An easy creamy tomato pasta bake packed with sweet roasted cherry tomatoes and leafy kale! This recipe is simple, flexible and can please a crowd.

Lets make an easy vegetarian pasta bake!

This is my ideal summer time pasta bake, and it couldn’t be easier to make. It’s chock full of sweet juicy roasted cherry tomatoes and leafy kale in a creamy tomato sauce with mozzarella topping. So simple but so perfect!

It is, of course, just begging to be doctored up. So many other ingredients and flavors can be added here to make it perfect for your family. More cheese in the sauce, different herbs and spices, extra veggies, a scoop of olives or sundried tomatoes, spinach instead of kale… just raid your fridge and see what’s available.

What to know about the ingredients

  • Use the best tomato paste (tomato puree in the UK) in your budget for this recipe because it does make a difference. This recipe is so simple that the little things matter more. I like to use the Mutti brand. If you’re using a cheaper brand, it may have an overly tart / acidic flavor so be sure to add a teaspoon of sugar alongside it.
  • You can use curly kale or lacinato kale (cavolo nero). They aren’t completely the same. Curly kale will shrink down and soften more, but I have been equally happy with either type.
  • You can use any baby tomatoes for this recipe: cherry tomatoes, grape (baby plum) tomatoes, baby heirlooms. I used a mix of colors and types.
  • Rigatoni or penne are my favorite pasta shapes for this recipe, but any short shape like fusilli or farfalle will slot in fine.
  • This recipe will work with pre-grated mozzarella or balls of fresh mozzarella. But you need to adjust your oven position accordingly – fresh mozzarella takes a lot longer to brown than the grated stuff (this is explained in the recipe card).
  • I use double (heavy) cream for this recipe. Lighter creams should be fine. Thicker creams (whipping cream, mascarpone, even cream cheese) are also fine but you may want to add a little milk to thin the mixture out.

Additions and Variations

Have fun with this! It’s a base recipe – totally delicious on its own, but with lots of scope for customization.

  • Roast some garlic cloves along with the cherry tomatoes – then lightly mash them when the tomatoes come out of the oven. This is delicious and I had intended to include it in the final recipe but it is a little bit tricky to get right: depending on the size of your cloves, the cook times don’t always align perfectly with the tomatoes and the garlic may need to come out before the tomatoes are ready.
  • Add some parmesan or Italian hard cheese into the sauce: I didn’t consider this necessary and I’m all for cutting down on ingredients where possible, but it’s certainly delicious. Blue cheese would be another great idea- unexpected but very tasty.
  • If you want to add some smokiness, try scamorza (smoked mozzarella) for the topping or smoked cheddar mixed into the sauce.
  • Feel free to swap spinach or chard for the kale if you need to. Frozen spinach, drained and thawed, can work if you don’t have anything fresh to hand. Just bear in mind that if you aren’t using kale, the pasta bake will be a little less bulky and may not fill the pan quite so much.

Cherry Tomato & Kale Pasta Bake

An easy creamy tomato pasta bake packed with sweet roasted cherry tomatoes and leafy kale! This recipe is simple, flexible and can please a crowd.
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Ingredients

  • 1 lb (500 g) cherry tomatoes , whole (cherry, grape, baby plum or heirloom tomatoes are all fine)
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, plus more for cooking
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 10 oz (280 g) dry penne or rigatoni
  • 2 cups (50 g) kale, finely chopped – quantity is approximate, a little more or less is fine
  • ½ medium red onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp mixed Italian herbs / seasoning
  • 2 pinches chili or red pepper flakes
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ cup (120 ml) heavy (double) cream
  • 2 cups (225 g) grated mozzarella

Instructions 

  • Heat the oven to 180C / 360F.
  • First, get start the tomatoes roasting.
    Add the whole tomatoes to a deep sided casserole dish. Pour in the olive oil and mix through, then drizzle the balsamic vinegar over the top and season with salt and pepper.
    Place in the oven for 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the sauce.
    Saute the onions in a little olive oil over a low/medium heat until soft. Add the garlic, cook for another minute until soft. Add the herbs and chili flakes, stir through, and then add the tomato paste. Cook for a little while to integrate all of the flavors into the tomato paste, then pour in the cream. Stir through, then remove from the heat and set aside, covered, until the pasta is cooked.
  • Boil the pasta, but drain it 2-3 minutes before it's finished (it will soften up a little more in the oven, so this helps to stop it from getting too soft). Add it to the pan with the sauce and toss through.
    Make sure you don't start boiling the pasta too early – you want the pasta ready around the same time as the tomatoes are due to be cooked, so that it's not hanging around for too long in that pan.
  • After 20 minutes, the tomatoes should be burst and the pan should be full of juices and oil. Remove from the oven.
  • Add the pasta and kale directly into the pan with the roasted tomatoes. The juices and oils from the tomatoes will help to thin out the sauce a little. Ensure all of the kale is coated with some sauce.
  • Sprinkle the cheese on top and place back in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling.
    Oven position: If you are using a dry or pre-grated mozzarella, place the pan in the middle of the oven, not too close to the top (this type of cheese browns very fast if it's too close to the heat, so the cheese would be done before the pasta bake was properly cooked through). If you're using a ball of fresh mozzarella, you can place the pan closer to the top because it's much slower to brown.
  • Let sit for 5-10 minutes and then cut in and serve.

Notes

Portions: Realistically this is 4 hearty adult sized portions, but if you’re serving to kids or have a lot of side dishes you should have some extra portions left over. 
Calories: 468kcal, Carbohydrates: 43g, Protein: 17g, Fat: 26g, Saturated Fat: 11g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 11g, Cholesterol: 52mg, Sodium: 319mg, Potassium: 446mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 1735IU, Vitamin C: 27mg, Calcium: 247mg, Iron: 2mg