Broccoli pasta bake with mozzarella is a healthy and filling dinner option. Store your leftovers in lunch boxes as this dish is perfect for reheating in the microwave the following day. Broccoli are blended into a creamy purée with parmesan, and mixed with pasta and diced mozzarella. This baked pasta casserole with broccoli and mozzarella cheese might become your favourite mid-week dinner recipe. Bonus points to the fact that the broccoli flavour is really delicate, thus making this dish excellent even for children or “broccoli beginners”, aka people who don’t love broccoli.
I have to shamelessly admit that baked pasta casseroles are among my favourite ways to eat pasta. There’s something about a baked pasta dish that always wins me over. I guess it just makes it feel more exclusive, like more time was devoted to the preparation of the dish. Whipping up a simple pasta with sauce is my idea of a quick and easy meal. So making the extra effort of adding cheese and letting it melt in the oven feels like the ultimate luxury. Nothing beats the crunchy top of grated cheese that has been baked in the oven!
I mean, lasagna is my favourite dish. Ever. But only if it’s really well made. I can be very picky about lasagna. It needs to possess that perfect compromise between crunch and sauce. Can’t be too dry, you want bechamel to drool down every slice. But the top needs to be perfectly roasted, you want to really brown that parmesan layer on the top. That is lasagna perfection. That is the kind of lasagna I would choose over pizza if I ever were asked to choose between the two. Because pizza is life, but good lasagna is lifer. And what’s lasagna if not basically a baked pasta dish? So the one in this recipe is a pasta casserole made with girandole (or fusilli), broccoli purée and mozzarella.
How to make broccoli purée
I learned about broccoli mash from a couple of colleagues who are on a strict low carb diet. At a work dinner where the menu was sausage and mashed potatoes, they fixed mashed broccoli as a side dish to themselves. Since I’m a curious foodie I had a taste of their food and I really liked it. To tell the truth, their actual side dish was broccoli and cauliflower mash. I love cauliflower but my husband doesn’t – still I really wanted to recreate this alternative to mashed potatoes at home.
So I figured how can I improve this dish and give it a full round flavour when only using broccoli? Exit cauliflower and enter Parmigiano! That’s right: if you like cheese, Parmigiano is a total friend in the kitchen. It pretty much pairs with everything, giving that little extra in terms of flavour that is just perfect. This cheesy broccoli mash alone was a delicious discovery, and I very much enjoy it as a side to fish. But I had the feeling I wasn’t done experimenting and felt like I could take broccoli purée to the next level.
The best thing about broccoli mash is that you use whole broccoli! Not just the florets, but the stem, too! That sad part that gets thrown away most of the times in this recipe gets all the attention it deserves. Despite being less attractive than the florets, broccoli stems are equally packed with flavour and nutrients. Not something you want to get rid of. In mashed broccoli you don’t really care about the appearance, after all.
So to make broccoli purée for broccoli pasta bake you have to cut up the broccoli (the thinner the faster it will cook) and remember to slice up the stem, too. Add your chopped up broccoli to a pot with water and butter and set on medium-high heat. Keep covered in order to keep the steam trapped inside the pot. With such low quantity of water the broccoli will easily steam. Take away from the heat as soon as the broccoli feel tender to prick with a fork. Add cream and parmesan, blend with a hand blender and just stir in some freshly cracked black pepper. This is what you’ll be mixing with cooked pasta and diced mozzarella, but it works as a delicious side dish alone.
Broccoli pasta bake recipe
Now it’s all about mixing that creamy broccoli and parmigiano mash to cooked pasta, adding in two diced mozzarellas and transfering it all into a casserole dish. To reach baked pasta perfection you also want to add a generous sprinkle of grated parmigiano over the top of the pasta. This will create that fabulous crunchy top, providing some extra cheesy flavour.
Bake your pasta casserole in the oven set on broil for 20 minutes at 200°C. The pasta is cooked, so are the broccoli. We don’t need to get anything soft here, we just want the heat to melt the cheese and the broil setting to create the crunchy top.
Baked pasta casserole tips
In order to nail your baked pasta dishes there are a few steps that need to be carefully followed for best results.
First off, do not overcook the pasta. This is very important, as pasta should always be firm. The best Italian chefs will always serve their pasta al dente. Pasta bakes are no exception. So when making pasta for a baked casserole pasta dish always cook the pasta for half of the cooking time stated on the package. Don’t worry if this time seems too short: we will be throwing this pasta in the oven real soon.
And this leads to tip number 2: rinse the cooked pasta in cold water after draining. We want to make sure we’re stopping the cooking of the pasta before we add it to the oven. Heat softens the pasta, so we want to make sure our pasta is cold when we pop it in the oven.
Following these two tips will help to achieve a pasta bake with the perfect pasta texture. Cooking the pasta too long or transfering it to the oven while hot may result in overcooked noodles.
Can I make this broccoli pasta bake vegan?
In order to make a vegan version of broccoli pasta bake you need to sub the dairy ingredients with equivalent vegan alternatives. Any plant-based cream will work in the mash. As for the mozzarella, just pick a different “cheese”, as long as it melts in the oven. I have used coconut-based vegan cheese in the past that worked great on pizza, so anything like that could work. Mozzarella is mostly added for texture than taste in this recipe. What gives flavour is the Parmigiano, so to sub that you need to find an equivalent stronger vegan alternative (with nutritional yeast). By taking away the parmesan this dish becomes very delicate, so I’d recommend something strong to give the final product some flavour.
If catering for different dietary requirements like gluten free, just swap regular pasta for a gluten free alternative, like bean or lentil pasta.
Pin my broccoli pasta bake with mozzarella and parmigiano recipe:
Broccoli pasta bake
A baked pasta casserole with broccoli and mozzarella. A simple and filling dish that is easy to make and very tasty.
For the broccoli mash
- 350 g fresh broccoli
- 100 ml water
- 50 g butter
- 1 tbsp creme fraiche
- 30 g Parmigiano
For the pasta bake
- 350 g pasta (fusilli or girandole recommended)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 250 g mozzarella
- 70 g Parmigiano
- salt and pepper to taste
Set a pot of water to boil. When the water boils, add salt and the pasta. Check the suggested cooking time on the pasta package and cook the pasta for half of that time. This is very important in order to prevent the noodles from overcooking. When the pasta is done - halfway through normal cooking time - drain and run the cooked pasta under cold water to quickly bring it to room temperature. Season with olive oil and set aside.
Clean and cut the broccoli into thin slices, florets and stem altogether. The thinner the slices, the quicker it will cook. Add the sliced broccoli, butter and 100 ml water to a pot and set on high heat. Keep covered and stir occasionally in order to distribute the melting butter all around. When the water reaches boiling temperature, lower the heat and keep steaming the broccoli with the lid on for a few more minutes. Remove the broccoli from the heat when tender but still bright green.
Transfer steamed broccoli to a tall container and add the creme fraiche and the parmigiano. Blend with a hand blender until smooth. The parmigiano should give some flavour to this mash, but add salt and pepper to taste if desired.
Combine the cooked pasta, broccoli purée and diced mozzarella and give it all a good stir to ensure all the pasta gets nicely coated in broccoli purée. Transfer to a casserole dish and sprinkle remaining Parmigiano on the top.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes at 200°C with the broil setting.
Girandole have a very short cooking time, so using this type of pasta for this recipe means a pretty short time. If using fusilli, farfalle or any other kind of pasta, the preparation of the noodles may take a bit longer. Still it is very important to cook the pasta for half of the suggested time and always rinse it with cold water to quickly lower its temperature and stop the cooking.