Yields: 10-12 servings Prep Time: 25 minutes Total Time: 1 hour
This dish brings together an all-time favorite of pasta and cheese, and adds an extra nutrient boost of iron, vitamins A and C with spinach and healthy fats with walnuts. Additionally, basil is a powerful herb, rich in antioxidants and the nutrients calcium, potassium, iron and vitamins A and C.
12 ounces uncooked whole wheat (or your choice, including gluten free) penne, rigatoni pasta
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella or Italian mix
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus 1/4 cup for topping
2 cups marinara sauce (or your favorite pasta sauce)
1 teaspoon olive oil for greasing pan
pesto *(see recipe below)
For the pesto*:
1/2 cup fresh spinach
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup walnuts
1 medium clove of garlic
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly oil a 9 x 13 glass dish, and set aside.
2. Cook pasta according to directions and set aside.
3. Combine ingredients for pesto in a food processor and process until blended.
4. When pasta is done, drain and pour into greased glass pan.
5. Combine 2 cups of marinara sauce with 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella, 1 cup Parmesan cheese and add in pesto. Mix well and combine into warm pasta in pan.
4. Coat pasta evenly with the sauté and top with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
5. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes, until top is slightly brown.
This is a great recipe for crowds as well, because it cooks up well and has a good depth of flavor. I’ve made it many times as a vegetarian option for entertaining. Kids also are big fans!
The walnuts are beneficial because of the healthy fats and great nutrients. Plus, it helps fill you up, whereas sometimes pasta can be hard to stop eating.
My kids rotate through their picky times, and just when I think I have a meal that pleases everyone, someone changes their mind – apparently just at 5 p.m. that evening. With the spinach pureed into the pesto, it eliminates the sometimes stringy texture of cooked spinach that can be off-putting to people – especially the younger diners. Putting spinach in the pasta helps the adults as well as the kids get an extra bit of vegetables. Sometimes, it is hard for me to get all my servings of veggies in a day, as time often seems to get away from me.
This meal hits all food groups (and you could add a ground meat if desired). However, the walnuts in the pesto also add a semi-meaty texture. Additionally, there is a lot of cheese, rich in protein and calcium. I prefer to use full fat dairy products, so again, this is a hearty pasta dish.
When I serve it with a salad, I get to finish my day with a few more servings of vegetables, and an overall satisfied feeling of having a healthy and nutrient-rich meal (which makes up for the extra chocolate I had earlier in the day!)
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*Updated April 23, 2016. Originally published April 19, 2015.