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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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  • Great recipe. Even people who say they didn’t like spinach loved it. I stirred in fresh spinach before serving,

  • This pasta is awesome and easy to make. Even non spinach lovers like this. i like to stir in fresh spinach before serving.

  • Hi Jenn,

    I’ve made several of your recipes lately to resounding success at the family dinner table. This is the next one I’d like to try. Could you please give me some good ideas for substituting the fontina? I saw you mentioned whole-milk mozzarella, but I live in Germany and the usual Italian “staples” on US grocery shelves can be challenging to find here.
    Thanks in advance,

    • Hi Anne, So glad you enjoy the recipes! Gruyère, Gouda, or Provolone are all fine substitutes in this recipe. Hope you enjoy!

  • I made this last Monday, came out great, very tasty. I followed the recipe, except I didn’t use the food processor to combine the spinach and basil with the cheeses, just mixed them with a spoon. I’d make it again.

  • Jenn,
    What brand baking dish did you use? I’d be concerned about using Pyrex at that temp. The recipe looks delicious.

    • Hi Carol, I used Le Creuset for that recipe. Emile Henry ceramic is also great. Hope you enjoy the pasta!

  • I made this over the weekend and loved the flavor. I do have a question about the texture of the filling … what should it be like after baking? I found this to be a little drier that I was expecting. Maybe cooking the pasta a bit more next time might help. Thoughts?

    • Hi Rossalyn, Sorry to hear it was a bit dry. I’m wondering if it was a bit overbaked– does your oven run hot? Maybe next time try keeping it covered with foil for about half the baking time, then remove the foil to let it brown a little on top. (As you suggested, you could cook the pasta for a bit longer; just don’t cook it too long or it’ll get mushy.)

  • Made this a few weeks ago on a weekend so that we’d have mid-week leftovers. It was a hit with everyone (I don’t typically like baked pasta!) and we got 3 meals out of it. Winner, winner, pasta dinner!!


    • Hi Dorothy, So sorry to hear this didn’t work out for you! Did you have the oven rack in the center position of your oven? Is there any possibility that you measured something incorrectly? I know it’s disappointing to completely trash a dish!

  • Another fabulous recipe! I didn’t have fresh basil but I do keep batches of pesto in my freezer 🙂 so subbed out a 1/4 cup of basil pesto for fresh basil, and reduced the garlic to 1 clove (since there was garlic in the pesto). Didn’t have any fontina so used Gruyere. It was delicious. My better half and I had trouble not eating the whole thing in one sitting. Definitely a calorie splurge but soooo worth it.

  • This dish is a great weeknight dish – easy to throw together and serves as a one dish meal. The kids love it and overlook the fact that there is “green stuff” in it.
    I don’t bother with the food processor and just mix everything in a bowl, and put some additional whole milk in because the last time I made it, was the pasta felt a little dry. I also make this with brown rice fusili pasta and it comes out great!
    Thanks for another keeper recipe!

  • Hands down THIS was the hit of my Christmas dinner….NOT the prime rib, chicken, mashed potatoes, homemade yeast rolls, roasted veggies, etc!!!!!! So easy to make…I did use one cup of 2% milk and one cup 1/2 & 1/2 which turned out fine!!I can’t wait to make this again!! Yum! Yum!

    • — Wendy G Schoenburg
    • Reply
  • Why does the temp have to be 450? No, I won’t be using pyrex!! LOL! Any chance I can use 350 convection? I’ll have 2 ovens going and may be able to put it in a 450 oven for a few minutes….Thanks.

    • — Wendy G Schoenburg
    • Reply
    • Hi Wendy, you could bake this at 350. It will just take a little longer; I suspect it would take about 30 minutes.

  • Made this recently and the hubby and even 2 year old loved it. Nice way to sneak in spinach 😉

  • Not only did this look spectacular, it tasted great. Followed the recipe as is but enjoy reading about the creativity of your followers. I on the other hand, always follow your recipes as written and now my family and friends think I’m a great cook! Love, love, love this website, the great pictures and your wonderful recipes.

  • We’re empty nesters now. Can I make this, divide in two, and freeze half?

    • Hi Mary, with all the dairy this contains, I’m not sure how well the dish will freeze. Another alternative is halving the recipe.

  • I really enjoyed this dish and my son who is a picky eater enjoyed it. It kind of tastes like a pesto but thicker.

  • Can this be served at room temperature?

    • — Sarah Saunders
    • Reply
    • I think it’s best serve hot, Sarah. Sorry!

  • This was fabulous, even with my forgetting to put in fresh basil from my garden, and having to eliminate garlic for an allergic guest. Made the night before and simply added more half and half after warming.

    • — Jane Derickson
    • Reply
  • I’ve tried many of your recipes…all 5 stars for me…for this recipe if you wanted to cut down on the fat I know I could use low fat ricotta, low fat cream cheese…would the recipe turn out the same if I used 2% milk instead of the 2 cups of half & half……

    • — Wendy G Schoenburg
    • Reply
    • Hi Wendy, I would be a bit concerned that the milk wouldn’t reduce enough and the dish would be watery, but another reader commented that they used milk with good results. You could try using half milk and half 1/2 & 1/2.

  • Made this on Monday! Simply Delicious!

  • This looks delicious, I haven’t tried it yet. I wonder if this could be made with fresh spinach rather than frozen?

    • Sure Jennifer, You can use fresh spinach here. You’ll need to cook it first, then drain as with the frozen. Enjoy!

      • I just wanted to chime in here that I used fresh, uncooked, spinach in mine and had no complaints with the recipe in case others may want to try as well. 🙂

    • I have used fresh Sspinachand just sauted it first in a bit of oil. Works great!

  • This was really good and reheated well. So much easier than stuffing cannoli shells!
    Thank you for a great recipe and website. Can’t wait for your cookbook!

  • Absolutely loved this dish which paired well with the delicious salad you suggested!
    Can I freeze the left-over pasta?

    • Hi Cathy, with all of the dairy it has, I’m not sure it would freeze well– sorry!

  • Dear Jenn,
    I have made so many of your recipes and continue to make them. All of them fantastic and TRUE. But, I must say this Penne and Spinach receipe brings me back to my youth. My Italian mother would make a penne and ricotta with red sauce that was to die for.. This reminds me of that, but just a bit better.
    Thank you for ALL your receipes. I can’t wait to have them all in one place… Maybe a book !

    • — Angela Nogueira
    • Reply
  • I made this dish and my family absolutely loved every bite. I must admit I did not have any ricotta so I left it out. It was very creamy and tasty without the ricotta. Thanks so much for providing tasty, easy to follow creative receipes.

  • Can fresh spinach be used instead of frozen?

    • Hi Dani, fresh spinach will work here. You’ll need to cook it first, then drain as with the frozen.

      • Thank you?

  • I live in HI at the moment and it’s difficult to find Fontina here! There is a Whole Foods that carries it, but it’s not terribly convenient to our home. Can you recommend any substitutes? Gruyere? Gouda? Kindly advise! Thank you.

    • Hi Veronique, Any mild-tasting melting cheese would work well. I’d probably go with whole milk mozzarella (not fresh). Hope you enjoy!

  • Delicious! I used 2% milk instead of half and half and it was still deliciously creamy. I also added diced, pre-cooked chicken sausage from Trader Joe’s for protein which worked really well. My husband and 1 year old both devoured it.

  • I made this pasta dish last night. Wow, what a hit this was, no one missed the meat. I got home late from work, but had this in the oven in about 20 mins and 20 mins later we sat down to this delicious dish. My daughter who is picky had 3 helpings. It is creamy, flavorful and comforting all at the same time.

  • Made this for break-fast and it was wonderful! A crowd pleaser for everyone and smelled as good as it tasted. A wonderful blend of fresh favors. Definitely a keeper.!

  • Loved the penne with ricotta, spinach and fontina! Husband loved it too! Will definitely make again. Good way to incorporate greens into our diet.

  • Definitely will make this again! I’m always looking for ways to add veggies to meals. My grandchildren ate seconds. That’s what I call a success!! Thanks, Jennifer.

  • Are you suppose to grate the fontina I assume?!

  • Fabulous Meal! I made this last night for dinner. Even my finicky 10 year old ate the pasta. I did lighten up the recipe using low fat ricotta, fat free cream cheese and a mixture of 1% milk with half-n-half. It was very good.

  • This was fantastic. The whole family loved it. I substituted part-skim ricotta because I had it already. Thank you for a perfect weeknight recipe!

  • I made this early in the day. The flavors were wonderful but it was a bit dry. Do you think the pasta absorbed the liquid because I made it ahead of time? Any suggestions?

    • Hi Tory, I don’t think that should make a difference. I’m wondering if it was a bit overbaked– does your oven run hot? Maybe next time try keeping it covered with foil for about half the baking time, then remove the foil to let it brown a little on top.

    • Tory I made it ahead of time and mine was delicious, but a bit dry too. Pasta absorbs a crazy amount of liquid, so I think that’s what happened. I love making things ahead of time, so I think I’ll try increasing the lovely sauce next time.

  • OMG this was so delicious! The cheese sauce was so creamy and full of flavor!
    We’ll definitely making it again!

  • This looks like the perfect weeknight dinner. What can I substitute for half-and-half? They don’t sell it in Australia

    • Hi Mia, You can use half whole milk, half cream.

  • Just made this for a post trip to the beach dinner. Can’t wait. Perfect after a day at the Oregon coast. Glad to hear it can be baked the next day.

  • How far ahead would be safe to make this before putting in the oven? Thanks and we just love all your recipes. My family usually asks at meals “is this Jenn’s” hahaha!

    • Hi Abbie, So glad you’re family is enjoying the recipes! I would say you could make it a day ahead; just cover it tightly in the fridge.

  • Oh my goodness! This was so delicious!!! I made this tonight and it was a HUGE hit! (The only change I made was to use a 8 oz bag of pre-washed spinach instead of the frozen. )

    • — Larissa Thomson
    • Reply
  • Looking forward to making this tonight!

  • Tried this for my family. It is a great way to get them to eat spinach without them even realizing it!

  • I don’t have a food processor, can I make this in a blender? It looks really good – I can’t wait to try it! Thank you!

    • Hi Connie, The mixture might be too thick for a blender, but you could certainly try. If it doesn’t work you can always mix by hand; I would warm up the cream cheese in the microwave first.

    • I put my in the blender and it worked well, but some of the spinach got caught up in the blade.

  • I love the “Pair With” option to click on! I am having twelve ladies over for dinner soon and this menu will be perfect! Thanks so much!!

  • Can you recommend proportions for lower fat alternative ingredients, perhaps skim milk, part skim ricotta, fat free half and half?

    • — Lorraine Lepler
    • Reply
    • Hi Lorraine, If you go with reduced-fat alternatives for those ingredients, the measurements would remain the same. Would love to hear how it turns out if you go that route!

  • Can’t have spinach – what do you suggest for a substitute?

    • Hi Penni, I think kale or chard would work. Please let me know how it turns out if you try it!

  • My family loves every single recipe I make from your website! Keep them coming!

    Could I throw in some rotisserie chicken with this dish?

    Thanks, Cynthia

    • — Cynthia VanRenterghem
    • Reply
    • Hi Cynthia, So glad you’re enjoying the recipes! I think some chicken would be great in this, and there’s no need to adjust any of the other ingredients. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out.

  • Any tips or pros and cons on using fresh spinach over frozen in this dish?

    • Hi April, you can use fresh spinach here. You’d need to cook it first, then drain as with the frozen.

  • When does the garlic get added?

    • Thanks for spotting that, Iv. I’ve corrected the recipe!

      • Are you suppose to grate the fontina I assume?!

        • Yes, Kushi. Sorry about that – recipe has been updated. Thx 🙂

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