Caesar Pasta Bake
This Caesar Pasta Bake is a delicious weeknight dinner that’s full of everything you know and love in a Caesar salad! Juicy grilled Cajun shrimp, pasta, cherry tomatoes, baby kale, Caesar dressing, cheese, croutons, and a generous sprinkling of bacon bits come together in this showstopping hearty meal the whole family will love!
Caesar Pasta Bake is happening today on the blog folks. It’s a comforting and hearty dinner that’s full of everything you love in a glorious Caesar salad. Except that we’re adding pasta to the mix and making an EPIC pasta bake dish with one of the BEST (and my favorite!) salads that exists in the world!
Instead of using grilled chicken though, I opted to pan-grill some Cajun seasoning seasoned shrimp to add more delicious and spicy flavors to this Caesar pasta bake.
But what I love about this pasta bake is its simple to make, bright flavored creamy sauce that’s incredibly rich and tasty! It’s made with some sautéed red onion, garlic, and chilies (leave the chilies out if you’d like to make this mild), creamy Caesar dressing, chicken broth, milk, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Then just toss in some cooked pasta, the Cajun shrimp, and baby kale.
Load up everything into a casserole dish, top with cherry tomatoes, cheese, croutons, and sprinkle with bacon bits. Then just bake until the cheese has perfectly melted, and serve up this hearty pasta bake as a main dish to your family!
While you can use a store-bought creamy Caesar dressing if there’s one that you love, I highly recommend making this dish with my flavor-packed, easy homemade Caesar dressing. I actually developed my Caesar dressing recipe specifically for this Caesar pasta bake. It is absolutely DELICIOUS in homemade Caesar salads, and of course in this comforting pasta bake!
Why This Recipe Works
- It’s a full meal. You’ve got your protein (spicy grilled Cajun shrimp), veggies (baby kale & cherry tomatoes), carbs (pasta), and plenty of savory and nutty freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and provolone all in one delicious baked dish the whole family will love!
- It’s simple and easy to make on a weeknight.
- Customizable with your choice of protein. Besides the pan-grilled Cajun shrimp, shredded rotisserie chicken, grilled or sautéed salt and pepper seasoned salmon fillets or chicken breasts all taste great in this pasta bake!
- Shrimp (or prawns): I seasoned peeled and deveined shrimp with some Cajun seasoning, kosher salt, pepper, and ground cayenne before cooking them on a grill pan. But you’re welcome to use a different protein such as salmon fillets (remove the skin after cooking and cut into chunks) or boneless and skinless chicken breasts or thighs. Feel free to season with just kosher salt and black pepper if you want to keep the flavors simple. Alternatively, season with lemon pepper for some extra zesty flavors.
- Pasta: I used dry capellini, but other great noodle-type pasta options are spaghetti, linguini, bucatini, etc. You can also use any short-cut pasta shape such as penne, farfalle, or cavatappi, etc. However, I recommend using 12-14 ounces if using a short-cut pasta shape. Use a gluten-free pasta if needed.
- Cherry (or grape) Tomatoes: I went with a combo of red and yellow cherry tomatoes, but any color is fine.
- Red Chilies: I kicked up this Caesar Pasta Bake with some fresh Thai Bird’s Eye chilies. Any hot red chilies are fine to use. Feel free to leave them out (or use less) if you don’t want to make this spicy or if you’re dining with kids.
- Baby Kale: Or use baby spinach instead.
- Creamy Caesar Dressing: I’m partial to my homemade Caesar Salad Dressing and highly recommend it! It’s better than any store-bought dressing I’ve tried, and so much more flavorful with zingy and savory umami notes! That said, you can use a store-bought creamy Caesar dressing if there’s one that you’re particularly fond of.
- Ground Cayenne & Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (optional): Use less or omit both if you’d like to make this dish mild.
- Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (or Parmesan): As always, I recommend using freshly grated cheese from a block instead of the pre-shredded bagged type from the supermarket. It’ll melt more evenly and quicker into the sauce.
- Croutons: I used store-bought Caesar seasoned croutons, but you can use Garlic & Herb seasoned croutons instead too.
- Provolone Cheese: For topping the pasta casserole with (along with more Parmigiano Reggiano cheese). You’re welcome to use any other melty cheese like mozzarella or Muenster cheese.
- Bacon Bits: I used Hormel’s Real Bacon Bits, but you can use crumbled bacon too instead.
Full ingredient list and amounts are in the recipe card below.
How to Make Caesar Pasta Bake
1. Grill the shrimp. Season the shrimp with kosher salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning, and ground cayenne and toss to coat. Heat oil in a nonstick grill pan/griddle then add the shrimp and cook both sides until just cooked through. Transfer to a clean plate and set aside. (Note: You can sauté the shrimp in a large skillet instead too.)
2. Cook the pasta. In a large pot of boiling salted water, and for 2 minutes less that what cook time is specified on the package. Drain and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, toss the halved cherry tomatoes with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Whisk together the Caesar dressing with whole milk in a measuring cup and set aside. Prepare the rest of the fresh ingredients as well.
3. Sauté onion, garlic, and chilies. In olive oil in a large deep sauté pan, until the onion has slightly softened and the garlic and chilies are fragrant.
4. Build the sauce. Add all-purpose flour to the pan and cook for a minute to get rid of the floury taste. Then pour in the chicken broth and Caesar dressing & milk mixture. Whisk continuously to combine, then mix in all of the seasonings and spices.
5. Add Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and lemon juice. Stir until the cheese has fully melted.
6. Add the pasta and grilled Cajun shrimp. Toss continuously for a minute or two until everything is combined well in the sauce.
7. Toss through kale and parsley. Do this off the heat so that the baby kale doesn’t wilt too much.
8. Assemble casserole. Transfer the pasta to a lightly greased 9×13-inch baking dish. Top with the prepared cherry tomatoes, grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and broken up pieces of Provolone cheese. Sprinkle croutons and bacon bits evenly on top.
9. Bake. For a few minutes in a preheated oven until the cheeses have fully melted and the croutons are golden brown.
10. Serve! Cool the hot baking dish on a wire rack for a few minutes. Then divide evenly onto plates and sprinkle with more cheese, chopped parsley, and bacon bits if desired. Then enjoy!
Full detailed instructions are in the recipe card below.
- Don’t overcook the shrimp. Take them off the heat once just cooked through. You don’t want them to overcook later in the oven and become hard and rubbery.
- Adjust spice to taste. You can use less (or omit completely) of the fresh red chilies, crushed red pepper flakes, and ground cayenne based on your heat level preference or if dining with kids.
- Use rotisserie chicken for a shortcut. Swap the grilled Cajun prawns for 2.5 cups shredded rotisserie chicken to save time and make a chicken Caesar pasta bake instead.
More Comforting Pasta Dinners
- Creamy Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Shrimp & Bacon
- Spicy Pumpkin Vodka Pasta
- Smoky Harissa Mac and Cheese
- Pizza Pasta Bake
- Buffalo Chicken Ravioli Lasagna
- Or browse the entire Pasta recipe collection.
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Caesar Pasta Bake with Grilled Cajun Shrimp
Juicy grilled Cajun shrimp, pasta, cherry tomatoes, baby kale, Caesar dressing, cheese, croutons, and a generous sprinkling of bacon bits come together in this showstopping Caesar Pasta Bake dinner that the whole family will love!
- Prep Time: 10
- Cook Time: 25
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: 6 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Sauté
- Cuisine: American
For the Grilled Cajun Shrimp:
- 340 grams / 12 ounces peeled and deveined Shrimp (or Prawns) – rinsed and pat-dried
- 1.5 TBLS + 1 TSP Olive Oil
- ½ TSP Kosher Salt
- ¼ TSP freshly cracked Black Pepper
- 1.5 TSP Cajun Seasoning (either homemade or store-bought)
- ½ TSP ground Cayenne
For the Caesar Pasta Bake:
- 10 ounces / 284 grams uncooked Capellini Pasta (or any other type of noodle pasta such as spaghetti, linguini, bucatini, etc.) See notes*
- 2 TBLS + 1 TSP Olive Oil, divided
- 12 Cherry Tomatoes (any color – or use grape tomatoes)
- ½ medium Red Onion – finely chopped
- 4 Garlic cloves – minced
- 4–16 Red Chilies (optional – I used Thai Bird’s Eye chilies, but any hot red chilies will work), to taste – finely chopped
- 2 TBLS finely chopped fresh Parsley
- 3 cups Baby Kale (or baby spinach) – rinsed and dried
- 1 & 1/3 cups Creamy Caesar Dressing (try my homemade Caesar Salad Dressing!)
- ¼ cup Whole Milk
- 2 TBLS All-Purpose Flour
- 473ml / 2 cups Chicken Broth
- ½ TSP Kosher Salt (if needed), to taste
- 1 TSP freshly cracked Black Pepper, to taste
- 1 – 2 TSP ground Cayenne (optional), to taste
- 1 – 2 TSP Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (optional), to taste
- ½ + ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, divided
- 1 cup Caesar Seasoned Croutons (or use Garlic & Herb Seasoned Croutons)
- 2 slices Provolone Cheese (or use Mozzarella or Muenster Cheese) – broken up into small pieces
- 2–3 TBLS Bacon Bits (or Crumbled Bacon)
- To Serve: More chopped fresh parsley, grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, and bacon bits if desired
For the Grilled Cajun Shrimp:
- Season: Rinse and pat-dry the shrimp. Add to a medium bowl and toss with 1 TSP of olive oil. Season with kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, Cajun seasoning, ground cayenne and toss to coat.
- Cook the shrimp: Heat 1.5 TBLS olive oil over medium-high heat in a nonstick grill-pan/griddle (or a large sauté pan). Once hot, add the shrimp (you may need to cook in two batches depending on the size of your grill pan) and allow to sear for a minute. The using tongs, turn the shrimp pieces over and sear the other side for 1-2 minutes. Once just cooked through, transfer to a clean plate and set aside.
For the Caesar Pasta Bake:
- Prep: Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly brush a 9×13-inch baking dish with oil (or spray with cooking spray).
- Cook the pasta: Cook the pasta 2 minutes shy of al-dente according to package instructions in a large pot (or the same large deep sauté pan you’ll use to make sauce) of boiling salted water. Drain and set aside. (I like to run water cold water over the pasta to halt the cooking process and prevent sticking.)
- Prepare the fresh ingredients: While the pasta is cooking, prepare the fresh ingredients. Halve the cherry tomatoes and place in a medium bowl. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and season with a pinch of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Toss to coat and set aside. Finely chop the red onion, garlic, red chilies (if using), fresh parsley. Rinse and pat-dry the baby kale or run through a salad spinner. Whisk together the Caesar dressing and whole milk in a large measuring cup until combined well, then set aside.
- Sauté onion, garlic, and chilies: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large deep sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onion and garlic and sauté for a minute, or until the onion has slightly softened and the garlic is fragrant. Add the red chilies and sauté for another 30-40 seconds to combine.
- Build the sauce: Add the all-purpose flour and cook for a minute to get rid of the floury taste. Pour in the chicken broth and Caesar dressing & milk mixture. Whisk continuously for a minute until combined well. Season with kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, ground cayenne, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste. Mix well to combine and bring the sauce up to a gentle simmer.
- Add the cheese and lemon juice: Stir in ½ cup of the freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese until fully melted. Then add the lemon juice and stir to combine. The sauce should start to thicken.
- Add the pasta and shrimp: Add the cooked pasta and grilled Cajun shrimp and toss for 1-2 minutes until combined well and everything is coated in the sauce. Then switch off and remove the pan from the heat.
- Toss through greens. Toss through the parsley and baby kale (off the heat) until combined well but the kale is not completely wilted.
- Assemble casserole: Transfer the Caesar sauce pasta to the prepared baking dish. Top evenly with the cherry tomato halves, ¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and broken up Provolone cheese pieces. Sprinkle the croutons and bacon bits evenly on top.
- Bake: Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese has fully melted and the croutons are golden brown. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
- To Serve: Garnish with more chopped parsley and serve immediately with more grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and bacon bits if desired.
- Protein and seasoning choices. Instead of the pan-grilled Cajun shrimp, you can swap for 2.5 cups shredded rotisserie chicken to save time. Alternatively, use pan-grilled or sautéed salmon fillets (remove the skin after cooking and cut into chunks), or sliced boneless and skinless chicken breasts or thighs. Feel free to season with just kosher salt and black pepper if you want to keep the flavors simple. Alternatively, season with lemon pepper for extra zesty flavors.
- Pasta choices. Either noodle-type pasta such as capellini, spaghetti, linguini, bucatini, fettuccine, etc. or short-cut pasta such as penne, farfalle, or cavatappi, etc. can be used. However, I recommend using 12-14 ounces if using a short-cut pasta shape.
- To make this gluten-free. Use a gluten-free pasta, and make sure the Caesar dressing you’re using is GF certified (if using store-bought).
- Spicy ingredients. Use less (or omit completely) the fresh red chilies, crushed red pepper flakes, and ground cayenne if making this dish mild or dining with kids.
- Storing and reheating leftovers. Leftovers will keep for 2-3 days in a sealed airtight container in the fridge. Reheat in the microwave on high for 1-2 minutes, stirring once in between until hot throughout. Note that the croutons will lose their crunch once refrigerated and heated in the microwave. But it will still be delicious!
- Recipe adapted from 12 Tomatoes.
- Serving Size: 1 bowl
- Calories: 712
- Sugar: 7.2g
- Sodium: 2031.6mg
- Fat: 41.5g
- Saturated Fat: 9.2g
- Unsaturated Fat: 29.4g
- Trans Fat: 0.1g
- Carbohydrates: 56.2g
- Fiber: 4.3g
- Protein: 29.1g
- Cholesterol: 132mg
The nutritional information provided is approximate and can vary based on several factors. It should only be used as a general guideline. For more information, please see our Disclosure.
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