I have exciting news – my little munchkin, who for months and months has rejected anything with tomato sauce, has finally started warming up! This has changed my life, as she will now eat pizza with us, and also opens up more options in terms of pasta dishes I can make since I don’t necessarily need to have plain pasta set aside for her. One of my favorites is baked ziti – it’s similar to lasagna, but without all of the effort that goes into layering. Over the past year I have tried a few versions that were trying to be too healthy (e.g., turkey instead of beef, not enough cheese, adding in veggies that didn’t quite work), so I went back to more classic proportions. I still consider this a wholesome dish, however, when made with whole wheat pasta and lean beef, and can be even more so if you use part-skim or low fat cheeses.
Below I’ve described how I made it, but the beauty of ziti is that it’s also infinitely flexible depending on your preferences and what you have on hand. Prefer turkey over beef? No problem. Vegetarian? Leave out the meat altogether. Don’t feel like making sauce? Open a jar 🙂 But I did find that these basic proportions seemed to work well – cheesy and moist without being goppy. And the best part is that ziti freezes and reheats beautifully, so if you find yourself with a bunch of leftovers, you are all set for a meal another night!
adapted from my mom
1 pound whole wheat ziti or other tube shaped pasta
1 pound shredded mozzarella, divided
1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
4 cups sauce (with or without meat – I used 2 cups leftover meat sauce + 2 cups crushed tomatoes directly from a can)
1/4 cup grated romano or parmesan
Preheat oven to 375. Take out a 9×13 baking pan, and lighly grease if not non-stick.
Cook the pasta, draining it while it is still al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, combine the mozzarella (reserving 1/2 cup for the topping), ricotta, and sauce in a large bowl. (Note that if you have prepared tomato sauce but still want to include meat, you can brown 1 lb of lean ground beef and just mix in with the sauce and cheese at this step). Add the pasta, mix thoroughly, and pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle reserved mozzarella and romano over the top and bake for 30 minutes. Enjoy!