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Our lemon and thyme butternut squash orzo bake topped with vegan ricotta cheese and mozzarella makes the perfect fall meal. This herby, tart, cheesy, and buttery pasta bake will impress any eater regardless of lifestyle.
Inspired by orzo
I’ve seen so many delicious orzo recipes in my feed lately. From Half Baked Harvest’s cheesy broccoli cheddar orzo bake to The Girl Who Ate Everything’s one-pan chicken and spinach orzo. It got me thinking that I really should put my own spin on an orzo dish.
This isn’t the only recipe of mine that features orzo. You can also check out this winter kale salad which features clove candied walnuts, orzo, pomegranate seeds, and a handful of other delicious toppings.
Anyways, this butternut squash orzo bake is super tasty. It has a lot of flavor from the onions, garlic, thyme, lemon, bay leaves, and vegetable broth. These flavors complemented with the subtle sweetness of butternut squash plus tartness of the tofu ricotta and creamy mozzarella cheese make for a complex tasting dish.
You gotta make the ricotta
Butternut squash orzo bake has two main components: the brothy orzo and butternut squash and the tofu ricotta. There are a handful of premade vegan ricotta cheese options out there like this one from Kite Hill or Tofutti.
Premade vegan ricotta cheese can be really expensive. To save you some money, I provided a recipe that is made with firm tofu, miso, lemon, nutritional yeast, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. All you need is a food processor to blend all the ingredients together and you’ve got your vegan ricotta cheese!
Again, you can definitely go store-bought if you’re trying to save some time. But, you can multitask while you’re cooking to make the ricotta so I think it all evens out.
What ingredients do you need to make butternut squash pasta bake?
In addition to all of the ingredients listed in the previous section for the tofu ricotta, you’ll need a handful of pantry staples and produce items to make butternut squash pasta bake. For produce, you’ll need an onion, a few garlic cloves, a butternut squash, a lemon, and some fresh thyme.
For the pantry staples, you’ll need some vegetable broth – I like to use these bouillon cubes from Edward & Sons. They are a recent find of mine and take up so much less space than those containers of vegetable broth. Plus less waste on my part! You’ll also need a package of orzo, two bay leaves, EVOO, salt and pepper, and Aleppo pepper.
If you’re not familiar with Aleppo pepper, it’s a variety of pepper from Turkey. I bought my Aleppo pepper from The Spice House. Either way, If you don’t want to invest, you can always use red pepper flakes instead. They are very similar, but Aleppo pepper is a little hotter and a tad bit more smoky.
Lastly, for topping the entire butternut squash orzo bake, you’ll need some vegan mozzarella. For this recipe, I went with Daiya cutting board shreds. Any kind of vegan mozz shreds should work here. I don’t recommend using Miyoks for this specific recipe simply because the texture won’t differ from the ricotta, and you’ll have a tough time with coverage. Either way, I think Violife, Follow Your Heart, and the ever-elusive So Delicious shreds will work great in this recipe. AKA – don’t feel like you absolutely have to use Daiya.
How do you make butternut squash orzo bake?
To make butternut squash orzo bake, you’ll need a large skillet that can also go in the oven. If you don’t have one of these, you can use a large pot and a casserole dish instead! You’ll also need a food processor, a wooden spoon, measuring cups and spoons, a knife, a cutting board, a potato peeler, and a zester.
Start off by finely chopping half of an onion and four garlic cloves. Next, add the onion and garlic to a large oven-safe skillet (or a large pot) with two tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the onion and garlic for about five minutes or until the onion is translucent.
While the onion and garlic cook, multitask and make the vegan ricotta. In a food processor, add one half of a block of firm tofu, one tablespoon of nutritional yeast, a teaspoon of lemon zest, the juice of ¼ of a lemon, half a tablespoon of miso, and one teaspoon each of onion and garlic powder. Process the tofu until smooth and creamy. You will probably need to pack the tofu back down to encourage blending and add a little water if you think it needs encouragement.
Return to your skillet and add the two bay leaves, a teaspoon of Aleppo pepper, and two tablespoons of fresh thyme. If the olive oil is running a little thin, add a splash of broth to keep the ingredients from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Let the spices simmer for an additional 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
Here’s the part where you should probably heat your oven to 400 degrees. While the oven preheats, add four cups of vegetable broth, the juice of half a lemon, and a pound of orzo to the skillet. Bring to a very low simmer and scrape the bottom of the skillet often to ensure sticking doesn’t occur. While the orzo cooks, peel your butternut squash and cut into half-inch cubes and add to the orzo.
Continue to stir the orzo and squash until the orzo is very al dente – about 2-3 minutes away from cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat. If you don’t have an oven-safe skillet, now would be the time to transfer the orzo to a casserole dish. Next, add dollops of tofu ricotta across the orzo and sprinkle the top with vegan mozzarella cheese.
Bake the butternut squash orzo in the oven for 15 minutes. Then, turn the broiler on to brown the cheese. Not all vegan cheese browns, but Daiya cutting board shreds actually brown quite nicely so I figured what the hell.
Once the cheese is nice and melty, remove the dish from the oven. Top with more fresh thyme, Aleppo pepper, and salt and pepper before serving.
Substitution ideas and more
Once you have the basics down, this butternut squash orzo bake can be adapted and adjusted to your liking. Here are some ideas I have that you might like too!
Sub sage: I know sage & butternut squash is a super popular combination. Instead of using thyme in this recipe, simply substitute sage and subtract the lemon juice from the casserole. You could also add nutmeg for some nice fall vibes.
Buy your vegan ricotta instead of making it.: You can go for a store-bought brand of vegan ricotta instead of making your own. This cuts down on time and the ingredients required to make this recipe.
Add vegan chicken: If you have a favorite brand of vegan chicken, try adding them in butternut squash orzo bake. If you’re looking for a chicken seitan recipe, definitely check out these chicken seitan pieces. They’re super delicious and would be a killer addition to this dish if you’re looking to add some protein.
Add spinach: Looking for a way to add more color to this dish? Add some spinach around the same time you introduce the butternut squash.
Make it more cheesy: Make your orzo more cheesy! Add ¼ cup of nutritional yeast at the step where you add the broth and the orzo. Nutritional yeast adds a nice nutty and cheesy flavor to the dish. While there’s already cheesiness from the tofu ricotta and vegan mozz, nooch kicks it up a notch.
Sub sweet potato: If you’re not a butternut squash fan, substitute sweet potatoes or fresh pumpkin cubes instead.
If you liked this, you may like…
I’m definitely a sucker for fall recipes. If you think this butternut squash pasta bake slaps, you might also like the following:
- Pumpkin sage lentil soup
- Butternut squash pasta
- Vegan Cajun gumbo
- Fall harvest quinoa bowl
- Wild rice soup with jackfruit
- Cheese and onion cornish pasties
In this segment, I suggest a song for you to listen to while you make butternut squash orzo bake! You can even stream it right here in your browser. Today’s recipe jam is Home by LCD Soundsystem.
If you try this recipe, I want to hear about it! Feel free to post your creations to Instagram or Facebook and tag Hell Yes It’s Vegan or #hellyesitsvegan. I look forward to seeing what you make!
Butternut Squash Orzo Bake
- large oven-safe skillet (or one large pot and one casserole dish)
- cutting board
- food processor
- measuring cup and spoons
- wooden spoon
- potato peeler
Butternut Squash Orzo Bake
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp fresh thyme, (plus more for garnish)
- 1 tsp aleppo pepper, (or red pepper flakes) (plus more for garnish)
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- juice of ½ lemon
- 16 oz orzo
- 3 cups butternut squash, (peeled and cut into half-inch cubes)
- ½ package shredded vegan mozzarella cheese, (I used Daiya cutting board shreds)
- salt and pepper to taste
Butternut Squash Orzo Bake
- Add oil to large oven-safe skillet (or large pot) with onion and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes until translucent. (Jump down and make the tofu ricotta while the onion cooks)
- Add thyme, aleppo pepper and bay leaves. Continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes until fragrant. If needed, add a splash of broth to keep from sticking to the bottom of the skillet.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Add vegetable broth, lemon juice, and orzo. Bring to a low simmer, stirring consistently to ensure sticking does not occur for about 5 minutes. Then add the squash. Continue to cook until 2-3 minutes before the pasta reaches al dente and remove from heat.
- Try the pasta and add salt and pepper to taste. If you are using a pot instead of a skillet, transfer the orzo to a casserole dish. Then, add tofu ricotta "plops" across the orzo and top with mozzarella cheese.
- Bake the pasta for 15 minutes. Then broil for 5 minutes or until the vegan cheese is nice and brown. (Note: some vegan cheese doesn't brown very well so you might have to settle for melted instead)
- Remove the orzo bake from the oven and garnish with additional aleppo pepper, fresh thyme, salt and pepper.
- Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until combined. You may have to scrape the sides a few times to achieve this. If you're having a hard time getting the tofu to incorporate, you can always add a tablespoon or so of water to encourage it.
- Add salt to taste and set aside.