I have been working on Pesto Baked Ziti at various times throughout the year. At first it was bland, then it was too soupy, but now it’s finally perfect. And, to my excitement, my husband agrees. There are four reasons why my husband typically wouldn’t be raving about this dish: 1) there’s no meat in it; 2) he’s not a huge fan of pesto; 3) he doesn’t like that a bag of pine nuts costs $12.99; and 4) he hates tomatoes.
Why do I bother to try to make a pesto bake that he likes? Because I happened to love homemade pesto so much that it almost makes me cry out of joy. Almost.
Oh my, this pesto looks good.
Pine nuts, parmesan cheese, + basil: the major flavors creating the rich flavor of pesto.
I didn’t know what heirloom tomatoes were until I went to the grocery store and a produce employee mentioned he was throwing out a bunch of heirloom tomatoes. From what he told me, an heirloom tomato is essentially a tomato with great genes! (Unfortunately, it also rots quickly, as I discovered, so use them fast.)
I hate throwing out spinach, which is a chronic problem of mine, so I used a solid 2 cups of packed spinach in this recipe. Delicious.
And my beloved pine nuts. Pine nuts are delicious. I use them in homemade granola bars, pastas, all kinds of things. As pricey as they are, I find them difficult to resist.
I made my homemade pesto over the weekend, and then tossed together the pasta bake on a work night.
Pasta bakes are great for experimentation and throwing in all types of veggies, nuts, and cheeses you might have hanging out in your kitchen.
- 4 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup Italian parsley
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- 1 cup pine nuts
- 1 1/2 cups shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/2 lemon, juiced (or 1tbsp fresh lemon juice)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
- salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 1 lb. ziti pasta (or any similarly shaped pasta)
- 1 cup chopped heirloom tomatoes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups packed spinach
- 1/2 cup pinenuts
- 1 cup of your homemade pesto, or more as desired
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup shredded Asiago cheese
- Place basil, Italian parsley, and garlic into a food processor, pulse several times to combine, scraping down sides as needed. Process until all are finely chopped, 1-2 minutes. If needed, for ease of processing, add a dash of olive oil (from your 1/2 cup used for the recipe).
- Add pine nuts to basil mixture; continue processing, scraping down sides as needed. Process until all is finely chopped, 1-2 minutes. If needed add a dash of olive oil (from your 1/2 cup used for the recipe).
- Add Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into mixture until all are finely ground.
- Mix lemon juice into mixture with the machine running; slowly drizzle olive oil into pesto in the running machine until incorporated and pesto is thoroughly combined. For this pasta, it's fine if the pesto is very thick. It will incorporated into the pasta and make it a bit runnier.
- Turn off machine and season pesto to taste with salt and black pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. While the water is boiling, prepare and measure your ingredients. Add the past to the water and cook according to package directions.
- While the pasta is cooking, take a skillet and heat 1tbsp olive oil on medium heat. Place 2 cups of packed spinach in the skillet, stirring and moving it around constantly, until the spinach is wilted. See my photo above if you're wondering what it should look like. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Once the pasta noodles are finished cooking, drain the pasta. Put the pasta in a large bowl to combine with all other ingredients. Mix in chopped tomato and pesto until thoroughly combined.
- Add pinenuts and wilted spinach. Mix until thoroughly and evenly combined. Add 1/4 cup of water to make mixture a bit more "saucy."
- If you want, you can add additional pesto, to your desired level of coating.
- Transfer your pasta mixture to a 9x13 baking dish and sprinkle with the Asiago cheese.
- Cover loosely with aluminum foil. I usually stick about three metal appetizer skewers in my pasta bakes to prop the aluminum foil up and prevent the cheese from sticking to the foil.
- Bake for 10 minutes. Then remove aluminum foil and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes until the cheese is melted.
- Use your left over pesto to make pesto grilled cheese sandwiches later in the week! The pesto will last in the fridge for 5-7 days. (Perhaps longer, I don't know...it's usually gone by then...)
Did I mention this pesto baked ziti is sans meat? Yes I did. But really, I am bringing that up again because if you are not vegetarian, you could always throw in a cup or two of chopped up baked chicken. Once again, I love pasta bakes because they can gracefully transform into any type of meal your little heart & stomach desire. <3