Italian Pasta Bake

Ground turkey, pesto, pasta and cheese baked into one glorious Italian Pasta Bake. Easy, light and healthy, oh and delicious too!

The other day, while freeing up some space on my computer, I stumbled on a folder labeled “000”. I wasn’t sure what the heck it was, so I opened it. Pow! I saw these pictures. PAST-AH! I made this back in March, yes with my old lens,  just before I had the flu.

All of a sudden it all came rushing back to me in some sort of distorted flashback…

This pasta. American Idol. The flu. Postponing my Dad’s birthday dinner. Ahhh yes. No wonder why these pictures didn’t make it on here, I remember!! I was sick! Apparently with a side of temporary amnesia because it’s only been like 6 months. Who does that? Who forgets a recipe? Me apparently.

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My sister Christine emailed me this recipe forever and ever ago. Telling me to “Make it! It’s delicious!”… and she was right! I remember loving the combination of the fire roasted tomatoes with the pesto and the copious amounts of… *sigh* cheese. I believe she got this recipe from someone, who got it from someone and it may have been in a magazine or something, not sure. But who ever thought this little ditty up… me and my family thank you.

It’s awesome.

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This dish is simple and quick to prepare. It makes for a soul warming weekday meal and would even be great to make ahead of time and then just pop in the oven when you’re ready to eat!

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To a pot of salted boiling water, add the pasta and cook just short of al dente. I usually stop mine two minutes before the recommended time when I plan to finish baking the pasta in the oven. Then grate a cup and a half of the Asiago cheese… or more to taste. Have you ever heard anyone complain about pasta being too cheesy? Not this girl.

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Then just mince up the garlic and cook it up with the ground turkey over medium heat in a little olive oil.

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Add in the entire can of fire-roasted tomatoes. If you can’t find the diced variety then go for the fire-roasted tomato sauce. As long as it’s tomato and fire roasted, you should be golden.

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Ground turkey is a not-so-pretty grey once it’s cooked, so I quickly mix the tomato sauce into it so my eyes don’t suffer. Ahhh. I feel so much better.

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Add in all the baby spinach. Reduce heat a tad and place a lid over top. Let the steam wilt and cook the leaves for a couple minutes.

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Meanwhile reserve a cup of the pasta liquids, then drain the pasta and return it to the pan.

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Add the cup of pesto, homemade or jarred… who cares? it’s PESTO!

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Then add a cup of the Asaigo cheese.

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Stir. I could so totally eat this right here and now… but it gets soooo much better, just you wait!

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Now the spinach should be bright green and tender.

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Add the pesto pasta {say that three times} to the tomato and turkey mixture. Give it a toss until everything is well mixed. Here is where you can add a little of the pasta sauce if you think the sauce needs to be thinned out a little. Your call.

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Pour the mixture into a large lightly {olive} oiled baking dish and sprinkle with more cheese. Confession: So I have this thing, where I can’t just leave a recipe alone. I always change, add or delete something. I’m not sure why I do this… but admitting has to be the first step, right?

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For this recipe; I couldn’t resist grabbing some panko and sprinkling a cup of it over top and liberally drizzling it with more olive oil. That step is not necessary, but I do like the added texture the panko gives. Bake in a 375 degree oven until the top is golden about 15-20 minutes {could be a little longer… I forgot… amnesia remember??}

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This is such a hearty pasta dish! I would so serve this with a bottle of wine and some garlic knots. Maybe some candle light and a little Frank Sinatra. Oh yes yes!

As Ina Garten would say… “How good is that?” 🙂 Now make this as soon as possible… because, like me, you can’t say no to pasta?!

Do it.

Enjoy! And if you give this Italian Pasta Bake recipe a try, let me know by snapping a photo and tagging me on twitter or instagram!

Italian Pasta Bake l

My cookbook Simply Scratch : 120 Wholesome Homemade Recipes Made Easy is now available! CLICK HERE for details and THANK YOU in advance! 


Italian Pasta Bake

Ground turkey, pesto, pasta and cheese baked into one glorious Italian Pasta Bake. Easy, light and healthy, oh and delicious too!

Yield: 6-8 servings

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes

Total Time: about 40 to 45 minutes


1 (16 ounce) box dried cavatappi pasta

2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

1 pound ground turkey

1 (15 ounce) can fire roasted tomato sauce

1 cup basil pesto

1 bag fresh baby spinach

1-1/2 cups freshly grated Asiago cheese, divided

1 cup panko breadcrumbs (optional)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and season generously with kosher salt. Add pasta and cook to just shy of al dente. Reserve a cup of pasta water.

Meanwhile in a deep 10-inch skillet, over medium heat sauté garlic in olive oil. Add the ground turkey, use a spatula to break it up and cook until the turkey is no longer pink and is fully cooked, about 8 minutes.

Next add the tomatoes, pesto, 1/2 cup of cheese and stir.

Place the baby spinach on top of the simmering tomato and turkey mixture; reduce heat to low and cover to cook the spinach about 2-3 minutes.

Next, add the cooked and drained pasta to the tomato mixture and toss. If desired add a little of the pasta water to thin out the sauce.

Sprinkle with remaining cheese, panko bread crumbs and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until the top is golden, about 20-25 minutes. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

NOTE: feel free to omit the panko crumbs if desired

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41 Responses to “Italian Pasta Bake”

  1. #
    Kate Elizabeth — September 13, 2011 at 11:40 am

    This looks divine and totally my kind of dish!

    It's definitely going in my cookbook!

  2. #
    Blog is the New Black — September 13, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Oh my! One of those recipes that I look at circa 8 AM and think… is it wrong to want this for breakfast?!

  3. #
    Laurie @simplyscratch — September 13, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Oh good! You'll love it!

  4. #
    Chris @ TheKeenanCookBook — September 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    This looks so good! Going to try this soon, I've been in the mood for a hearty pasta dish. So glad I found you on Twitter. =D

  5. #
    Laurie @simplyscratch — September 13, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks Chris! Me too! 🙂

  6. #
    Pretend Chef — September 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Perfect dinner idea for tonight. This looks so delicious. I can't wait to give this a try.

  7. #
    Curt — September 13, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    That looks so good. And so healthy too!

  8. #
    Bev Weidner — September 13, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    This is so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so (I'll wrap this up, I swear) so, so, so SO my type of meal. inlove.

  9. #
    Wanna Be A Country Cleaver — September 13, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Um, I think I need to make me some of THAT!! Especially now that my second growing of Spinach is finally making an appearance! Yum!

  10. #
    bsweetdreaming — September 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Yum this is totally being saved into my evernote! I love your blog!

  11. #
    kellie2vs — September 13, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Oh, I will be making this! Yummy!!

  12. #
    Aarthi — September 13, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    I have been hunting for good pasta dishes always…And glad i found this…I love spinach…And i am happy that you added that with the pasta…YUM YUM…

    Thanks for the recipe…

  13. #
    Haley @ The Girly Girl Cooks — September 13, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    YUM! I love how simple it is! This is on my "to make" list (like most of your recipes are!).

  14. #
    Amy — September 13, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Seriously, I want to run out of work right now and make this. It looks so good, and easy!

  15. #
    Stephanie @ Eat. Drink. Love. — September 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    This looks SO good! I love pasta dishes where you can just throw everything into a baking dish and it comes out all hot and gooey and delicious!

  16. #
    Liz @ Southern Charm — September 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    There is something about pasta bakes that make me go weak … they are so warm. Loveee. Can't wait to try this out!

  17. #
    Lauren's Latest — September 13, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    LOVE pasta in the fall and winter! What lens did you use before, and what lens do you use now? I'm intrigued…

  18. #
    Courtney — September 13, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    just looking at the title of this in my google reader got a star!! yummy!

  19. #
    Laura Jeanne — September 13, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Oh My Wow does this look good. Each picture just gets better than the next, I love it.
    Laura @ A Healthy Jalapeño

  20. #
    Erin — September 13, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Comforting, and delicious! And you get to sneak spinach in! That is about the only way my family will eat veggies!

  21. #
    Laurie @simplyscratch — September 13, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Oh-me-oh-my! So glad you all like this recipe!

    Lauren I was using a 55mm lens, now I use a 35 {love it!} 🙂

  22. #
    Sandra — September 14, 2011 at 1:11 am

    So happy you found this one!

  23. #
    Lizzy — September 14, 2011 at 1:17 am

    Pesto, pasta, spinach, cheese??? Oh, yeah, this is fabulous!!!

  24. #
    Kim Bee — September 14, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    This looks so good. I love pasta bakes. This is a winner.

  25. #
    Healthy Mamma — September 14, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    This sounds fantastic! I think I'll add some eggplant.

  26. #
    RavieNomNoms — September 14, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    This looks like a fantastic pasta! Perfectly satisfying!

  27. #
    Malli — September 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Looks like some awesome comfort food!!!Yummy

  28. #
    Anonymous — September 14, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    I just finished making this…it's DELICIOUS! This went right into my recipe book! Thank you!..BTW- I've allready made a few of your recipes & ALL are wonderful! This is my new favorite website!

  29. #
    Jennifer — September 14, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    I made this last night and it was awesome! It was simple and made so much food! My husband and I look forward to a couple nights of leftovers, yum!

  30. #
    Sabrina-eat.drink.and be merry. — September 15, 2011 at 1:58 am

    making this for dinner tomorrow!!! honestly I love the healthy ingredients here! spinach and turkey!! and the pesto and asaigo cheese make this really something! can't wait for dinner tomorrow!

  31. #
    kita — September 15, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    You said back with your old lends – I know I should know this but what lens are you using now? I am thinking of picking a new one up soon.

    This pasta bake totally looks like something I could have a fat kid moment with. 😀

  32. #
    Lindsey — September 17, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Hi! I never comment even though I read your blog almost daily. I made this pasta dish last night and it was SOOOO GOOOD!! I swapped the ground turkey for turkey sausages and it was equally as tasty. I'm so excited for the leftovers today!

  33. #
    skeletaldropkick — September 19, 2011 at 4:16 am

    My son (13 years old) just made this for our dinner. We are vegetarians, so we used a soy protein crumble instead of the beef. It was soooo good and my son was so proud to have made an awesome dinner all by himself. Thank you for the great recipe : D

  34. #
    Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum — September 19, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    This looks so good! Love the design of your site, too.

  35. #
    LBC — September 20, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    This was super! I did add about a cup of leftover marinara sauce that I had to cover up some of the green so my kids would be more apt to eat it. 🙂 And eat it they did! This made a TON, so I shared some with a friend and now we're all happily full of great pasta!

  36. #
    Tessa — September 25, 2011 at 12:29 am

    Found this from your lunch post. Looks so good!

  37. #
    Christy — January 4, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    Just made this Monday evening and it was amazing. Great leftovers, my husband is firefighter and had leftovers at work, heated up and told me from work how great it was.
    Very flavorful and not heavy, used my homemade pesto from summer/Wisconsin basil crop from my freezer. This will be a truly go to recipe for family get togethers-Thanks for a great recipe.

  38. #
    dvaaunaturel — January 16, 2012 at 1:56 am

    Another hot! Laurie, you are the WOMAN! I love this recipe. Made it yesterday and had it tonight for dinner. In love for sure. It was so good. Very somple and easy to make too.

  39. #
    Chuck — August 18, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Spinach is so absolutely nutritious, however, with Italian, go for the gusto and substitute fresh Basil !! Or mix it 50/50. Im making this dish tonight !!!

  40. #
    Jen P. — November 2, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Wow…another hit in my house!! I see this was from back in 2011, but I just tried it last night for dinner. SO good, SO easy, and VERY forgiving. I actually substituted some leftovers I had — Classico pasta sauce instead of tomato sauce (added some crushed red pepper for some kick), sliced Aidell’s chicken sausage links, and a combo of mozzarella and parmesan cheese — but it all came together wonderfully. It was really savory, and perfect for a cool fall evening! And you’re right — that pasta, pesto, and cheese mixture was fabulous all on its own…LOL… 😉 Thanks for all the yummy recipes Laurie!

  41. #
    Darcey Hall — January 19, 2015 at 12:30 am

    Thank you for the recipe. I had to make three edits based on my available ingredients, and it still turned out awesome!
    –I used Bowtie pasta instead of Cavatappi Pasta.
    –I squirted Sriracha sauce in with Tomato, Galic & Basil tomato sauce, since I didn’t have fire-roasted tomatos. (I may have squited in too much Sriracha sauce, but it was still delicious. My boyfriend said it reminded him of Indian food.)
    –I didn’t have any spinach available.

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