People are always asking us how we come up with recipes, and also what we cook when we don’t really have a plan, or we’re short on time. We’ll be the first to admit that we’re not above drive-throughs, cold cereal, and frozen meals. But sometimes you just want a good, hearty, home-cooked meal. This is a great example of a really good dinner, that was created by simple ingredients I already had around my kitchen. I’ve said over and over that the trick to being able to whip up quick, yet delicious meals in a pinch is keeping a well-stocked pantry. One of the things I always have around is dried pasta, in all shapes and sizes. I love quick cooking tortellini that can be a great base to so many quick dinners- and there’s something fun about little pouches of cheese! I also almost always have a giant package of fresh spinach from Costco in my fridge, and it’s so cheap that I don’t hesitate buying it in such large quantities. After a week or so I’m always looking for ways to use it up quick before it goes bad.
This is an awesome little pasta bake and the great thing is that it looks fancy and tastes decadent, but it’s super simple to throw together (shhh…no one has to know!) And although it’s rich and creamy and cheesy, it’s also fairly healthy. I love dinners that I can throw together during my baby’s nap-time and pop in the fridge to have ready at dinner time when things get crazy.
Obviously you’ll need tortellini! You can find dried tortellini in the regular pasta aisle- a great thing to have in your pantry.
You don’t need to have any jarred sauce on hand for this dish- the sauce is SO good and you’ll be amazed how quick and easy it is. Start by cooking up a few strips of bacon (or pancetta would be great too) until crisp. It only takes a little bit for good flavor throughout the dish.
After you take the bacon out of the pan, you’re going to make a simple roux– but instead of butter, we’ll take advantage of the fat we’ve already got right there in the pan! You’ll just use a little bit, and discard the rest of the grease. I usually just take a wad of paper towels and soak it right up and toss it in the trash. (Or save it in a jar if you’re a save-the-bacon-grease type of person)
In the little bit of bacon grease in the pan, toss in some minced garlic. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again- the smell of fresh garlic sauteing in bacon drippings is one of the most intoxicating smells in the world. Glade needs to market that one. Add a little flour and a little milk (non-fat is fine) and you’ve got yourself a base to a nice creamy sauce.
We’ll flavor it up with salt and pepper of course, a little basil, and then some fresh lemon zest, lemon juice, and some red pepper flakes. The lemon is so bright and so fresh, it adds the perfect flavor to this creamy, savory dish. And with the red pepper flakes, you can add just a little, for flavor and no heat- or a lot, for flavor and a nice kick. Up to you. It’s like a choose your own adventure book (remember those??) I added 1/4 teaspoon and it wasn’t spicy at all. Really. I promise.
By now those tortellini are done cooking (they only take about 10 minutes) so drain those and then place them back in the pot they came out of.
When our recipes call for “loosely packed spinach” this is what we mean. Just set the spinach in the measuring cup gently and don’t pack it down.
And when we say “roughly chopped” it just looks like this- no need to be meticulous, just run a knife through it real quick.
The tortellini is back in the pot and now we’ll toss in the spinach and the bacon (I reserve about 1 tablespoon of the bacon to put on top at the end)
We’ll also add a little cheese, both Parmesan and Mozarella, for flavor and creamy-melty-cheesy-goodness. If you wanted to bulk up the meal and add some protein, some chopped grilled chicken would be fantastic ion there too!
Stir in the sauce and pop it all in a baking dish with a little more cheese and bacon on top. At this point it can be covered in foil and go in the fridge for later, or right into the oven.
It bakes up in 20-30 minutes, and while it’s in the hot oven the flavors have a party and come out tasting even better than when they started. Amazing how that happens!
Serve it as a one dish dinner with a piece of crusty french bread on the side, or as a side to chicken or steak. Makes a great addition to a pot-luck too. With the fun tortellini and the yummy cheesy sauce, my kids said NOTHING about the fact that there was spinach in there. Plus one for team Mom!
Tortellini Spinach Bake in Creamy Lemon Sauce
Recipe by Our Best Bites
12 oz bag Barilla Cheese & Spinach Tortelini (find them in the dry pasta aisle)
4 oz bacon or pancetta, (about 4 strips bacon)*
3 cloves garlic, pressed in garlic press or finely minced
2 Tbs flour
2 C milk
¾ tsp kosher salt
⅛ tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp dry basil
¼ tsp red pepper flakes (1/2 tsp or more if you like spicy)
1 medium lemon
2 C loosely packed fresh spinach, roughly chopped
¾ C grated mozzarella cheese, divided
¾ C grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill a large stock pot with water and bring to a boil. Add tortellini and cook according to package instructions.
Place bacon in a medium sized skillet on the stove-top at medium-high heat. Cook until crisp. Remove bacon from pan with slotted spoon and set on paper towels to drain. Reserve two tablespoons bacon drippings in pan and discard the rest. Add garlic to pan and cook until fragrant and tender, about 1 minute. Add flour to pan and stir with a whisk for about 1 minute. Slowly add milk and continue to stir with whisk until smooth. Add salt, pepper, basil, and red pepper flakes and bring sauce to a simmer.
While sauce is heating, use a microplane grater or a fine-holed cheese grater to zest lemon. Then cut lemon in half and remove juice. Add 2 teaspoons zest and 1 tablespoon lemon juice to sauce. (Note: I really love lemon so I added this to my tastes. If you don’t want as strong of a lemon flavor, I suggest cutting it down to 1 teaspoon zest and 2 teaspoons lemon juice) . Continue to stir until thickened, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Drain tortellini and place back in stock pot. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the cooked bacon and add the rest to the pasta mixture. Add spinach, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Add sauce and gently stir to combine. Place pasta mixture in an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish and top with remaining 1/4 cup mozarella and 1/4 cup parmesan and also crumbled bacon.
Cover pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, until cheese on top is melted and pasta is bubbly throughout. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes before serving.
* For a vegetarian meal, omit bacon.
Just finished this for dinner – so tasty! I used frozen chopped spinach and it worked fine, although my 6-yr-old would have preferred fresh. 🙂 I’m thinking about trying it with some roasted red peppers in the sauce, rather than the lemon (not that it needs replacing – I loved the unexpected lift it gave to the flavor) just since it reminded me of my favorite lasagna recipe. Thanks!
Ang, I *almost* put roasted red peppers in there too. I sat there staring at the jar forever trying to decide! Lol It would taste great!
I should not read your blog when I’m hungry, trying figure to figure out what to make for dinner, and without ingredients.
I just have to say that I check out your blog on a regular basis and I am a HUGE fan. All of the recipes I have attempted have turned out great and I look forward to your newest entries. I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of your book at Chapters – will they be carrying it at any point soon? Can’t wait to try this latest recipe out! Looks yummy:)
Thanks Jacqueline! I’m not sure if Chapters will be carrying it (that’s in Canada, right?) but I’ll run it by our publisher!
I made this tonight, and it was FANTASTIC! My husband and I both loved it, and throughout the meal, all we talked about was how delish it was!!!
This is my first post I’m leaving on your site. I have made several recipes and they have all been a big hit. I made this tonight for dinner and everyone loved it. My pickiest eater kept telling me how much he loved it. We don’t normally eat bacon so I subbed in turkey bacon. Thanks for the great recipes.
This looks WONDERFUL – I love that it doesn’t use heavy cream, too!
Made this for dinner tonight. Super yummy!!! I used spinach cheese tortellini from Aldi’s and an Italian cheese blend. Turned out wonderful! And I am not big on casseroles, but this not only tastes great, the presentation is nice too!
This looks so delicious! Bacon always makes things better.
Can this recipe be frozen? I do a freezer meal exchange and I’m always looking for new recipes. It looks fabulous!
Not sure Gwen- I just created it so I haven’t had a chance to test out the freezer!
I guess I’ll test it on my family first. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Gwen have you tried to freeze it yet?
I have some frozen little purses that are filled with brie & roasted garlic, I’d love to try using this recipe but I’m not sure if they should just be thawed or cooked in water first…any thought’s ????
I would cook them first Susie, they sound yummy!
Thanks……..you guy’s are such a wonderful source of info !!
Are we off the diets?? uggghhhhh… I HAVE NO WILL POWER PEOPLE!!
Looks delicious. I might have to make for dinner this week. Thanks!
Thank you for coming up with my dinner tonight. Really appreciate that. 🙂 I was getting a little worried.. But you pulled through as usual.
Any time girl, that’s what we’re here for 😉
This pasta sounds wonderful and is the exact kind of dish I through together when I don’t have a clue what to cook. Thanks for sharing.
This looks yummy….would thawed-out frozen spinach work instead of fresh? Fresh spinach goes bad on me before I have a chance to use it so I usually just buy frozen (that and my husband is picky with veggies…yet my toddler loves spinach. Go figure!). I guess I’d have to use a smaller amount since the frozen spinach is so tightly packed? What do you think? :o)
Yes Anne- that would work just fine! Just squeeze out all of the liquid of course. Honestly, you could probably add the whole box- I would just give it all a rough chop first. And just eyeball it if you don’t want so much in there.
That’s what I figured…thanks!
Lemon? Spinach? Bacon? I’m down!
That is just beautiful! I love those kind of wonderful dinners and my kiddos will gobble it right up! Thanks so much for sharing your talents with all of us!
This looks so good! I need to add fresh spinach to my regular grocery list because there are recipes like this one I can use it for – it’s just not something I normally have on hand. And I think my little boy would eat this because he loves the spinach/cheese ravioli you can get at Costco. 🙂
Follow-up: Made this for dinner last night and it was a hit! I originally was just going to half the recipe because there is only three of us, but then that didn’t seem like very much so I went ahead and did the whole recipe. My husband is not a big fan of white/creamy sauces (other than for homemade mac-n-cheese) and he ate two helpings AND took the leftovers for lunch. My four-year-old turns his nose up at anything new and he ate ALL of his!! My only thought was the lemon was just a little too strong for my liking, but not enough to deter me from finishing it. I think this will become a regular on our dinner menu. 🙂
This looks fabulous. Unfortunately my hubby wont eat tortellini. It goes back to an experience when he was younger and ate them while he was sick. Maybe I could try this with some raviolis…
Um… what temperature do I bake this at? I am super excited to try this asap!!
Darn I was about to pick up some cheese tortellini the other day at the store but didn’t. Guess I’ll have to make another trip to the store so I can make this!
PS Oh how I wish you were going to be doing some signings in Texas (it IS right next to Louisiana! Wink. Wink.)
Yeah! i have extra Tortellini left from when I made the Tortellini soup on your website. This will be perfect for using it up. Thanks!
This looks and sounds easy and delicious. A perfect combination with a new baby about to arrive. I’ll have to make sure I have these ingredients in my pantry and fridge. By the way, I just got your cookbook and I’m so excited! I love how there are pictures of every single recipe. Mmmmm…
What are the chances? I have ALL of these ingredients! Forget my menu plan, I’m making THIS for dinner!
This sounds so good! We love tortellini and anything with lemon, can’t wait to try this.
wahoo! southeast Idaho! I’m excited.
This looks wonderful! I can’t wait to make it for a light summer dinner.
Are you kidding me?! I just looked in my fridge at my huge package of spinach and my tortellini and thought, “What am I going to do with these?” We’re so eating this for dinner. Thanks!
Yessss. I’ve been practicing my mind-reading capabilities, looks like they’re working! 😉
Same here! I had spinach, milk, bacon, and cheese to use up before traveling for the holidays, plus a package of tortellini with an expiration date of 12/24. This is dinner (and lunch tomorrow).
Ummmm….YUM! This looks FABULOUS! And, as a side note…I hosted Easter brunch yesterday for both my family and my husband’s, and every item I made was out of your cookbook. I got SOOOOO many compliments!! Blog followers, if you don’t yet have this cookbook, go get it today!
Woo Hoo! Glad is was such a success!
Once upon a time I thought I’d be clever and keep the bacon grease in a can under my sink until I opened it one day and smelled it. It, in NO way, smells like delicious frying bacon. It was bad enough to kibosh the idea and use the grease only if it’s fresh from the pan. Hats off to people who can handle the smell…and the new wardrobe required if cooking with bacon grease all the time.
Oh, and a big fat mmmmmmm on this recipe. I like.
I keep mine in the fridge. Bacon grease gets nasty if kept at room temp IMO.
I do what my mom always did – Keep bacon grease in a coffee mug in the door of the fridge – and when done cooking bacon, it gets poured directly into the mug. If it happens to be full, the grease gets disposed of. Then, whenever you would use a little butter or margarine in cooking, say to grease a pan before sauteing, instead we use the grease. 99% of the time you don’t even taste the bacon – I just don’t recommend using it in any type of baking… unless you’re going for the hint ‘o bacon flavour!