Vegetable Pasta Bake
This easy Vegetable Pasta Bake is loaded with fresh veggies including mushrooms, peppers, spinach, onion, garlic, and tomato. Then it is topped with ricotta and melted cheese for a cozy weeknight meal that’s ready in under 40 minutes. It is a great meal for vegetarian (or flexitarian) dinners. Trust me, the whole family will love it (even the meat-eaters!)
Why We Love This Vegetarian Baked Pasta Recipe
In my mind, baked pasta dishes can often taste uninspired, bland or boring. Or more precisely, like it is just the results of layering together a handful of store-bought convenience ingredients. Not to mention the fact that a lot of pasta bakes are sorely lacking in nutritional appeal. Enter this easy cheesy and healthy Vegetable Pasta Bake which is none of the above!
The combination of veggies: garlic, onion, mushrooms, spinach and bell peppers come together with fire-roasted tomatoes, seasoning and fresh basil to make the flavors really pop!
We also have been loving this vegetable pasta bake recipe for the fact that it is the ultimate flexitarian formula. It can be made as-is, or with the addition of cooked turkey or plant-based sausage. I have even tried it with vegan ricotta and cheese and it was a total hit!
Unlike vegetable lasagna, which requires layering all of the ingredients, this veggie baked pasta is much more simple to put together: the cooked veggies are stirred into the cooked pasta then just transferred to the casserole dish. All that is left to do is dollop on the ricotta cheese and add on shredded cheese before baking it! It is so easy and simple yet so delish!
Ingredients For This Easy Healthy Vegetable Pasta Bake
- Pasta: You can use white or whole wheat pasta or your favorite gluten-free pasta. We think rigatoni is best in this, but penne, zitii, shells or rotini also work really well.
- Olive oil: You’ll need two tablesoons to cook the vegetables.
- Seasonings: Dried Italian seasoning blend, salt and ground pepper. If you like a bit of spice you can add in a pich of red pepper flakes too.
- Veggies: Garlic, Onion, Orange or Red Bell pepper, Mushrooms and Spinach.
- Crushed tomatoes: I think the flavor of fire-roasted canned tomatoes is really nice in this recipe and elevates it slightly with a more complex and smoky taste. Canned tomato puree and canned tomato sauce also works here. You can even sub in 2 cups marinara sauce (but only add salt to taste in that case.)
- Fresh basil: This is the magical ingredient in this recipe and what sets it apart from all the rest so don’t skip it. And I do not recomend subbing in dried basil because it tastes completely different from fresh basil.
- Part-skim ricotta cheese or plant-based ricotta: We tested this with both regular cow’s milk ricotta (part-skim) and Kite Hill vegan ricotta alternative. Both were great. The flavor of the Kite Hill is a little like that of goat cheese and quite tangy but very delicious.
- Shredded cheese: You can use cheddar cheese, Italian cheese blend or Italian style vegan cheese shreds. You could also combine part-skim mozzarella and Parmesan Cheese if you prefer. I like to use Shelburne Farm’s Cheddar which is made locally using regenerative farming practices. You can also use pre-shredded Italian cheese blend which is a great convenient ingredient. I also did test this with Diaya vegan cheese alternative. I used the Mozzarella-style shreds. It doesn’t melt like real cheese but my family enjoyed it.
As I mentioned above, you can make this flexitarian by adding 8 ounces of cooked and crumbled turkey sausage. I also tested it with two types of vegan sausage and both were great. You can use 8 ounces of crumbled Pumfu or Gimme Lean Sausage Style plant-based sausage cooked in olive oil.
Step-By-Step Instructions and Photos
Step 1: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Check the package of pasta and note the recoemended cook time for al dente pasta. Add pasta (photo 1a) and cook according to package instructions. Drain well and run cool water over it (photo 1b) to wash off extra starch and to prevent the pasta from clumping together. Return to the pot.
Step 2: Heat oil in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and teaspoon salt and cook, stirring often until the onion is softened and starting to brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Add in garlic, bell pepper, mushrooms, Italian seasonings and pepper and cook, stirring often (photo 2a) until the vegetables are tender and any excess moisture is evaporated, 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in spinach (photo 2b) and cook until the spinach is just wilted, about 1 minute.
Step 3: Add the vegetable mixture, the canned crushed tomatoes and fresh basil to the cooked pasta (photo 3) and stir well. If using sausage for the flexitarian option, add it to the pasta mixture now.
Step 4: Transfer the pasta and veggie mixture to the casserole dish (photo 4a.) Dollop the ricotta over the top of the pasta (photo 4b.) Top with the shredded cheese (photo 4c.)
Step 5: Bake until the pasta is bubbling hot and the cheese is melted about 12 minutes. Let cool at least 5 minutes before serving.
Expert Tips and FAQs for This Recipe
The pasta is boiled before adding it to the veggies and baked so it will continue to cook as it bakes with the vegetables and sauce. Therefore, we suggest following the package instructions for al dente pasta.
This recipe is very flexible and you can use any variety of fresh vegetables you want. Instead of peppers and mushrooms, you can add two cups of diced eggplant and 1 small sliced zucchini or yellow squash to the skillet with the cooked onions.
For a heartier meal, 8 to 16 ounces of turkey sausage can also be added. We recommend Hot Italian style. Remove the casings and spray a medium or large non-stick skillet with cooking spray. Crumble in the turkey sausage and heat over medium-high. Break up into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon and cook until it is cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir the cooked sausage into the pasta with the vegetables in step 3.
Yes this can be made with gluten-free pasta. While we love chickpea pasta, it is not a good choice for this recipe because it becomes too soft and the texture becomes unpleasant. Instead, try brown rice pasta, and make sure to slightly undercook it in step 1.
Yes! To make this easy dinner even easier you can prepare the casserole through step 4. Cover with non-stick aluminum foil (or foil coated with cooking spray) and refrigerate up to 1 day. Bake covered for 25 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for 15 minutes longer. For best results try to tent the foil loosely as it bakes to prevent the cheese from clinging to the foil.
Yes, this can be baked and then frozen or assembled and then frozen. Thaw in the fridge overnight. Then bake until hot all the way through. (Use an instant-read thermometer to check in several places to make sure it has heated evenly.)
We liked this recipe with salad on the side. My classic Garden Salad is great or you can make a kale caesar. We had this dinner recipe the first time with garlic bread. My kids loved the carbs on carbs! You could also make these simple skillet green beans or sauteed zucchini.
Additional Baked Pasta and Casserole Recipes To Try
- 1. Vegetarian Caramelized Onion and Portobello Mushroom Lasagna: The sweet onions and meaty mushrooms make this vegetarian lasagna satisfying and tasty.
- 2. Spinach Stuffed Shells: The ultimate make-ahead meal with a secreetly healthy ingredient!
- 3. Butternut Squash Lasagna: If you haven’t ever thought to add butternut squash to lasagna, you are in for a treat!
- 4. Chicken and Rice Casserole: This is a from scratch version of the comfort food casserole made with quick cooking brown rice.
- 5. Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese: The sweet squash and savory cheeses come together in a an elevated take on baked mac and cheese.
- 6. Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli: This family favorite is one of my kids all time best dinner recipes. When they were really little, I called it mac and trees!
Thanks so much for reading. If you are new here you may want to sign up for my free weekly email newsletter for healthy recipes delivered right to your inbox. Or follow me on Instagram. If you make this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It is very appreciated. Happy Cooking! ~KatiePrint
This easy healthy Baked Pasta with Veggies, spinach and ricotta is an great make-ahead kid friendly vegetarian (or flexitarian) dinner. The best part is that it is ready in only 40 minutes!
12 ounces pasta, such as Rigatoni or Ziti
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 ½ teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bell pepper, diced
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
2 teaspoons dry Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
5 ounces baby spinach
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes, preferably fire roasted
½ cup chopped fresh basil
8 oz part-skim ricotta cheese or plant based ricotta (1 cup)
2 cups shredded cheese such as Cheddar or Italian cheese blend or Italian style vegan cheese shreds
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions for al dente pasta. Drain well and run cool water over it to wash off extra starch and to prevent the pasta from clumping together. Return to the pot. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 9 by 13-inch casserole dish with cooking spray.
- Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and salt and cook, stirring often until the onion is softened and starting to brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Add in garlic, bell pepper, mushrooms, Italian seasonings and pepper and cook, stirring often until the vegetables are tender and any excess moisture is evaporated, 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook until the spinach is just wilted, about 1 minute.
- Add the vegetable mixture, the crushed tomatoes and basil to the pasta and stir well. If using sausage for flexitarian option add it too.
- Transfer the pasta and veggie mixture to the casserole dish. Dollop the ricotta over the top of the pasta. Top with the shredded cheese.
- Bake until the pasta is bubbling hot and the cheese is melted, about 12 minutes. Let cool at least 5 minutes before serving.
Flexitarian Variation: For a heartier meal, 8 to 16 ounces turkey sausage can also be added. We recommend Hot Italian style. Remove the casings and spray a medium or large non-stick skillet with cooking spray. Crumble in the turkey sausage and heat over medium-high. Break-up into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon and cook until it is cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes.
- Serving Size: 1/6 casserole
- Calories: 467
- Sugar: 7 g
- Fat: 18 g
- Saturated Fat: 7 g
- Carbohydrates: 54 g
- Fiber: 4 g
- Protein: 23 g