Pasta casseroles are traditionally cheesy and luxurious affairs. My mother-in-law's white lasagna, for instance, is a veritable festival of cream cheese and sour cream — a party dish if I ever saw one. But I think that pasta casseroles can also serve as weeknight suppers that will fill you up without weighing you down
Here's a pasta bake in that spirit: creamy but not too rich, stuffed with greens, satisfying and homey but still light. It even gives you one pan for dinner and another to freeze!
Pasta bakes like this one are a staple in my house. My husband loves them (and pasta in general) and they're so convenient as a make-ahead dinner and lunch. But I also know that pasta casseroles like this can get heavy fast, and while I love a saucy lasagna dish as much as the next girl, this one feels like a weeknight supper. It has a tangy sauce made with a quick white sauce, Parmesan, and yogurt, with a touch of lemon.
And it's freezable too, like really any cheesy pasta bake. You can either make this in one deep 9x13-inch pan, or divide it between two square 9x9 (or 8x8)-inch pans to make dinner for two plus a bonus meal to freeze.
And while I call for spinach here, get creative with early fall greens! Swiss chard, baby kale, even cooked collards could all work in this dish.
One to eat, one to freeze.
Chicken Pasta Bake with Spinach & Parmesan
1 pound pasta, such as fusilli
Coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound chicken breast, diced into 1-inch pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
10 ounces baby spinach, about 8 packed cups, roughly chopped
2 shallots, diced
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1/3 cup flour
2 cups 2% milk
1 cup nonfat yogurt
4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 lemon, zested
Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish, or two 9x9-inch baking dishes.
Heat a large pot of water to boiling. Salt generously. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. When it reaches al dente, drain.
While the pasta water is boiling and the pasta cooks, heat a deep sauté pan over high heat and add the olive oil. When it shimmers, add the chicken pieces and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 minutes, not moving the pieces and letting them brown, then stir and brown the other side. Add the chopped greens, letting handfuls wilt down first if necessary, and cook just until half wilted. Spread in the prepared baking dish (or divide between two dishes). Add the diced shallots and toss.
Wipe out the sauté pan and return to medium heat. Add the butter and melt. Whisk in the flour and cook for 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, whisking vigorously to avoid lumps. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt, 3/4 of the Parmesan cheese, and lemon zest. Add 1 teaspoon salt and a generous quantity of black pepper.
Toss the pasta with the chicken and spinach in the baking dish (or dishes), using a spoon or your hands to mix thoroughly. Pour the sauce over top and mix. Sprinkle the top with the remaining Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 25 minutes or until hot through and slightly browned on top.
To freeze one pan of this casserole, bake and then let cool completely. Cover tightly with a layer of plastic wrap and then foil. Freeze for up to 3 months.
To bake from frozen: Heat the oven to 400°F. Remove plastic wrap but cover again with foil. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until hot through, then uncover and bake for 15 minutes or until the top browns slightly.
To bake from the refrigerator: Thaw the pasta bake in the refrigerator overnight. Heat the oven to 400°F. Remove plastic wrap but cover again with foil. Bake for 30 minutes or until hot through, then uncover and bake for 15 minutes or until the top browns slightly.
(Image credits: Faith Durand)