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.
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
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.
Drain the pasta, then place it back in the pan and set aside.
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.
Process until puréed.
Add the spinach mixture to the pasta.
Stir to combine.
Transfer to a baking dish.
Top with the remaining fontina and Pecorino Romano cheese.
Bake until the pasta is bubbling and the top is golden in spots, about 20 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then serve.
You may also like
- Mac and Cheese
- Julia Turshen’s “A Nice Lasagna”
- Baked Ziti with Sausage
- Cheesy Stuffed Shells
- Gail Simmons’ Epic Spaghetti Pie
- Spinach Manicotti
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Hope you and your family are well. Would heavy cream work in here? If yes, how much?
Hi Janelle, what are you looking to substitute with the heavy cream?
The half and half
Sure — it will be very rich, but it will work. Hope you enjoy!
Would it be possible to make the spinach mixture in the morning and refrigerate until ready to make the pasta that evening? Thank you,
Definitely! Hope you enjoy. 🙂
Would part skim ricotta and 1/3less cream cheese work here? Thank you!!
Hi Janelle, I haven’t tried this with either of those tweaks, but I think it should work. Please LMK how it turns out if you make it!
What is the best way to serve it as first course to guests so it looks pretty? Ideas? Thanks—love your recipes! I’ve made quite a few, especially the crack nuts which my family & guests LOVE !
Hi Ellen, so glad you like the recipes! You could put individual servings of this into ramekins. Not only would it make it look nice, but because it’s a starter it would be a nice way to limit the portion size.
Can this be frozen?
This dish has a lot of dairy so I’ve hesitated to tell people that it’s okay to freeze. However, a few readers have commented that they’ve baked and frozen it and have been happy with the results.
Made this tonight and it was a hit with my family. I heated up someMarinara sauce on the side as my hubby wasn’t convinced it would be good without tomatoes
It was! And it was good with a bit of marina on the side too. It got a bit dry for the folks wanting seconds so I agree with the previous comment that a bit more half n half would solve this. Yummy. Thanks!
My family and friends love this recipe!! I prepare it the day before and just before cooking I add more half and half….This is what works for me so it doesn’t turn out dry….I also cover it for the first half of baking….This pasta is addicting!!!
Can you suggest something that could be substituted for the ricotta? My daughter doesn’t like it.
Hi Mary, Cottage cheese would work well. Because the texture is a bit different, I’d suggest buying small curd cottage cheese or, if you buy large curd, blending it a little. Hope that helps!
This recipe was a great success! I live in Amsterdam and was doubting about the half-and-half, so I used cream instead. Do you have a suggestion what to use instead?
Glad you liked it, Bernadine! I’ve only made this with half and half but I think it would work if you used half cream and half milk when you make it again.
Deeeeelicious! Minor adjustments, for those who are curious: I used fresh spinach (takes 1 minute to pan-cook) instead of frozen, substituted mozzarella for ricotta because we like it better, and used a bit higher pasta-to-sauce ratio. (To be exact: I cooked the whole pound of pasta intending only to use half for this purpose, and made half the sauce. Once combined, I decided to use 2/3 of cooked pasta, and that turned out perfect for us.) Jen’s recipes are the best!!
I’ve made this twice….the first time was a few years ago and everything turned out fine….second time I took this to a friend’s house and it was dry….I made it yesterday and will bake it today…I will use your suggestion of covering it for at least half the cooking time….do you think I should add more half & half before cooking it, just to be sure? I will be cooking it at 350…
Thanks for your help….I really want this to turn out as most of my guests are very familiar with your name around my house!! LOL!
I wanted simple, easy to handle desserts so I made your lemon squares, pecan pie squares & cheesecake squares, in advance….They all froze well….I got specific requests to make these!! Your name is common now among my tennis friends and they call ahead and let me know what recipe of yours they want me to bring!!
Hi Wendy, so glad you enjoy the recipes (and I’m flattered that your friends and family know my name)! 🙂 And while I don’t think adding a bit of half and half before baking it can hurt, if you keep it covered with foil for half the baking time, it may not be necessary. Hope that helps and that everyone enjoys!
Hi Jen, I have a substitution question. I just used up all the fresh basil I bought at the farmers market to make your walnut kale pesto. Our family absolutely loved it! I want to make this pasta dish but since I’m out of basil do you think I could use some of the walnut kale pesto instead without it making a huge difference? If you think this substitution would work, how much pesto would you recommend to replace the 1/2 cup of basil in this recipe? Thanks in advance!
Hi Bry, Glad you enjoyed the pesto! Yes, I think you could get away with using it in this penne. I’d suggest 2 to 3 tablespoons. Please LMK how it turns out!
Hi Jen, we did end up making this recipe and subbed 1/4 cup of the pesto for the basil, as we love basil here. The cheese sauce was amazing out of the food processor, my son could not stop tasting it. Once cooked with the pasta it was yummy, but not quite as flavourful as hoped. Very good, but next time I think we will replace the noodles with cauliflower for a slightly lighter alternative. The sauce would probably be great with zoodles as well (although the kale walnut pesto was amazing on it’s own with the zoodles). Thanks for the reply, we appreciate all of your time spent on your recipes and answering questions!
This is on my list of recipes to try this week. My family won’t eat anything without meat in it though, so I’d have to add something. Any recommendations?
Hi Kia, I probably wouldn’t add any meat to this but you could definitely serve some grilled chicken, salmon, or Italian sausage on the side.
That’s what I’ll do, thanks!
Hi there I would love to try out your recipe but if only making for 2 of us would halving each quantity of ingredient work?
Sure – hope you enjoy!
This was a hit twice over! First, I made it for my Italian friend and her mother. My friend had just had a baby and this was one of the fridge meals I brought over. They raved about it!! The second was for a “girls night in”. One of my girlfriends doesn’t eat beef or chicken so I needed a hearty main with no meat. This was perfection!
Can this be frozen before baking, and then thawed and baked?
Hi Carmina, this has a lot of dairy so I’ve hesitated to tell people that it’s okay to freeze. However, a few readers have commented that they’ve baked and frozen it and have been happy with the results. If you do want to freeze it, I’d definitely bake it first.
The dish was great overall and flavorful. The sauce is quite rich, so if you’re not a fan of cheese, I’d be cautious of this recipe. The pasta got a little soggy when I ate it as leftovers, but the taste was still amazing. Easy to pull together!
We loved this dish. Followed as written. The sauce filled my processor very full, so move fast while poring into bowl with pasta to mix.
It’s a keeper!
I made this with orecchiette pasta and it turned out very delicious! I added some chopped mushrooms and diced red bell pepper, which I gently sautéed first, and that was a flavorful addition. I also did not use the garlic, as I thought the flavor of the basil might get lost and overwhelmed with it. This was a delicious dish for dinner, and could easily serve six people with a salad on the side. We loved it.
Made this terrific dish a few weeks ago and everyone loved it!! Followed directions exactly as written and turned out perfect! I did cover with foil for the first 3/4 of baking time. Really yummy! I will be making it again for Easter dinner along with my usual ham/chicken/potatoes to satisfy my vegetarian daughter.
Another wonderful recipe Jenn! Thanks so much!
Hi Jenn. Another one of your fabulous, successful dishes! My husband is not a pasta fan and will not eat cooked cheese. Fortunately, one of our granddaughters is vegetarian as our a couple of our friends. Love having them over for dinner as I get to spoil myself with lovely dishes like this! I’ve done so many of your recipes from your blog that I bought your cookbook just to say thank you
Simple, quick, easy, and delicious.
Made this tonight with a few minor changes. Added chicken and leeks which I sauté before adding to the pasta. Used coffee cream which is 10% as that is what I had on hand and had fresh spinach so used that. I didn’t bother cooking the spinach and simply added it with the other ingredients in the food processor. It worked well. Overall, my family liked the dish. I seemed to have the opposite issue than others who have posted in that I had a little too much sauce. I did bake at 350 for 30 mins. I might try leaving it a little longer next time to reduce the sauce. I liked the chicken as I think it would have been too creamy without it. Would definitely make this again, great way to use up about to expire spinach.
This recipe was delicious. My path to getting there was fraught with kitchen errors. Be mindful of the size of your food processors before adding the half and half. Mine is an 11 cup but I added the half and half (I actualliy used whole milk and heavy cream) after the other ingredients. This prompted the liquid to pour out of the food processor and all over the counter. Not to be intimiated I threw what was left along with a splash of milk and a splash of heavy cream to make up for what went all over the counter into my Vitamix. I turned that on high and promptly spewed the mixture up my kitchen cabinets (didn’t have the tamper tool flush against the lid) . That said, it pureed nicely. I added an extra clove of garlic and omitted the nutmeg as I am nutmeg adverse in pasta dishes. I baked this in a Pyrex (saw some other reviwers cringe at this but mine came out fine, suprising considering my two previous disasters). It was not dry and it was amazing. My two children ate it (before I told them it had spinach in it). This is defintely a do over. Especially now that I know how to avoid such rookie mistakes with my kitchen tools. I also used Pecorino Romano cheese because in addition to being a wreck with kitchen tools I also apparently cannot read.
🙂 So glad you enjoyed it despite the mishaps!
I am making this ahead for today and will freeze to cook later. The dish seems like it will not firm up, (i.e. the sauce seems runny). Is this okay?
Hi Liz, the pasta will likely soak up the liquid you’re referring to, so I don’t think the end product will be runny. You mentioned you plan to freeze it – if it’s not already in the freezer, I’d bake it first and then freeze it.
This one just didn’t do it for me. I followed the recipe to the letter- even made sure I used a ceramic dish, and covered with foil for the last 10 minutes. It wasn’t terrible but overall it was too dry, and I found the garlic to be overpowering.
Next time I will add more salt and more garlic and maybe a “meat”. Yep, there will definitely be a next time! My family thought it needed meat, like chicken or shrimp. I really liked it as is.
Loved this one! My mom, who doesn’t like pesto at all, loved it and couldn’t get over how good it was. it’s on my monthly rotation for her now! Can’t wait to see more delicious recipes!
We love this dish! I made a gluten-free version for our guests. I recommend reducing the amount of pasta but keeping the same quantity of sauce since gluten-free pasta seems to absorb more liquid. It was a bit dry.
Made this tonight, didn’t have nutmeg but the flavor was great. Problem was it ended up dry, actually more pasty. I did put a bit less half and half (1/4 cup less) and used fresh spinach. Where did I go wrong?
Hi Tom, glad you liked the flavor but sorry to hear it was a bit dry. I would definitely recommend using the full 2 cups of half and half as I think all of it is necessary. Also, I’m wondering if it was a bit overbaked– does your oven run hot? Perhaps next time keep it covered with foil for about half the baking time, then remove the foil to let it brown a little on top.
Mine turned out a little too much like spinach souffle. I’d like to try it again with more basil and less half & half.
Jenn, could you make this short of the baking step, then freeze to bake later? If so, would the baking time be a little longer?
Hi Maggy, this has a lot of dairy and I’ve been hesitant to tell people that it’s okay to freeze. That said, a few readers have commented that they’ve baked and frozen it and have been happy with the results. If you do want to freeze it, I’d definitely bake it first.
Love this recipe!! This is definitely a family favorite and even my fussy 8 year old says yesssss! when this dish is on the menu. I tend to add more pasta than the recipe calls for as I find it too runny otherwise.
Another winner Jenn! I made this tonight for my two teenage vegetarian grandchildren and they both loved it. As did my wife and myself. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful recipes!
I have one daughter that is vegetarian but boys that definitely are not. This penne dish works for all of them. I often make it when I buy a giant container of fresh spinach instead of using frozen.
This is one of my favorite recipes! I tweaked it using non-fat half and half and low fat cream cheese, but other than that it was perfect. My mother, who tasted it with her nose turned up, said it was one of my favorite pasta dishes! Thanks so much!!
I made this recipe as written, no substitutions. My kids were very skeptical as it was “green” and no meat. We loved it! This will definitely be put in to our dinner rotation. Thank you for another amazing recipe!
I needed a casserole dish for a parrot conference pot luck. I used this recipe as a backbone! I did not have ricotta, or fontina, or spinach. I boiled ziti, then blanched fresh broccoli, sautéed a large cubed chicken breast-stirred them in a pot and added 2 jars of alfredo sauce-poured it into an ungreased 13×9 glass dish and topped it with 2 cups of shredded mozzarella! Baked for 30 minutes and it was an enormous hit!! Even the parrots loved it!!
This is the greatest review in the history of online recipes!! Hahaha!!! I didn’t think the recipe was very good but I’m super happy that some parrots enjoyed a totally unrelated dish.
LOL…I love when people review a recipe by posting a completely different one.
I would make this over and over again. What a delicious dish. It was so creamy. There was leftovers of this dish and that didn’t last long. That’s when you know people really enjoyed it. Thanks again for another great recipe.
Words cannot convey how much I enjoyed this dish. It was incredible! I had gruyere, so I used it instead of fontina, so I’ll have to try the real recipe some day! Regardless, it was fantastic!
Can this dish be made the day/night before up until the baking? Any thoughts on this?
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. Hope you enjoy!
Tasty recipe & easy to make. Definitely a keeper for our dinner guests who are “Vegetarian” friendly. Thank you, as always…
Wonderful Recipe. Easy to make with an elegant result. We made roughly as directed but upped the cheese content. Everything is better with more cheese.
A nice easy recipe that we enjoyed but, for our palettes, needed a little bit more flavor. Possibly a stronger cheese to replace the Fontina… or maybe a more mature/better quality Fontina than I used (I opted for the less expensive of two that were available).
Hi there! Would it be okay to make this dish a day in advance? Thanks!
Sure, I’d assemble and refrigerate it and then bake right before serving. Enjoy!
I just wanted to to give one answer to the “can you freeze” question : I live alone but always cook full recipes and then freeze leftovers in individual portions – this freezes just fine. If you feel it is a bit dry, just add a little 1/2 & 1/2 when reheating.
This recipe is super tasty! It’s become a go-to and family favourite. I always add a bit of pesto to the sauce to give it some zing and I sauté mushrooms in butter to add in with the chicken. Yum!
Am I missing something? I couldn’t find chicken anywhere in the recipe, but the way you presented your post sounded like it was included. Went back to double check and still can’t find it.
Hi Joan, There is no chicken in this recipe. 🙂
This is a family favorite! Even my spinach-hating 7-year old gobbles this one down. If anything, I find the recipe a little bit soupy, so tend to add additional penne to balance things out, but this recipe is delicious, fast and popular, so is on regular rotation in our house.
Mine also came out quite dry unfortunately with company. Could not find Fontina so subbed in Havarti. May have overcooked by 5 minutes in order to achieve the “light brown” per instructions but I believe the recipe needs another cup of 1/2 and 1/2.
An excellent pasta dish! Everyone loved it!
An excellent pasta dish! So very yummy!
QUESTION: What would be the correct amount of dried basil to use, in place of the fresh? Would it mess up the recipe if I substituted dry basil?
Hi CJ, Unfortunately, dried basil won’t work here. Sorry!
Thank you so much for all of your incredible recipes!! We absolutely love every recipe of yours that we have tried!
I am planning to make this over the weekend, and I have only metal or Pyrex casserole dishes for baking. Would one of these options be okay to use?
Thank you so much!
Hi Christy, Thank you for your sweet note – I’m so happy you all are enjoying the recipes! I’d use your metal baking dish for this one to be on the safe side. While I’ve never had issues with baking Pyrex at high temperatures, I’ve heard some nightmare stories from readers. Please come back and lmk how it turns out :).
Thank you for the prompt reply, Jenn! This was absolutely delicious and turned out wonderfully in the metal pan. I covered it with tin foil for half of the time just in case, and it was perfect! We all went back for seconds! Thank you for another wonderful recipe!