This is a wonderful dish. It's one of my husband's favorites (there's bacon involved) and my kids gobble it right up. Tortellini is always a big hit in our house so I'm always looking for new ways to serve it. The lemon flavor in this dish is perfect and I love how you can control how much lemon you like. My husband likes lots of lemon, my kids prefer less so I usually prepare this recipe as it's written and it's perfect every time. It's creamy, refreshing, comfort food that you are sure to love!
Tortellini Spinach Bake in Creamy Lemon Sauce
(recipe adapted from Our Best Bites)
2- 9 oz packages of frozen or fresh cheese (or cheese/spinach) tortellini
6-8 strips thick sliced bacon, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 T flour
4 cups milk
1 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (1/2 tsp or more if you like spicy, which we do)
1 medium lemon
3-4 cups loosely packed baby spinach
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese, divided
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Fill a large stock pot with water bring and to a boil. Add tortellini and cook according to package instructions, adding salt to the water, if desired. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, place bacon in a medium sized skillet on the stove-top at medium-high heat. Cook until crisp. Remove bacon from pan with slotted spoon and set on paper towels to drain. Reserve about 3 tablespoons bacon drippings in pan and discard the rest.
Add garlic to skillet and cook until fragrant and tender, about 1 minute. Add flour to pan and stir with a whisk constantly for about 1 minute.
Slowly add milk and continue to stir with whisk until smooth. Add salt, pepper, basil, and red pepper flakes and bring sauce to a simmer.
While sauce is heating, use a microplane grater or a fine-holed cheese grater to zest lemon. Then cut lemon in half and remove juice.
Add 2 teaspoons zest and 2 tablespoons lemon juice to sauce (start with these amounts and then adjust to taste). Continue to stir until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Place tortellini back in stock pot. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the cooked bacon and add the rest to the pasta mixture. Add spinach, 1 cup mozzarella cheese and 1 cup Parmesan cheese. Add sauce and gently stir to combine.
Place pasta mixture in an 9×9 baking dish and top with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and 1/2 cup Parmesan and also crumbled bacon.
Cover pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, until cheese on top is melted and pasta is bubbly throughout. Remove from oven and cool for a minutes before serving. Enjoy!