After each of my babies was born, my friend Caitlin brought me a variation of this dish. As a result, this is a dish that reminds me of being loved and cared for. I remember every one of the meals that was brought to me when I had a newborn; the thoughtful gesture of bringing a new mother a meal makes such an impact. My first daughter was born two weeks early and I was not prepared for her arrival. If it weren’t for the care of friends, I might have subsisted solely on frozen pizza and our weekly raw goat milk allotment during my first few weeks of motherhood! Eating something homemade and fresh is really a highlight during those first days with a new one.

This particular dish is hearty and varied, with all kinds of goodness. Is there anything that smells better than mushrooms, onions, and garlic, sautéing all together? I love the juicy plumpness of the quartered baby bellas, with the green richness of the spinach, unified by sweet and tangy tomatoes. Generous portions of cheese and butter, with a crispy topping, make it an especially delightful meal.

This can be made with chicken or without, to keep it vegetarian. Also, this recipe makes a generous amount of food, but the leftovers reheat well. I actually set a portion aside, once it was assembled, and didn’t bake it, so that I can bake it fresh later in the week.

Strozzapreti Pasta Bake

Adapted from Spicy Baked Macaroni by Giada De Laurentiis

Yield: 8-10 servings


  • ½-1 pound chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (optional)
  • 1 pound Strozzapreti pasta or pasta of choice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 12 ounce block mozzarella cheese, cubed
  • 6 ounce package finely grated Mexican cheese, or melting cheese of your choice
  • ½ cup bread crumbs (I used Original Panko)
  • ¼ cup finely grated fresh Parmesan
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes


  1. If including chicken, preheat oven to 450°F. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Rub with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook on foil for 10 minutes on each side. Allow to cool. Shred into manageable pieces.
  2. Reduce oven heat to 350°F. Bring a large pot of well–salted water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente, 8-10 minutes. Drain.
  3. Butter a large baking dish and set aside.
  4. Sauté mushrooms, onions, and garlic in olive oil, until onions are soft and golden. Stir in tomatoes, spinach and nutmeg and cook until heated through.
  5. In a small bowl, mix together Parmesan and bread crumbs.
  6. In the pasta pot or a large bowl, combine the pasta, vegetables, cubed mozzarella and chicken. Transfer into the baking dish.
  7. Top with Mexican cheese blend. Then top with the Parmesan and bread crumbs. Dot generously with butter.
  8. Bake at 350°F until top is golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, as desired.

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