Thursday, November 21, 2013

Creamy Lemon Tortellini Spinach Bake

closeup of creamy pasta. 
This recipe is a family favorite for Husband Jeff and I.  I've made it several times over the years and love the entire concept.  You cook up packaged pasta, some bacon (this time I used ham), spinach, lemon and cheese to make a creamy casserole.  So good!  We're always happy it makes a lot so we can have leftovers. 


Our Best Bites tortellini spinach bake in creamy lemon sauce

One huge note - the Barilla pasta doesn't come in the 12oz size mentioned in the recipe, I think it's been pared down to only an 8 oz. package, but it's probably marked at the same price though!  I proceeded with it anyway.

For other substitutions, typically I use bacon in this, but this time I used a package of Budig ham lunch meat since I didn't have any of my pre-cooked bacon.  And I skipped the red pepper flakes since we were feeding this to a toddler.  I've never really noticed it to be spicy before, maybe I've always skipped it?  And I skipped the Parmesan cheese since I'm too lazy to get both mozzarella and parm out.  But I did add a can of quartered artichoke hearts because I like them.

You could easily make this without the meat for a vegetarian dish.  The meat is nice, but isn't required.

I use the zest and juice from a full lemon because I like a lot of lemon flavor.  Also, I have no idea what I would do with only a partial lemon.


  • 12 oz bag Barilla Cheese & Spinach Tortelini (find them in the dry pasta aisle)
  • 4 oz bacon or pancetta (about 4 strips bacon, or a package of Budig ham lunch meat)
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil, olive oil, or bacon drippings
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed in garlic press or finely minced
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 C milk -- I use almond milk
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry basil
  • 1 can quartered artichoke hearts
  • 1 medium lemon
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh spinach, roughly chopped (I just use part of a bag until it looks right)
  • ¾ cup grated mozzarella cheese


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  

Make the pasta according to the package.
boiling tortellini pasta.
Meanwhile, get out a large skillet with tall sides or a large pot because you're going to be putting all of the ingredients together in it at the end.

In that large cooking vessel, cook the bacon or ham over medium heat until browned.  I wouldn't have minded two packages of ham since it's so thin. Remove the meat from the pan.
Tiny shreds of ham. 
If you're using bacon and have any grease left over, reserve only about 1 teaspoon to cook the garlic and get rid of the rest.  Chop the meat.  If you aren't cooking fatty, delicious bacon or don't have any leftover grease, add 1 teaspoon of oil and saute the garlic for 1 minute.

After the garlic has cooked for 1 minute, add the flour and slowly incorporate the milk by adding only a tiny bit at a time.  Be sure to stir a lot to ensure there are no lumps now because they will be harder to attack later when there's more milk.  Add the salt, pepper, and basil and bring it to a simmer.

Then carefully zest/Microplane your lemon directly into your pan of cooking sauce to ensure you get every last tangy bit.  I was afraid I'd drop the lemon right into the sauce!  And then cut your lemon in half and juice it and pour into the sauce as well.  Continue to stir and simmer until thickened, about 2-3 more minutes.

When your pasta is done, drain it and add it to the pot along with the chopped spinach, chopped/diced meat, and shredded cheese. 
pasta, spinach, sauce, and cheese. 
Pour everything into an 8x8 or 9x9 baking dish and cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes until everything is hot and bubbly. 
baked casserole.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.


Creamy, cheesy, and comforting with a good punch of lemon.

Sonny D only ate the pasta part, but that's to be expected from a toddler.   Husband Jeff and I totally chowed down on this for a couple meals and loved every bite.

I think you could remove the lemon and easily add other veggies, like a California blend of cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli would be nice.  Or add swiss cheese and mushrooms if you can get your family to eat them.  Maybe roasted sweet potato chunks and Brussels sprouts with goat cheese or feta.  Or instead of bacon add a couple cans of tuna and add peas and asparagus. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!