My Spinach Florentine Pasta Bake was inspired by a recipe from the late Linda McCartney’s book, ‘Linda’s Kitchen’. Her layered Spinach Fusilli Bake always appealed to me, except that I wasn’t keen on the idea of a layer of pasta dressed with olive oil and garlic in the middle, and I knew my husband and son would not care for the sliced tomatoes on top. I decided to dress the pasta layer with a pesto spiked tomato sauce instead, and the results were absolutely delicious. I also added mushrooms to the spinach florentine layer both for flavour and nutrition. I’m not sure Linda would recognise her recipe, but if I hadn’t read her version, I would never have thought of this one!
To serve 4 people you need:
1 pound spinach
2 cups sliced mushrooms
¼ cup butter
3 tablespoons plain flour
about 2 cups milk
salt and pepper
generous pinch of nutmeg, freshly ground if possible
1¾ cups plain tomato sauce or passata (sieved tomatoes)
(I use a 400 gram can of passata)
¼ cup basil pesto
8 to 9 ounces pasta (I use penne)
2 cloves garlic
1 generous cup vegetarian cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C or 170°C for a fan oven)
Steam the spinach and drain it as much as possible. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they begin to soften and turn golden brown.
Sprinkle the flour over top of the mushrooms and stir to coat. Gradually add the milk, a bit at a time, stirring and allowing the sauce to thicken between each addition. You want a fairly thick and creamy sauce, but you may not need all the milk. Add the cooked spinach and stir through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into the bottom of a deep 13 x 9 inch baking dish.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to the pan.
Heat the tomato sauce or passata in a small saucepan. Grate in the garlic and add the pesto, stirring through to mix. Stir the warm tomato basil mixture through the pasta. Place the dressed pasta on top of the spinach florentine layer in the baking dish.
Sprinkle the cheese over top.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and beginning to turn golden brown and everything is hot through. Serve with salad and/or garlic bread.