A vegetarian pasta bake full of veggies and cheesy goodness. This pasta bake with mushrooms, zucchini, basil pesto and melted cheese will be your new favorite comfort food.
I always say that the best recipes come out when I don’t have any plan. When I don’t know what to cook, so I collect whatever I have available in the fridge and pantry and figure out a way to get a meal out of it.
This recipe is one of those cases. I found it in my old recipe book from when I was still living in Italy and when I read it again I immediately remembered it was not a planned recipe but an improvised meal which turned out so good I added it in my recipe book.
First of all, I love the mushroom and zucchini combo, is one I use very often in pasta sauces, quiches or lasagna, like my White Lasagna with Mushrooms and Zucchini.
The addition of basil pesto, either homemade or store-bought, helps to blend all the flavors together and give the pasta more flavor and saltiness. Two things that are always good in pasta (unless you exaggerate).
The final touch of grated cheese, which melts and gives to the pasta a heart of delicious cheesiness. While the freshly grated Parmigiano on top makes the crunchy nutty crust which is always my favorite part.
The steps to make a perfect pasta bake
Baked pasta or pasta bake is one of the Italian traditional staple food. A Sunday lunch meal which the whole family love and enjoy. Traditionally served in the center of the table in its piping hot baking dish to share, or more unconventionally served in individual cocottes.
The classic version is with Tuscan Ragù sauce and Béchamel (white sauce) wh called “Pasta al Forno”, a quicker version of the traditional Lasagna, let’s say. But you can do baked pasta with almost any sauce. These are the basic guidelines:
- Don’t overcook the pasta. Cook the pasta 3-4 minutes less then usual. The pasta will continue cooking in the oven so it will come out perfectly al dente.
- The sauce should be as creamy as possible, to unify all the ingredients and flavors. You can use a cream based or tomato based sauce, or use pesto or puréed veggies.
- You can add any vegetable, but you need to cook it first. Either roast it or sauté it, as long as it’s well cooked and seasoned.
- You can add meat like sausages, bacon, ham to give more flavor and saltiness. Cook if first, either together with the vegetables or by itself. Just be careful with the seasoning to avoid over-salting the dish.
- Add cheese. Any kind of cheese, as long as it melts and becomes creamy and delicious. But even crumbly cheeses like Feta could be a nice addition if paired with the right ingredients.
- Top the casserole with abundant freshly grated Parmigiano cheese to give it a nice crunchy and nutty crust.
Mushrooms and Zucchini Pesto Pasta Bake
- 170 g (6 oz) Pasta small shapes like farfalle, penne or fusilli
- 170 g (6 oz) Cremini Mushrooms chopped
- ½ Zucchini
- 2 Garlic cloves peeled and halved
- ¼ cup White Wine
- 150 g (5.5 oz) Frozen Spinach
- 100 ml (1/2 cup) Heavy Cream
- 1 cup Grated Cheese
- 1 tbsp Butter
- 7 tsp Pesto
- Parmigiano Cheese grated
- Olive Oil
- Black Pepper ground
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F)
- Cut the zucchini into small cubes. Drizzle a pan with olive oil and sauté the zucchini for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned and translucent. Season with salt and black pepper.
- Remove the zucchini from the pan and set them aside. In the same pan, drizzle a little bit more of oil and add the garlic and the chopped cremini mushrooms.
- Sauté the mushrooms for about 5 minutes until they start to brown, then pour the white wine and let it evaporate completely. Add the spinach and cover with the lid until they are completely thawed. Turn down the heat if necessary.
- Add the cream, mix well and season with salt and black pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Toss the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water. Drain it 3-4 minutes before cooking time.
- In a large bowl or in the same pot, mix the pasta with the zucchini, mushrooms and spinach. Add the pesto and grated cheese and mix well.
- Transfer the pasta into individual cocottes or into a baking dish. Butter the dish before adding the pasta.
- Sprinkle abundant Parmigiano cheese on top to get a nice crispy crust and bake in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes. Turn on the broiler for a couple of minutes if necessary, to get the crust.
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