Tomato-Spinach Pasta Bake

Another oven day and I am straying from my menu planning, but that`s ok, I do it all the time. I could not decide between stuffed roasted squash and a pasta bake. I decided on the pasta bake as it does double duty. I needed more sauce for Pizza Party! and this would make extra.

I started with a base of this Jamie Oliver recipe in mind, but tweeked it a bit. I had make that one before, but didn`t like the gooey quality, so I switched the cheese and added more veg to make it a bit more healthy, but still keep the flavor. The husband said it tasted like the best lasagne ever, I thought it was more like a pizza bake. You will think it tastes like whatever you think.



What I Used:

1 Onion

5-6 Garlic Cloves

1 Orange Bell Pepper, this is what I had on hand, use whatever you have.

2 28oz cans Crushed Tomatoes. I like the Muir Glen Fire Roasted ones.

1 Package of Cleaned Baby Spinach, mine was 5oz. You could use a bit more, or less I suppose.

About a Cup of Red Wine

2 Bay Leaves

A Handful of Fresh Basil and/or Oregano

Crushed Red Pepper

Smoked Hot Paprika


Sea Salt

About 1.5 cups of shredded Manchego cheese or the like. I had this Campo del Montalban on hand and used that. It was a sheep and cow cheese that was slightly smoky and not too oily or milky or gooey. It was just right. Any med-hard or hard Manchego will work.

1 lb Pasta, I like this trumpet shape made by Rustichella d`Abruzzo, but use any small shape. This one could be made with a penne, unlike a lot of cheese pasta bakes, because the cheese does not clump. I was going to use orzo, but changed my mind. I also have no clue why I was going to use orzo – brain fart.

A handful of breadcrumbs. I just used the ones I make in advance and keep on hand in the freezer. I make mine in a batch  with the ends and smaller slices from loaves of wheat bread and a handful of dried cepe mushrooms. They store in the freezer forever. You could omit these I suppose.



What I did:

Make your sauce. Fine dice your onion and garlic. Heat an oven-proof pan on med-high heat so you have less to clean up. I used my 7 qt dutch oven. Add about a tablespoon, or more if you like it, of crushed red pepper to the dry pan while it is heating. When heated, add some olive oil to coat, about a tablespoon. Add the onions/garlic and turn the heat down to medium. Let it sweat while you dice your p;epper. Onion/garlic is softening, add about a tablespoon of paprika, the bay leaves, some black pepper and a pinch of salt. Stir it and add the bell pepper.

Open your tomatoes and pour them in. I add my wine to the cans to get all the tomato bits out then pour it in the pot. You can just add the wine if you prefer to. Add the basil and oregano, just rip off the leaves and add it, no need to chop, it will break down anyhow. Let this cook for at least 20-30 Min. You could for longer.

Put a put of water on to boil and add some salt. Preheat the oven to 400. has your sauce cooked for a while? good, taste it and add more salt/pepper/paprika/crushed red pepper if needed. When the sauce tastes the way you want, then cook the pasta. Don`t cook it until you are ready to use it. It will get all sticky. Cook the pasta for half the recommended time – in my case I cooked it for 5 minutes. Package says to cook for 10-12 min. Don`t cook it all the way or it will get too soft in the oven. Just barely get it started. Really, it will soak up all the sauce and keep cooking in the oven. It chaps my behind when I see recipes that say to cook the pasta all the way prior to baking in the oven, if you do that it will get too soft and mushy.

While the pasta cooks, pull out about a quart of the sauce, I just used a qt container form the deli counter. They will give you them if you ask at the store and don`t have any. Or just use whatever container you would use to store the sauce. Err on the side of pulling out too much sauce, you can add some back if needed. So just leave the lid off and add your spinach to wilt.

Pasta is done, drain it and add to the dutch oven of sauce. See, told you you`d save a pan. Mix it around and decide whether you need to add back more sauce. I added back in a cup since the pasta was not quite coated. You only want enough sauce in there to coat the pasta, not more. Sir in most of the cheese and taste it. Taste good? Good. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the top, if you are using them and add a scant drizzle of olive oil. sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.



Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. The top will be all crisp and cheese browned and all of the sauce will have soaked into the pasta and cooked it through.


I made a simple salad while it was baking.

Plate it. Add some shredded parm if you want and fresh herbs.

Eat it.






One Comment on “Tomato-Spinach Pasta Bake”

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