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Pesto Rigatoni Pasta Bake with Ricotta Cheese

September 29, 2021
Shanika | Orchids + Sweet Tea
Creamy and herby Pesto Rigatoni Pasta Bake with Ricotta Cheese --The epitome of a delicious easy weeknight dinner that comes jam-packed with loads of cheesy umami-flavor and golden crispy texture!

Pesto Rigatoni Pasta Bake with Ricotta Cheese

Looking for an easy weeknight dinner? Look no further than this Pesto Rigatoni Pasta Bake with Ricotta Cheese. Packed with bold, savory flavors, this vegetarian pasta bake is a classic recipe that's perfect for the whole family. Savory homemade pesto, swirled with tangy ricotta cheese, and gooey melted parmesan. A simple yet satisfying, hassle-free meal that is perfect for busy evenings. Make ahead + Gluten-Free option.

Partially-served baking pan of Pesto Pasta with Ricotta next to bread

When fall weather comes, I'm always looking for recipes that bridge late-summer produce with comfort. This cheesy, herby pasta bake with pesto, ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan is perfect for that. It has the bright flavors of summer basil with a layered and hearty pasta dish. This is a perfect casserole to feed a crowd this fall.

I love pasta dishes, especially pasta bakes like this Spicy Pumpkin Pasta Bake or another favorite-- Meatless Baked Ziti. Honestly, they are the perfect lazy comfort food meal during the week or on weekends. Of course, you can always search weeknight meals on my site for more deliciousness.

If I had to sum up this dish in a few words, I'd call it a delightful explosion of flavors that's not only tasty + filling without meat but also super family-friendly. Think rich umami notes and comforting, velvety cheese wrapping you in a warm embrace. Works as a great make-ahead meal with a gluten-free option to suit everyone's needs!

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Pesto Pasta with Ricotta in a baking pan next to bread

How to Make Pesto Pasta Bake

You can use store-bought pesto for this recipe if you're short on time, but I highly recommend whipping up a quick batch of Homemade Pesto Saucede Pesto Sauce and you can always use the leftovers on other meals like a Healthy Pesto Buddha Bowl!

To put everything together, you'll toss your cooked rigatoni pasta with the pesto sauce and plenty of cheese in a baking dish, and bake until everything is gooey and warm, with a crisp crust on top.

Making Pesto Sauce

It's quick and easy to make pesto sauce and such a great way to use leftover basil.

I use a less traditional pesto recipe for this pasta bake. Since there's so much cheese in the casserole, you can omit it from the pesto. Here's what you need:

Ingredients

  • Greens. I like to bulk up the pesto with fresh spinach or kale. It adds flavor, nutrients and bright green color.
  • Basil. Use any kind of basil you like. If you want to supplement with other herbs, toss in some thyme, rosemary, oregano, or chives.
  • Walnuts. I like the soft texture and mild flavor of walnuts. You could also use the more traditional pine nuts or cashews. For nut-free pesto, use pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds.
  • Olive oil. This is essential for achieving the creamy, airy and light texture you're looking for.
  • Lemon juice. This helps keep the sauce bright green and vibrant.
  • Garlic. Don't hold back on the garlic--remember, you're flavoring a lot of pasta with this sauce!
Wooden spoon in a baking pan of Pesto Pasta with Ricotta

What Is A Pasta Bake?

Picture a pasta party in the oven – that's a pasta bake! It's like pasta's way of getting all cozy and flavorful in a baking dish. Imagine your favorite pasta in this case I used rigatoni mingling with tasty sauces like pesto, cheeses, and other goodies, all huddled together. The oven does its magic, turning it all golden and bubbly, creating a dish that's like a warm hug for your taste buds. This hearty and versatile dish is loved for its simplicity--It's comfort food at its finest, perfect for enjoying with your favorite people.

Assembling the Pesto Pasta Bake

When your pesto is done, you can assemble the baked pasta dish.

Here's what you need:

  • Pasta. I like rigatoni, but any short pasta shape works. Feel free to use gluten-free if necessary.
  • Parmesan. This adds salty, savory flavor.
  • Mozzarella. This cheese is an expert melter for the gooey, cheesy texture you're looking for.
  • Ricotta. I use part-skim, but any kind will work.
  • Tomato sauce. I use organic. Store-bought or homemade are both great!
Wooden spoon scooping from Pesto Pasta with Ricotta out of a baking dish

Why You'll LOVE This Pesto Pasta Ricotta Bake

  • Bold flavors that will tantalize your taste buds.
  • A hearty filling vegetarian dish.
  • Easy weeknight meal--Simple preparation + minimal ingredients
  • Versatile and customizable
  • crowd-pleasing combination that will have everyone coming back for seconds.
  • It’s absolutely delicious----creamy + velvety!

SECRET TO A CREAMY FILLING?

The ricotta mixture. Simple! In order to ensure that your filling for the pasta bake is smooth and creamy, you must ensure that your ricotta mixture is nice in velvety.

Since ricotta cheese usually comes out a bit thick, the trick to the ultimate creaminess is in mixing in a bit of the boiled pasta water. Yup. You’ve read right. A few Tbsps of boiled pasta water loosens things up nicely and creates a nice smooth texture.

Since we’re on the topic of pasta—-I figured that you would really love the following Vegetarian pasta dishes, Lemon Brown Butter PastaThe Best Vegan Meat Sauce + Gnocchi, Creamy Lemon Garlic Herb Kale Pasta, and my personal favorite Copycat Broccoli Mac + Cheese.

Wooden plate of bread and Pesto Pasta with Ricotta

Adding Protein to this Pesto Rigatoni Pasta Bake

If you'd like to add protein to this Pasta Bake, it's easy to do, regardless of your diet!

Plant-based protein options:

  • Crispy seared or baked tofu cubes
  • Crumbled stir-fried seitan
  • Crumble vegan bacon on top
  • Sautéed cauliflower florets or broccoli
  • Sautéed asparagus, Brussels sprouts, etc.

Non-vegan protein options:

If you want to skip the 'meatless' part of this dish feel free to add-

  • Chicken (breast sliced)
  • Shrimp
  • Lobster
  • Beef

SHOP MY FAVORITE BAKEWARE ITEMS AND ACCESSORIES FOR THIS PESTO PASTA BAKE

Here, I’ve curated a list of cooking + baking essentials that I use to achieve my favorite baked goods or cooked meals, especially with this Pesto Rigatoni Pasta Bake with Ricotta Cheese. Everything from my fave Dutch pot/oven, wooden spoons, immersion hand-blender, mixing bowls, and more. SEE THEM HERE!

Pesto Pasta on a wooden plate with bread and a fork

What Are Delicious Foods to Pair Vegetarian Pasta Bake With?

When it comes to serving this mouthwatering Pesto Rigatoni Pasta Bake with Ricotta Cheese, there are some options that will truly elevate your meal. First off, don't forget to have some crusty bread on hand. I love this homemade Vegan Garlic Herb Kale Bread or for double the pesto goodness try this Loaded Cheddar Pesto Zucchini Bread with Bacon. Trust me; you'll want to dip it into that luscious, saucy goodness. If you want a little freshness, serve it with a salad on the side, like this Roasted Cauliflower Green Goddess Salad or this Best Buffalo Chickpea Kale Salad. It's like a fresh burst of flavor that complements this easy weeknight dinner beautifully.

But here's the thing. This Pesto Rigatoni Pasta Bake is so darn amazing that you can honestly enjoy it all by itself. Seriously, the umami pesto sauce + luscious creamy ricotta —everything is just bursting with flavor. So, feel free to dig in and savor every single bite. It's a dish that stands tall on its own!

More Ways to Use Pesto

If you love pesto as much as I do, you might want to make a double batch. Here are some of my favorite ways to use leftover pesto:

Closeup of Cheesy Casserole

Rigatoni Pesto Pasta Bake Q + A's

How To Store Leftovers?

Any leftovers of this easy weeknight dinner can be kept in a tightly sealed container and refrigerated for up to 3-4 days. To reheat, simply heat in the oven for the best results or microwave for a minute or two until heated through. 

Can I Make This Ahead Of Time?

Yes! Cook your pasta and let it cool completely before storing in an air-tight refrigerator for 3-5 days. In a bowl, combine your ricotta and parmesan and place in an air-tight container to refrigerate overnight as well. make the pesto sauce and add it to an airtight container and refrigerate as well. On the day of, remove everything to room temp., about 10-15 minutes, and continue assembly STEPS.

Can I Make This Riccota Pasta Bake Gluten-free?

Yes, simply just swap out the Rigatoni pasta (or your pasta of choice) with Gluten-free pasta.

How do I an EXTRA crispy top in a Pesto Pasta Bake?

To achieve an extra crispy top, consider sprinkling the pasta mixture with a layer of breadcrumbs before baking. Alternatively, you can add a final layer of shredded cheese, which will melt and form a golden crust as the dish bakes.

Wooden spoon scooping casserole with Ricotta

More Satisfying Meatless Pasta Recipes

MADE OUR RECIPE(S)?

If you make this Pesto Pasta Bake or any other recipe from us, be sure to tag us on Instagram at #Orchidsandsweettea so that we can share the love!

Wooden spoon scooping from Pesto Pasta with Ricotta out of a baking dish

Pesto Rigatoni Pasta Bake with Ricotta Cheese

September 29, 2021
5 from 5 votes
Looking for an easy weeknight dinner? Look no further than this Pesto Rigatoni Pasta Bake with Ricotta Cheese. Packed with bold, savory flavors, this vegetarian pasta bake is a classic recipe that's perfect for the whole family. Savory homemade pesto, swirled with tangy ricotta cheese, and gooey melted parmesan. A simple yet satisfying, hassle-free meal that is perfect for busy evenings. Make ahead + Gluten-Free option.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6 servings

Ingredients

SIMPLE PESTO SAUCE:

  • 1 cup Homemade Pesto Sauce

PASTA BAKE:

  • 1 (16 oz.) package rigatoni pasta, organic  (You can also use ANY other pasta shape as desired)
  • 1 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil + 1 Tbsp
  • 1 (15 oz.) can organic tomato sauce
  • 4 cups ricotta cheese  (I use Part Skim; You can use regular if preferred)
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, organic 
  • 1 cup freshly-grated parmesan cheese
  • 2-3 Tbsps pasta water (See Notes for Instructions!)

Instructions

COOK THE PASTA:

  • Begin by cooking rigatoni pasta according to the directions of the packaging (about 8-10 minutes) and drain (leaving aside 2-3 Tbsps of pasta water for later).
  • Meanwhile, add ricotta cheese and a few Tbsps (2-3 at most) of pasta water and stir using a spatula until smooth. Fold in parmesan cheese and place it in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and lightly grease a standard 9x13 baking dish.

HOMEMADE PESTO SAUCE:

TO MAKE THE PASTA BAKE:

  • Add drained cooked pasta together with the pesto sauce and gently stir until everything is well incorporated.
  • Add a bit of the tomato sauce to the base of the baking dish and add pasta-pesto mixture and top with dollops of the ricotta cheese mixture. Then Sprinkle a nice layer of mozzarella cheese (1 cup) for extra cheesiness.
  • Top with remaining tomato sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese again.

BAKE EVERYTHING:

  • Loosely cover with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove foil paper and bake for another 5 minutes or so, until cheese has fully melted and browned slightly.
  • Remove from oven and serve with your favorite salad or bread.
  • Bon Appetit!

Tips & Tricks

  • STORAGE: Any leftovers can be kept in a tightly sealed container and refrigerated for up to 3-4 days.
  • BOILED PASTA WATER: Since ricotta cheese usually comes out a bit thick, the trick to the ultimate creaminess is in mixing in a bit of the boiled pasta water.
  • MAKE AHEAD: Cook your pasta and let it cool completely before storing in an air-tight refrigerator for 3-5 days. In a bowl, combine your ricotta and parmesan and place in an air tight container to refrigerate overnight as well. make the pesto sauce and add to an airtight container and refrigerate as well. On the day of, remove everything to room temp., about 10-15 minutes and continue assembly STEPS.

Nutrition

Calories: 757kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 39g | Fat: 63g | Saturated Fat: 26g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 12g | Monounsaturated Fat: 21g | Cholesterol: 142mg | Sodium: 1174mg | Potassium: 381mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 1938IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 805mg | Iron: 2mg

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Xx, Shanika in script writing

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