Baked Pasta with Spinach and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese is definitely a fan favorite in our house, although my kids prefer the kind made out of a box that sits on the shelf in the pantry.  Ok, yes, I have to admit, in a pinch it is not bad – but definitely not something I would choose to eat.  Mac-n-cheese is not just for kids though – you can definitely find it on the menu of trendy restaurants, but usually they have some fancy type of ingredient mixed in to make it “different” – like truffles – and yes, who wouldn’t fall in love with truffled macaroni and cheese?  Believe me, I have – and it is incredible.  The crazy thing, my daughter was the one that ordered it, and she couldn’t get enough – this was after she complained that she didn’t want truffles in her macaroni and cheese – she just wanted it plain.  I was actually hoping she didn’t like it – more for me!

Whenever I find a mac-n-cheese recipe in one of my many food magazines I read, unless it has seafood in it (because of my allergy), it automatically goes into the “make me” pile in the pantry.  I would say that I am batting at least a 500 when it comes to the “adult” versions with my kids.  I saw this recipe in Cooking Light, and even with the spinach, I decided I might have a chance.  The final product was not a home run with the kids – but after I ate their spinach – they at least ate the noodles, and loved the topping.  As for me – I loved it, the fresh lemon zest gave it a real unique flavor, and the spinach made it colorful as well as giving it a little extra nutritional value. It was a mild cheese sauce, which is probably why the kids did so well with it.  So, if you are not into mild sauces, make sure you use a fresh and potent parmesan.  But, if you are looking for a substitute for the box on the shelf, this is definitely a great option…


  • 10 ounce casarecce pasta or fusilli (short twisted spaghetti)
  • 1 (5-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups chopped onion
  • 1.1 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1/4 cup)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), divided


Preheat oven to 350°.

Cook pasta in boiling water for 8 minutes or until almost al dente, omitting salt and fat. Remove from heat; stir in spinach. Let stand for 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Drain pasta mixture well.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion; cook 15 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Add flour and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly with a whisk. Gradually add milk and wine; cook 8 minutes or until sauce boils and thickens, stirring constantly. Stir in 3/4 cup cheese, salt, and rind. Remove from heat; stir in pepper. Add pasta mixture to onion mixture, and toss gently to coat.

Spoon the pasta mixture into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle half of panko breadcrumbs over pasta, and top evenly with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Sprinkle the remaining half of panko breadcrumbs over cheese. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until browned and bubbly.

Serves 6

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Baked Pasta with Spinach and Cheese

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine