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Baked Penne with Spinach, Ricotta & Fontina

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This easy vegetarian pasta bake gives you all the flavor of classic spinach and cheese cannelloni without the fuss.

Penne with spinach, ricotta, and fontina in a baking dish.

This vegetarian pasta bake is a quick and easy riff on classic spinach and ricotta cannelloni. Instead of stuffing traditional pasta shells, I toss penne pasta in a creamy sauce made with spinach, basil, and ricotta. After topping the dish with two flavorful cheeses, I bake it until golden and bubbly. To ensure a smooth and creamy texture, I add mascarpone (or cream cheese) to the sauce, which eliminates any potential graininess that can sometimes occur with ricotta-based sauces. While the pasta bakes, I usually toss a big salad to complete the meal.

you’ll need to make Baked penne with spinach, ricotta & fontina

baked penne ingredients

how to make Baked penne with spinach, ricotta & fontina

To begin, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the penne. Cook until al dente, about 9 minutes. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven, so you want it a bit underdone.

boiling the penne

Drain the pasta, then place it back in the pan and set aside.

drained penne in colander

Meanwhile, drain the spinach and squeeze as dry as possible. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine the dry spinach, basil, ricotta, mascarpone (or cream cheese), half-and-half cream, 1 cup fontina, 3 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

spinach and sauce ingredients in food processor

Process until puréed.

pureed spinach cream sauce in food processor

Add the spinach mixture to the pasta.

adding the spinach sauce to the pasta Stir to combine.

pasta and sauce combined

Transfer to a baking dish.

pasta in baking dish

Top with the remaining fontina and Pecorino Romano cheese.

pasta topped with cheese and ready to bake

Bake until the pasta is bubbling and the top is golden in spots, about 20 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then serve.

Penne with spinach, ricotta, and fontina in a baking dish.

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Baked Penne with Spinach, Ricotta & Fontina

This easy vegetarian pasta bake gives you all the flavor of classic spinach and cheese cannelloni without the fuss.

Servings: 4 to 6
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Total Time: 40 Minutes


  • 1 pound penne
  • 1 (10-oz) package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • ½ cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz (½ cup) mascarpone cheese (or cream cheese)
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 6 oz (2 cups) grated fontina or whole milk mozzarella, divided
  • 5 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano), divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg


  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Lightly oil a 9 x 13-inch ceramic baking dish.
  2. Cook the penne in boiling salted water until al dente, about 9 minutes. (It will cook more in the oven so you don’t want it completely cooked.) Drain and rinse under cold water, then place the pasta back in the pan and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine the spinach, basil, ricotta, mascarpone (or cream cheese), half-and-half, 1 cup of the fontina (or mozzarella), 3 tablespoons of the Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano), garlic, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Process until puréed.
  4. Add the spinach mixture to the pasta and stir to combine. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining fontina and Parmigiano Reggiano. Bake until the pasta is bubbling and the top is golden in spots, about 20 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then serve.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (6 servings)
  • Calories: 692
  • Fat: 34 g
  • Saturated fat: 20 g
  • Carbohydrates: 65 g
  • Sugar: 7 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Protein: 31 g
  • Sodium: 956 mg
  • Cholesterol: 112 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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  • Can I use fresh baby Spinach if so much would I need ? Thanks

    • — Asra on March 27, 2024
    • Reply
    • Hi Asra, Yes, fresh spinach will work. I’d estimate you’ll need 1 – 1.5 lbs to yield 1.5 cups cooked spinach. Also, make sure to squeeze it out after cooking to get rid of excess liquid.

      • — Jenn on March 28, 2024
      • Reply
  • Very yummy dish. When I assembled it, it looked like there was plenty of liquid, but once cooked, it was slightly dry. Would adding additional half and half help?

    • — Laura Sitler on February 25, 2024
    • Reply
    • Hi Laura, Glad you enjoyed it, but sorry you found it dry. Yes, adding more half and half would’ve helped.

      • — Jenn on February 27, 2024
      • Reply
  • I made this for Christmas 2023. I liked the dish, but I didn’t love it. Like some of the other comments, I found it to be a little dry. The flavor was nice, but the moisture and texture were off for me (I thought the mascarpone did not offset enough of the graininess of the ricotta as Jenn suggested). I might use even more mascarpone and less ricotta the next time, were I to make this again.

    • — Jennifer Oldham on January 2, 2024
    • Reply
  • This was great. I didn’t have fresh basil or spinach so I used Kirkland pesto instead and blended that together with the cheeses. I used heavy cream since I did not have half & half. Mixed it up with the Rigatoni since I didn’t have Penne and baked it! It was really good. Looking forward to making it per the recipe when I have the right ingredients. But that is the joy of cooking – improv when you need to and being pleasantly surprised. Thanks Jen!

    • — Rachel on October 25, 2023
    • Reply
    • How much pesto did you use ?

      • — Asra on March 27, 2024
      • Reply
  • Loved this! I used fresh baby spinach and added diced Italian chicken sausage and shredded rotisserie chicken. I’ll be adding this one to our rotation. It’s much easier than my usual bechamel for baked pasta. You are a genius!

    • — Shelley on July 31, 2023
    • Reply
  • Super!!! I loved making and eating this dish. It also tastes great reheated for lunch. Went together simply and baked to a beautiful golden brown. I will make this again. Thnak you

    • — Sandra Wheatley on May 24, 2023
    • Reply
  • Another great recipe, thanks!
    I needed to use up some fresh baby spinach and a bag of shredded mozarella and found this recipe. The only subsitutions I made was full-fat milk for half-and-half and maccheroni for penne rigate 😉
    I did not cook the spinach, as mine was a tender baby spinach. The sauce looked like a lot, but the when all pasta “holes” were filled, it was the right amount.
    The kids came for seconds, which is always a good sign 😀
    I paired it with the recommended big italian salad and I also love the dressing!

    • — PJ on April 18, 2023
    • Reply
  • Can I use a hand held blender instead of food processor?

    • — Asra on April 16, 2023
    • Reply
    • Unfortunately, I don’t think an immersion blender will have enough strength to process the spinach and basil sufficiently. I’m sorry!

      • — Jenn on April 18, 2023
      • Reply
      • I used an immersion blender and it worked well!

        • — Sheryl on May 9, 2024
        • Reply
        • So glad to know — thanks for the comment — I’m sure it will be helpful to other readers!

          • — Jenn on May 10, 2024
          • Reply
  • Jen I’m about to make this tomorrow I’m planning to bake it in two 5X5 baking dishes how long should they need to bake pls.I’m baking these for two separate households thank you. All the best Beryl

    • — Beryl Kerr on March 12, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Beryl, I think I’m weighing to late to help (sorry!) but I don’t think this would fit in two 5 x 5″ baking dishes.

      • — Jenn on March 15, 2023
      • Reply
  • Made this last night. Subbed mozzarella for fontina. Used 142 grams fresh spinach (comes in a small clamshell where I live) and wilted it. Kids (9-12) rated it a 9/10. My picky 9 year old took it in a thermos for lunch this morning. It’s a keeper!

    • — Lois McCormack on January 16, 2023
    • Reply
  • If using fresh spinach do you have to cook and squeeze out like the frozen?


    • — Chris on January 12, 2023
    • Reply
    • Yep – hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 13, 2023
      • Reply
  • My sister in law made this and I liked it, but it was a little dry. Would it work if I made more sauce in it?

    • — Heather on July 22, 2022
    • Reply
    • Yep 🙂

      • — Jenn on July 22, 2022
      • Reply
      • Can you make the sauce/spinach mixture ahead of time? For example, could you make it in the morning, and store it in the refrigerator? Then in the evening, make the pasta and continue with the recipe? Or would it not work for the sauce to sit that long and be cold?

        • — Heather on August 1, 2022
        • Reply
        • Hi Heather, I haven’t tried it, but I think you could get away with it. I’d probably let it sit on your kitchen counter to warm up for about 30 minutes before combining it with the pasta. Hope you enjoy!

          • — Jenn on August 2, 2022
          • Reply
  • We Love this pasta! Question… do you think I can prepare it today, but put it in fridge for 24 hours before baking tomorrow night for a party?
    Jenny G.

    • Glad you like it! This can be assembled up to a day ahead. A few readers have commented, however, that they prepared it ahead and thought it turned out a little dry; to avoid that, you may want to cover it with foil for at least part of the baking time.

  • Well, it smells fantastic. Will see after I bake. I’m sure it will be amazing. I had to sub mozzarella and because I wasn’t going to run out for fresh basil, I used several tbsps of prepared pesto I had in the fridge.

  • Hello! I’m going to be having surgery and need to freeze some dinners. Can I freeze this? Thanks!

    • Hi Alana, This dish has a lot of dairy so I’ve hesitated to tell people that it’s okay to freeze, but a few readers have commented that they’ve frozen it and have been happy with the results. (I’d bake it before freezing.) Good luck with the surgery! 💗

  • Maybe I did something wrong in making it, but it came out kind of dry. Nice flavor though.

  • This was a huge hit at my party and I specifically wanted a vegetarian dish. I prepared it the night prior and baked it just before serving. I added your suggested salad – everyone loved the dressing.

  • Another great one if you want a vegetarian option. I made this for a party I hosted on Saturday. I was told that it was delicious because it was gone so fast I ended up not even getting any. Anyway, I’ll definitely make this again and next time I’ll make sure to get some

  • Hi Jenn, Love love love your recipes! I have Vegetarians coming for the holidays and I was wondering if I can make this and freeze before putting in the oven.

    Thanks so much!

    • Hi Mary, So glad you like the recipes! This dish has a lot of dairy so I’ve hesitated to tell people that it’s okay to freeze, but a few readers have commented that they’ve frozen it and have been happy with the results. If you do want to freeze it though, I’d definitely bake it first.

      • Thanks so much. I agree and will pass on freezing. 👌👌👌

  • This sounds and looks wonderful, planning to make it soon. Any idea how much fresh spinach to use in place of the frozen?

    • Hi Carol, I’d estimate you’ll need 1 – 1.5 lbs to yield 1.5 cups cooked spinach. Hope you enjoy!

  • If I were to add shrimp to this, what might be good to sauté the shrimp with?

    • — Sue VanDeventer
    • Reply
    • I’d just use a bit of salt and pepper. Hope you enjoy!

  • Empty plates! My local supermarket didn’t have Fontina or Ricotta, so made some substitutes with gruyere and mascarpone and both worked perfectly! My handheld blender stepped up to the mark too. Will definitely be adding this to my favourites!

  • Delicious! It’s like pesto Mac and cheese. Everyone loved it and it was much simpler than I was expecting—a quick and satisfying dinner, for sure.

  • You are my first go to place for fantastic recipes! However, I messed this recipe up somehow. It was tasteless, dry, and kind of gritty. I actually threw it all away. Oh well. Some days I am in a brain fog.

    • — Pamela K Senneff
    • Reply
  • Made this tonight and it was excellent and kid approved. I didn’t have cream cheese so I used Mascarpone cheese and it was an excellent substitute. I don’t have a food processor, but used my Vitamix blender and it worked perfectly. Would makes this recipe again.

    • — Lori Rasmussen
    • Reply
  • Perfect!! My husband is an avowed carnivore but has agreed to a weekly meatless dinner. This was my choice this week. He quickly went back for seconds and offered post dinner compliments (not unusual, he is an appreciative diner). I will definitely make this again, so flavourful and satisfying.

  • Lovely dish as one of our meat free dinners

  • The last time I made this recipe I put 1/2 the unbaked recipe in individual french white containers, topped with the cheese and froze them. This week I pulled them out at noon to thaw a bit then baked them at dinner time. These little dishes turned an otherwise crumby day into a warm and comforting evening with time to chat and clear my head instead of boiling, stirring and doing dishes. Having a hearty meal waiting in the freezer is so very valuable. The flavors and richness of this dish makes it five stars.

  • This is such a fabulous recipe. Will not disappoint.

  • Great meatless Monday meal. Served it with a tomato salad and garlic bread and everyone at the table young and old was happy!

  • Could not pass up this recipe. Penne with Spinach, Ricotta & Fontina…..Eye appealing and healthy ingredients. This is a perfect dish for my honey who just had dental surgery. Put it together tonight, had the ingredients on hand) but will bake and serve it tomorrow. The dish will absorb the ingredients and should bake up just fine. All of Jennifer’s recipes are a breeze to follow. I have not been disappointed yet. Will serve it with Jenni’s delicious French apple cake. It is very light and delicate for an apple cake. DB

  • Great winter time side dish. Easy way to get a vegetables into the little ones.

    Definitely will use again.

  • Really a delicious, easy recipe!

  • Hi Jenn,
    I did make this recipe and it was delicious. I did substitute fresh baby spinach for frozen. It only took a minute to wilt it on the stove. It was a rich and wonderful dinner to have on a cold winter day. My husband thought it was the best!

  • This dish is great. My 3 year old hates spinach, but in this dish I can actually get her to eat some! I didn’t have fontina cheese and so just used and italian blend instead, it was great!

    • one of the best baked pasta i have come across.. additionally with a healthy add on veggiee..such a guilt free receipe even for healthy freaks around 🙂

  • My family loved this. Warm, hearty, and comforting. Couldn’t be easier to make.

  • Delicious! A keeper for sure

    • — Mary P O'NEILL
    • Reply
  • This is a must have recipe, full of flavor and although I tweaked it a little ( less cholesterol ) so my old self can eat it without reservation, it is one of my favorites. Easy to make and feeds a bunch!

  • This is a delicious dish! So creamy! Thanks, Jen. We love your recipes and I have used nearly every single one from your cookbook.

    • Oops! Forgot to give the recipe five stars!

  • Hi Jen, I’m such a big fan of all your recipes. Everything I’ve tried always turns amazing. Thanks so much for keeping sharing with us.
    I’d love to try this recipe. What’s the best substitute for fontina? It can be sometimes hard to find where I live.
    Thank you

    • So glad you like the recipes! You could use Gruyere or Mozzarella in place of the Fontina. Hope you enjoy!

  • Hello!
    If I wanted to add a protein to this pasta which protein would you recommend? Shrimp? Ground turkey?

    Thank you!

    • — Jacqueline Loza
    • Reply
    • Ground turkey or ground turkey sausage would be nice. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it!

  • I made this for Sunday dinner. It was fabulous. Even my Dad who does not like “pasta” had a second helpings! I will definitely make this again.

    • My husband loves all pastas and the combination with spinach always is his favorite. Your tip to add the cream cheese to it made it an even tastier dish. Instead of the Fontina I used the Mozzarella which turned out great.
      Thanks for your recipe !

  • i didn’t like it very much and won’t add to my recipes but i loved your chicken cashews dish.

  • This was a great recipe, I did substitute the nutmeg with oregano and the fontina cheese with mozzarella and added a little parsley towards the puree. Loved it!! Thank you

  • I don’t have fresh basil or cream cheese! Can I sub dried basil? What about the cheese? Thanks!

    • Hi Hannah, you really need fresh basil for this — sorry! For the cream cheese, you could get away with using half heavy cream and half ricotta. Hope that helps!

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