Juicygrilled 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!
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!