box penne pasta
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 – 14 oz cans Italian seasoned tomatoes, undrained
- 16 ounces fresh spinach
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 C freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 8 oz mozzarella cheese, cubed
- Cook your pasta in salted water according to the package directions to al dente, then drain and set aside. Do not rinse the cooked pasta!
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and when hot, add the onion. Sauté until the onion is beginning to soften, then add the garlic and cook for another 1 minute.
- Add the undrained Italian tomatoes, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Allow the sauce to simmer and reduce for about 15 minutes until the sauce thickens.
- Add the spinach in large handfuls, mixing it in after each handful. Allow the spinach to wilt a bit and then add another large bunch of spinach, repeating until all the spinach has been added.
- Sprinkle 1/3 C of the parmesan cheese and mix it in before pouring the sauce over your cooked pasta.
- Add cubed mozzarella cheese before tossing the sauce with the pasta, then combine until the sauce and cheese is evenly distributed.
- Transfer the pasta to a greased large casserole dish then sprinkle on the remaining parmesan cheese before placing it under the broiler until the cheese browns on top.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Baked
- Cuisine: Italian
- Serving Size: 1/10 th
- Calories: 339
- Sugar: 3 g
- Sodium: 561 mg
- Fat: 13 g
- Saturated Fat: 5 g
- Unsaturated Fat: 5 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
- Carbohydrates: 42 g
- Fiber: 4 g
- Protein: 18 g
- Cholesterol: 24 mg
Keywords: easy pasta recipes, vegetable pasta bake, vegetarian recipes
Mariel @ Or so she says... says
This sounds AMAZING!!
Thanks Mariel 🙂
Can you freeze?l
Yes, you can freeze it but pasta does get a bit soft after freezing
Made this tonight. Was great! Thanks for the recipe!!
You are so welcome Jennifer!
Layla Hopkins says
About how many does this feed?
Easily 8 adults Layla!
How many calories?
Howdy Nicole! I don’t have the nutritional information for this recipe but there are a lot of great online calculators to help you figure it out.
The food was fantastic and fed so many people. Thanks for the fabulous recipe
You are very welcome Madison!
Did I read this wrong? 4 cans of tomatoes?
Howdy Jamie…you read correctly 🙂
Is this a recipe you can make ahead and freeze successfully?
Hey there Kelli! I’ve never been a fan of freezing pasta because it tends to be mushy. It will work as a freezer meal, but I would leave the pasta a bit undercooked by a minute or two if you are planning on freezing it.
About how long might it be that i leave the pasta in the oven and at what temperature?
Hey Julia! You need to use the broil function of your oven, so it isn’t a temperature. Put it pan close under the broiler and leave it there until the cheese melts and lightly browns. Just watch it closely because once it begins to brown, it will quickly go too far!
Hi, I’m excited to make this! I know you said you don’t typically like to freeze pasta but if I plan to make it a day in advance and reheat it, how long would you recommend to put in oven and at what temperature?
If you are going to do this Jen, I would not use the oven when you make it the day before but then reheat it, covered, at 350 until hot.
Amazing recipe thanks
You are very welcome Jennifer!
What did I do wrong? Mine is so soupy!!
Hey Lindsay! Without seeing exactly what you did, I can only guess. My first thought is that you didn’t reduce the liquid in the pan enough. It really should be fairly thick before you are done reducing it.
Thanks for this recipe! I have now made it twice and both times the dish turned out great and it was a big hit with my dinner guests. The first time I made this pasta bake, I did it just as the recipe was written. And the second time I made it, i added some pre-cooked frozen meatballs to the sauce when it was simmering. It was delicious! This is a straightforward recipe and I will definitely make it again. Thanks!
Thanks Dee for sharing your version and it does sound delicious with meatballs!
Holly cooper says
Making this right now for lunch for my daycare. I do vegetarian meals 3 days a week so this might be added to my repertoire. Tasting soon!
Awesome Holly! I would love to know what you think 🙂
Just made this for a friend who had surgery…so glad I made it in two smaller casserole dishes so I could have the other one! I can’t stop eating it! Thanks so much for the recipe! So much flavor!
I am so glad you love it as much as I do Sarah!
Absolutely delicious! My whole family loves this recipe!
I’m so glad Jackie!
Mignon Dunsinger says
Wow, this was yummy! My family loved it! I was thinking of adding meatballs, but it really doesn’t need it!! Thanks for the recipe!
You are very welcome!
Hi! Is there a way to post the calorie content of this?? Im trying to keep track!
Hello Caroline! I don’t have that information, but there are a ton of amazing online calorie calculators if you are interested.
If I don’t have spinach do I have to alter the recipe or just keep it out?
You can just keep it out but of course, I encourage you to give it a try with the spinach!
Can you eat this cold and will it still be good?
It would be good, but the cheese would be firm if you are ok with that 🙂
Crystal McMillan says
I just made this recipe. It was extremely soupy. Very frustrating. Had to throw it out.
Crystal – if you follow the directions as written, there should be absolutely nothing soupy about this dish. You have to give the sauce the required time to reduce or you will end up with a very soupy dish. I hope you try it again!
Love this recipe! I used 3 14.5 oz cans instead. And added meatballs. Yum.
Glad you made it work Kat!
Made this for Christmas. The mozzarella cheese tended to clump together, but otherwise this was delicious. Went over well with my family
thanks for your feedback Ashley!
Sherry Giles says
I found this too, so I started to add the mozzarella cubes immediately after I drain the pasta, and then set aside with the lid on. It melts quite a bit before I add the sauce.
Sherry Giles says
I found this recipe through Pinterest, and it is now a family favourite. It is, in fact, my daughter’s very favourite meal.
Thanks Sherry! I’m glad you love it as much as I do!
Nick Rawden says
I pinned this to my fiancé and it’s one of her favorite things to make! Thank you!
You are welcome Nick!
Gina Maslen says
What kind of tomatoes do you use? Diced, crushed, stewed?
Hi Gina! Great question. I used petite diced but honestly, any of those options will work just fine. My kiddos just prefer a smaller piece of tomato
I have made this recipe on 3 occasions and it has been a well-received dish each time. The last time I added some baked meatballs to it and it was delicious. I just pulled up the recipe to make it for friends tomorrow again. Easy, tasty, reliable. Thanks so much for sharing the recipe
Thank you Dee for coming back and sharing your review!
We had this for a meatless Monday and it was delicious! I added a bit more mozzarella cheese because we LOVE cheese 🙂
I’m so glad you loved it! And thanks for coming back and leaving your review. It helps a lot!
So good and so easy! Thank you
You are very welcome! Thanks for the review 🙂
Hi! Do you think cheddar cheese would work well with this recipe? Do you think it would change the taste?
Hello! It would definitely change the taste because cheddar is a much less neutral cheese compared to mozzarella. At a minimum, I would use half of each.
Joanne Springer says
If I wanted to use jarred pasta sauce to save on time, how much would I need?
Hi Joanne! The honest answer to your question is I don’t know. I worry using a jarred pasta sauce just because it is a sauce, compared to this pasta bake having pieces of tomato, spinach, and cheese throughout the pasta. The recipe was designed not to have a traditional sauce so that it would be a lighter, fresher taste compared to jarred sauce.
Thanks For Sharing this amazing recipe. My family loved it. I will be sharing this recipe with my friends. Hope the will like it.
Angie W says
I made this tonight and it was delicious! I had to use 4 cans of Italian stewed tomatoes because my grocery store didn’t have Italian diced tomatoes. I broke them up and I also added hamburger! It was so good! I will definitely make this again!
Thanks for coming back Angie and leaving your review! It helps so much 🙂