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.
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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- 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