Creamy ricotta and a generous serving of spinach mixed in to pasta with an easy homemade tomato sauce, this Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Bake is ready in under 30 minutes, and total comfort food. It's cheesy and indulgent, but a great way to get some more greens in your diet. If you love spinach and ricotta cannelloni or stuffed shells, but find it too much effort, then this is the dish for you. It tastes the same, but much easier.
Whenever we want easy comfort food, a pasta bake is always our go-to. You can pretty much just throw it together, it's easy to adapt with whatever you have and it just hits the spot every time! It freezes well and you can double or triple the recipe, which we recommend doing and keeping a stash in the freezer. It's all made from scratch, but it's a simpler version of a classic.
If you are trying to get more green vegetables in your diet, then this is a good place to start. If you are a fan of pasta bakes too, then check out our Broccoli Pasta Bake, Tomato and Chicken Pasta Bake and Sausage Pasta Bake.
Why you will love it
- Comforting - Does it get any more comforting than a pasta bake? I don't think so! Carby pasta, creamy cheese and green leafy vegetables. This is like a hug in a bowl. Or a hug in a baking dish.
- Easy - Whilst we 100% recommend making your own tomato sauce, even with doing that there is very little effort that goes in to making this. Once the pasta is cooked and you have mixed together the ricotta and spinach (it's literally that easy), then you just mix it together and throw it in the oven.
- Family friendly - If you are anything like me, then it's a daily battle trying to find a balance between delicious meals that my whole family will eat, and also knowing that they are eating enough of the good stuff. This spinach and ricotta pasta bake ticks all the boxes. It has cheese and pasta which is usually always a winner with everyone, but also a generous serving of spinach (all chopped up) and lots of options for other vegetables to be added too. Everyone wins!
- Adaptable - Although the only vegetable we have added to this recipe is spinach and some roasted red pepper for flavour, so much more can be added to it. We have given options below for extra vegetables as well as different cheeses and protein.
- Freezes well - We love a batch cook meal to portion out and throw in the freezer for busy school nights and this one is just perfect. So make sure you make extra!
- Pasta - The great thing about a pasta bake is that you can use pretty much any pasta you like. We used penne as that is what we had in the cupboard, but you can also use fusilli, rigatoni or even macaroni. You can use wholewheat pasta for a fibre boost, but you will need to increase the cooking time by a few minutes.
- Spinach - A great way to add a green boost to this dish. You could use chopped up kale instead. You could use frozen spinach and cook it first before adding to the ricotta.
- Tomatoes - We used a can of cherry tomatoes, as we find that they have the best texture of canned tomatoes. Try to buy the best quality that you can, as you will be able to taste the difference. Inexpensive canned tomatoes tend to be really watery, which gives a thin sauce. You want a nice thick sauce for this. If you want to make this a super lazy time saving meal, then use your favourite pasta sauce instead, and adjust the garlic and herbs.
- Ricotta - Ricotta is a cream cheese that has kind of a gritty texture. You have probably had it on a pizza before, but if you have never bought it then you can find it near the cream cheeses in the supermarket. You can use low fat ricotta, but we find that it isn't as creamy.
- Shallots - These add a nice sweetness to the spinach and ricotta pasta bake. You could swap them for half a small onion if you prefer.
- Roasted red peppers - Just one roasted red pepper chopped up in to the sauce adds loads of extra flavour. You can roast your own, but we think the jarred ones are fine. They are our "secret" ingredient for pasta sauces.
- Sun-dried tomatoes - This adds a really intense tomato flavour to the dish. Add a little splash of the oil from the jar for more of a flavour boost.
- Garlic - Fresh is always best, but you could save yourself some time and use frozen garlic, or chopped garlic in a jar.
- Basil - The perfect herb to go with a tomato based dish.
- Thyme - You could swap this for dried oregano if you prefer. You can also use fresh thyme if you prefer, but you will need to triple the amount used, as fresh doesn't quite have the same intense flavour.
- Parmesan - If you want to make this dish vegetarian, then use a vegetarian alternative to parmesan.
- Cheddar - We use a mature cheddar, as it has such a strong flavour that you can get away with using less of it. Try to avoid using pre-grated cheese as it has an anti-caking agent on it which stops it from melting as well.
A full ingredients list with measurements is in the recipe card below.
Step by step
One: Cook the pasta for 8-10 minutes. You don't want to fully cook it.
Two: In a bowl, mix together the chopped spinach, ricotta, thyme, salt, pepper and Parmesan. (a). Mix well (b).
Three: Sauté the chopped shallots and garlic until softened (about 3-4 minutes). Add the tomatoes, red pepper and sun-dried tomatoes (a). Cook for 5 minutes on low, crushing the tomatoes if required (b). Drain the pasta and add to the sauce (c). Mix well so that all the pasta is coated.
Four: Add half the pasta to a large baking dish. Add spoonfuls of the spinach and ricotta mix and spread out as well as possible (a). It doesn't have to be completely spread out as it will melt when baking. Cover with the remaining pasta (b).
Five: Top with grated cheddar (a) and bake in a preheated oven at 190°C/375°F/Gas 5 for 20 minutes (b). Top with chopped basil to finish.
Health benefits of spinach
This pasta bake is bursting with spinach. We have packed as much of it in as we physically could and not only does it give it a nice pop of flavour, but it gives the dish a nutrient boost too.
Spinach, which belongs to the same family as chard, beetroot and quinoa (the chenopodiaceae family), has a similar bitter and salty flavour, and it is so versatile. Spinach is a great source of iron, which can really boost your energy levels. Iron has a key role in the function of red blood cells, and these help to transport oxygen around the body, which supports energy production.
Spinach is also great for heart health. It is naturally rich in compounds called nitrates and these may help improve blood flow and pressure by relaxing the blood vessels. Spinach is also a great source of vitamin K, magnesium and calcium.
Pasta - You can use any pasta shape you want for this dish. We like chunkier shapes, rather than something like macaroni, but this could be a nice twist on mac and cheese.
Protein - Although there is plenty of protein from all the cheese, if you wanted to give this pasta bake a protein boost then we have some options for you. You could cook some chicken breast or salmon fillets and chop/flake them and mix them in. But we really don't think this dish is missing meat or fish. It's a deliciously balanced meat-free meal.
Vegetables - If you wanted to add some hidden vegetables to this pasta bake, then you could cook some small chunks of cauliflower or broccoli with the pasta. You could also grate some courgette in to it (peel the green skin off it first if you want it to be really hidden) or even some carrot. Other vegetables that would go well in it include mushrooms, peppers and aubergine (all would need to be diced and fried first) or some frozen peas which could be cooked at the same time as the pasta.
Cheese - We used a mature cheddar because the strong flavour means you can use less of it which results in a lower calorie dish. You could use some mozzarella, but we find that is too stringy once melted. If you want to make this even more indulgent, then top it with some chunks of stilton.
What to serve it with
Garlic bread of course! Pasta and garlic bread are such a delicious match. Either buy some ready made, or make your own easy garlic bread by cutting up some French stick and spreading it with a mix of butter, crushed garlic and dried herbs. Then pop it in the oven for 10 minutes.
You could also keep it simple with a big green salad. The key to an epic green salad is to use a variety of greens, like romaine, spinach, kale and rocket. You want leafy greens, but crunch too. Then you need the perfect dressing. Why not try our Lemon Vinaigrette, Honey and Mustard Dressing or Tomato and Basil Vinaigrette.
Store: If you have leftovers of this (which we recommend, as somehow it tastes even better the next day) then store it in an air tight container and it will keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Freeze: You can freeze this, but it does have a little bit of a gritty texture when defrosted and reheated, because of the ricotta, but it doesn't take away from the flavour. Make sure it has cooled completely and then transfer to freezable containers and it will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Defrost: Defrost overnight in the refrigerator.
Reheat: To reheat, make sure it has defrosted thoroughly and then you can either put it in the microwave for a couple of minutes or in a baking dish in the oven for 15 minutes. Make sure it is heated through before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
This is a creamy and cheesy pasta bake, so it isn't the healthiest thing in the world. But, it has a generous amount of spinach in it, and is a great way to include more greens in your diet. You can always reduce the amount of cheese that is used too.
To make this recipe gluten free, use your favourite brand of gluten free pasta. Also make sure that all the other ingredients used are gluten free and there isn't any cross contamination.
If you want to make this in advance, we would recommend making the tomato sauce the day before and then mixing the spinach and ricotta together the day before. But cook the pasta and assemble the dish when you are ready to put it in the oven.
We haven't tried it ourselves, but you could make your own vegan ricotta and then use vegan alternatives to the cheddar and parmesan.
You can easily double this recipe and it doesn't change the cooking time. Just make sure that you have a big enough baking dish to hold double the ingredients.
More pasta recipes
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Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Bake
- 280 g (10 oz) Penne pasta
- 200 g (7 oz) Spinach - chopped
- 250 g (1 cups) Ricotta
- 40 g (0.33 cups) Parmesan - grated
- 1 teaspoon Olive oil
- 2 Shallots - large; diced
- 2 Garlic clove - crushed
- 400 g (14 oz) Cherry tomatoes - canned
- 1 Roasted red peppers - diced
- 4 Sun-dried tomatoes - diced
- 1 pinch Sea salt and black pepper
- 0.5 teaspoon Dried thyme
- 40 g (0.33 cups) Mature cheddar - grated
- 5 g (2.5 tablespoon) Fresh basil - chopped
- Preheat your oven to 190°C/170°C(fan)/375°F/Gas 5.
- Cook 280 g Penne pasta for 8-10 minutes. You don't want to fully cook it.
- In a bowl, mix together 200 g Spinach, 250 g Ricotta, 0.5 teaspoon Dried thyme, 40 g Parmesan and 1 pinch Sea salt and black pepper. Set aside.
- Heat 1 teaspoon Olive oil and sauté 2 Shallots and 2 Garlic clove until softened (about 3-4 minutes). Add 400 g Cherry tomatoes, 1 Roasted red peppers and 4 Sun-dried tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes on low, crushing the tomatoes if required. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce. Mix well so that all the pasta is coated.
- Add half the pasta to a large baking dish. Add spoonfuls of the spinach and ricotta mix and spread out as well as possible. It doesn't have to be completely spread out as it will melt when baking. Cover with the remaining pasta.
- Top with 40 g Mature cheddar and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Top with 5 g Fresh basil.
- Every ricotta is different. If yours is quite thick, then add a little pasta water and stir well to loosen it up a little before adding to the spinach and parmesan.
- If you want the top of this pasta bake to go really crispy, then you can put it under the grill for a couple of minutes.
- For some adding extra flavour, add a pinch of cinnamon and red chilli flakes to the spinach and ricotta mix.
- Reserve a little of the pasta water to add to the sauce to make it nice and silky.
- Make sure you don't fully cook the pasta, as it will cook a bit more in the oven and you don't want it going mushy.
- This isn't a super creamy sauce, so if that is what you want then you could add another tub of ricotta, or even mix it with a tub of cream cheese.
- We have made our own pasta sauce for this recipe, as we think it is worth the effort. However, you could use your favourite jar of pasta sauce instead, and make this a super easy meal. You might need to adjust the garlic and herbs though, depending on what pasta sauce you are using.
- You don't have to cook this in the oven. Everything can be heated on the hob (stovetop) for a few minutes once it is mixed together and then put it under the grill to melt the cheese and make it go crispy.
- Feel free to use different types of pasta if you already have some in your cupboard.
The nutritional information provided is approximate and is calculated using online tools. Information can vary depending on various factors, but we have endeavoured to be as accurate as possible.