An easy high protein vegetarian pasta bake that the whole family will love! Tortiglioni pasta and lentils are baked in a creamy tomato and mozzarella sauce, then topped with a mixed herb crumb. No boiling required, everything cooks together in one dish for minimal effort and cleanup!
This recipe was originally published in 2019 and has been updated in 2023 with new photos. The recipe itself, and the step by step photos, have not changed.
Pasta bakes… always a crowd pleaser! And today’s recipe is the holy grail of pasta bakes… the easy no boil kind! You don’t need to pre cook your pasta. You just dump a bunch of stuff in a pan and then bake it. Woo hoo!
So this particular pasta bake features tortiglioni pasta, which is a huge ridged pasta shape that holds up really nicely in a pasta bake. I’ve added a can of green lentils (swap brown if you like) for a protein boost and to give the sauce a more substantial, almost meaty, quality. Lots of shredded mozzarella bakes into the sauce for a creamy finish that isn’t too sharp.
So let’s talk about the green topping! I am going to ask you to spend 5 minutes making this herby crumb topping while your pasta is baking. With the sauce being so mild and so cheesy, giving this pasta bake a cheesy topping wasn’t optimal. The herby crumb topping brings in a whole bunch of flavor and texture to the dish and lets you use up a range of herbs!
The topping is what makes this dish soar, and it’s still very little effort, I promise.
This is Kid, Baby and Toddler Friendly Pasta Bake
This recipe is very kid, baby and toddler friendly. Who doesn’t love a creamy tomato sauce anyway? For kids who don’t like “bits” in their food, I can’t make any promises, but the lentils are soft and melt in, and there aren’t any chunky vegetables so it’s definitely worth a try.
The herby crumb topping could be problematic to some kids, but it’s fairly easy to just remove the topping off one portion and let the adults have a little extra.
For babies under 1, you wouldn’t want to add any salt.
No Boil Pasta Bake – The Process
No boil pasta bakes are the easiest around! You just have to bake them with sufficient liquid (in this case, from canned tomato juices + milk) for the dried pasta to cook in.
Ta da! Your pasta bake is ready, and your family is happy and fed.
Top Tips & Variations for this Pasta Bake
- I do love tortiglioni, but you can certainly swap in penne or rigatoni.
- You want to use a block of mozzarella (sometimes sold as “cooking mozzarella” or even “mozzarella for pizza”) rather than pre-grated. It doesn’t have the starchy coating that pre-grated cheese does, so it can more effectively melt in and form a sauce.
- We also use a parmesan style cheese to add flavor to the sauce. Parmesan is traditionally not vegetarian friendly (due to the use of animal rennet) so I seek out a cheese that’s made in the style of parmesan but with vegetarian rennet, usually called something like “Italian hard cheese”.
- We cook the pasta in milk, rather than water, for the creaminess. I definitely recommend whole milk (full fat milk).
- The herbs for the topping are flexible. You could make this with just one herb like basil or sage, or do what I did and mix it up (I used basil, chives, rosemary, thyme and sage).
- I do not recommend reducing the cheese to lighten this up. Especially not the parmesan – this is a really simple recipe that doesn’t have enough other flavor sources to compensate if you ditch the parmesan. But if you really want to go lighter on it, I’d suggest adding things like roast veggies, sundried tomato puree, extra herbs and even capers to boost the flavor up.
- If you aren’t feeling the herb topping, go ahead and melt some extra cheese on top instead. This would leave the dish feeling a little bland for my own tastes, but could work well for kids.
More easy vegetarian dinner ideas
Lentil Pasta Bake with Tortiglioni (No Boil)
- 8 oz (250 g) dried tortiglioni pasta, or penne, ziti or rigatoni
- 1.5 cups green or brown lentils, or 1 can, drained
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp mixed dried Italian herbs
- 2 cups (250 g) grated mozzarella*
- 1 cup (100 g) grated parmesan
- 28 oz (800 g) canned tomatoes
- 2 cups (475 ml) whole milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup (8 Tbsp) breadcrumbs
- ½ cup (50 g) grated parmesan
- a few handfuls of fresh herbs, I used a combo of basil, thyme, sage and rosemary
- ¼ cup (4 Tbsp) olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C / 400F.
- In a deep casserole dish, combine your dry pasta, lentils, garlic, cheese, mixed dried herbs and canned tomatoes.
- Pour the milk over the top and stir through. Cover and place in the oven for 50 minutes.
- In the meantime, make your herby topping. Put the breadcrumbs, parmesan, herbs and salt and pepper in a food processor and blitz.
- Slowly add the olive oil and pulse until the mixture is wet and sandy.
- Once the pasta has cooked for 50 minutes, remove from the oven.Uncover and stir through.
- Change the oven setting to broil / grill.
- Add the herby topping to the pasta and return to the oven for a few minutes until the topping is crisping up.
- Leave to sit for 5 minutes or so before dishing up.