In my house growing up, it was a tradition to have pasta on Sundays. My mom is Italian and I think she always saw it as a relaxing alternative to some of the more labor intensive meals that she cooked.
Consequently I've had a lot of tortellini in my life. The kind dredged in marinara sauce and topped with a little sprinkling of parmesan cheese. And I totally loved it—and still do. But when I came across this fresh take on the cute little pasta purses that I thought I knew so well, I had to try it. And once I did, I was sold! I have made it several times for company and it has made its way into the regular dinner rotation at the Nielsen house!
It really is such an interesting combination—spinach, bacon, pasta and a lemony cream sauce. Do not fear the lemon, you only end up tasting a hint of it. And that hint is marvelous.
I love that this dish makes a creamy and amazing sauce without having to rely on jarred Alfredo sauce. (Yuck. I haven't found one that I liked yet.)
To make this, you will need tortellini. I prefer the cheese—and even better if it has some spinach or other goodies mixed in! It's definitely in your local grocery store, either shelved or frozen. You will need about 12 ounces of it.
Cheesy Tortellini Bacon Bake
Adapted from Our Best Bites
Adapted from Our Best Bites
- 12 ounce bag cheese tortellini
- 4-8 strips bacon
- 3 cloves garlic (pressed or finely minced)
- 2 TBSP flour
- 2 Cups milk (can be skim)¾ tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp pepper (freshly ground if you have it)
- 1 ½ tsp dry basil
- ¼- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 medium lemon
- 2 Cups loosely packed fresh spinach, roughly chopped
- 1 Cup grated part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided (please no pre-shredded bags!)
- ¾ Cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Start by filling a large stock pot with water, throwing in a little salt and bringing it to a boil. Cook the tortellini according to the package instructions. This is also a great time to grate your mozzarella cheese.
Cook your bacon in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. You want it pretty crisp. Remove bacon from pan and place on paper towels to drain. Resist the impulse to discard the grease! You need it to make your creamy delicious sauce.
Ok, you can discard some of it. But make sure that you leave about 2 or 3 tablespoons in the pan. Turn your heat down to low to medium at this point. You don't want to burn your teeny weeny garlic pieces because it will create a very unpleasant taste in your sauce. That said, don't be alarmed if your garlic gets brown—you just don't want to burn it to a crisp.
As a side note, today was the first day I used my new garlic press and I think i'm in love. So much less torturous than mincing. I despise mincing. Mine was $3 at Ikea and well worth it.
Moving on, saute your garlic until tender and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add your flour and whisk about a minute. Your mixture will look gummy and weird. Slowly add milk and whisk constantly until smooth. Then throw in your spices—the basil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. It should start looking smooth and beautiful at this point. Bring your sauce to a simmer.
While you're waiting for the simmering to begin, grab your bright, beautiful lemon and use a microplane grater or a small cheese grater to zest it. If you haven't zested much in your life, I highly recommend it. This step cannot be skipped! Add two teaspoons of zest and one tablespoon of lemon juice to the sauce. Stir it until thickened, about three minutes. Remove the sauce from heat.
Your tortellini should be cooked by now. Drain it in a colander and place it back in the pot. Crumbled your bacon and place in the pot with the pasta, reserving 1 strip for later. Add spinach, ½ cup mozzarella and ½ cup parmesan.
I forgot to mention to please please buy the mozzarella in block form and grate it yourself. It's usually the same price, if not cheaper and tastes so much better. Freshly grated mozzarella is in large part what puts the magic in this dish.
Add your sauce and gently stir to combine. Pour pasta mixture into approximately 9 x 9 baking dish and top with remaining cheese and crumbled bacon.
Cover pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then remove foil and bake an additional 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and gooey looking and pasta is bubbling throughout. Serve with crusty garlic bread for a memorable meal!