Tag Archives: asparagus

Pretty Ziti

23 Jun


Mmmm….how I love baked ziti (or really any creamy, baked pasta dish). What’s not to love about carb-y pasta goodness, creamy melted cheese, and a nice bubbly top? For those of you not in the know as to what baked ziti is, allow me to enlighten you (courtesy of Wikipedia).Baked ziti is a popular baked Italian American casserole dish made with ziti and sauce. In many recipes, the ziti are first cooked separately while a tomato and cheese sauce is prepared, which may include meat, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, and onions. The cooked and drained ziti are then combined with the cooked sauce, which may be layered with additional varieties of cheeses, baked in the oven, and served hot.” Sounds good, but totally off-limits with all those carbs and cheese, right? Wrong, oh SO wrong.

Thanks to Hungry Girl (whatever would I do without her), we can enjoy guilt-free ziti! She takes the traditional dish, uses whole-wheat ziti, bumps up the veggies, and uses low-fat cheeses for a dish that satisfies those creamy Italian pasta cravings we all have (let’s not deny it). I got this recipe from her 300 under 300 cookbook, but it’s also online, and right here on HHH….read on!

HG’s Takes-the-Cake Ziti BakeIMG_1864

5 oz. (about 1 1/2 cups) uncooked whole-wheat or high-fiber ziti or penne pasta
1 cup thinly sliced onion
2 cups chopped brown mushrooms
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
2 cups fresh spinach
3/4 cup low-fat/light ricotta cheese
2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil (as good as this was, if it’s winter and/or you don’t have/want to buy fresh basil, you could probably get away with dried or Italian seasoning)
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided (I used light Kraft Italiano cheese…it’s what I had…worked fine)
2 tbsp. reduced-fat Parmesan-style grated topping
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Prepare pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain well, place in a large bowl, and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring an extra-large skillet sprayed with nonstick spray to medium heat on the stove. Add onion and, stirring occasionally, cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic, and raise temperature to medium high. Continue to cook, stirring often, until mushrooms are soft, about 3 minutes.

Add spinach to the skillet and, stirring often, cook until spinach has wilted and excess moisture has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in ricotta cheese and basil.

Transfer contents of the skillet to the bowl with the cooked pasta. Add tomatoes and 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Toss gently to mix. *Note…I added a bit of salt here because I thought it needed it…but it’s your call on your version!

Spray an 8" X 8" baking pan  (mine was 9 x 9…I’m a rebel like that) with nonstick spray, and carefully fill with contents of the bowl. Evenly top with Parm-style topping and remaining 2 tbsp. mozzarella cheese.

Bake in the oven until entire dish is hot and cheese on top has melted, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, and then serve and enjoy!

Serving Size: 1/4th of recipe
Calories: 286
Fat: 7g
Sodium: 455mg
Carbs: 41g
Fiber: 5g
Sugars: 7g
Protein: 16.5g



Right after I added the spinach.









Now in goes the ricotta!








Stir it all together (veggies, cheese, pasta, tomatoes) before topping with cheese (I skipped the extra bowl and just cooked the veggies in an extra-large pan – one less thing to clean). Side note: I just love the sound that creamy cheesy pasta and sauce makes when you stir it – does anyone else know what I mean? I can’t really describe it – just that pleasant, sort of smooshing sound – but that really doesn’t do it justice. Guess you’ll just have to try it for yourself so you know what I mean.




It’s ready to go in the oven! See the top for a close-up of what it looks like after it comes out.


Now, I know this might not be considered the most summer-y meal to have on the first day of summer, being that it doesn’t involve the grill, but paired with an asparagus salad, it sure was tasty! And I made it on hooping night (Tuesday), so with the asparagus salad marinating in the fridge and my mom popping this into the oven, a delicious Italian meal was waiting for me when I got home…can’t beat that! Added bonus? Two delicious servings of leftovers…score!









Dessert was another one of the strawberry squares I told you about yesterday fancied up even more. I topped it with leftover filling from my grandma’s rhubarb cake, sliced fresh berries, cool whip and a touch of light chocolate syrup….delish!

What are your favourite Italian dishes? And do you have any tips or tricks for lightening them up?


Keepin’ ‘em guessin’

18 Jun


Keeping with the theme of yesterday’s post, I have more photo guessing for you to do. Do you know what the above photo is? I’ll give you some clues:

  • it’s a springtime vegetable of sorts
  • it is part of a plant that we normally eat the bulb of
  • it has a nice little “kick”

Give up? If you guessed garlic scapes, you’re right! What are garlic scapes, you may be asking? Basically, they are the green shoots of the garlic plant. Flavour and texture-wise, they’re best described as a curly green bean with a mild garlic flavour (I can’t take credit for that, it’s what the lady at the market told me back when I first bought them). They’re only available for a few weeks in the spring, so if you see these guys, jump on them if you get the chance!

I was blessed enough to be able to “double-dip” on farmer’s markets this week. Because of my work schedule, I was able to make it to my Thursday market in Simcoe (which I usually miss) AND Brantford’s Farmer’s Market on Friday…SCORE!

I used the scapes and more of Thursday’s purchases to make a KILLER springtime spaghetti. IMG_1790Truly, other than salt and pepper, all of the ingredients are in this photo (quantities are for one person):

  • 2 ounces dry whole wheat spaghetti
  • fresh garlic scapes, chopped
  • fresh asparagus, chopped
  • fresh peas, shelled
  • lemon zest and juice
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup light ricotta
  • a couple of sprigs fresh thyme

This pasta is completely vegetarian, satisfying enough for supper, but light enough that it would make a lovely spring lunch. And it came together SO fast! I put the water on as I was starting to sauté the veggies, and then wished I had started it sooner…it came together that quickly!IMG_1791 So all you do is…

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook spaghetti according to package directions (confession: I broke the noodles in half before cooking….any Italians reading have my permission to wag your finger and scoff).

Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp olive oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add asparagus and scapes, sauté for a few minutes, then add the peas. When vegetables just start to get tender and barely brown, zest in some lemon peel, then squeeze in the juice of half the lemon. Add the thyme leaves (removed from stems), season with salt and pepper, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.


Add a nice splash of starchy cooking water, then add in the cooked spaghetti. Crank the heat up a little bit more, then squeeze in more lemon juice. Just before serving, stir in the ricotta, heat through, and season with more salt and pepper, if needed.



Put the pasta in your serving bowl, and add one more shot of lemon juice (I found that adding the juice at different stages really brightened up the flavour). Mmmm….super spring-y (and very verdant, don’t you agree? ).Winking smile


Speaking of verdant, Donna requested the recipe for the lime cookies I talked about yesterday. IMG_1794They were lime meltaways from Martha Stewart (I have and love her cookie book). I found the recipe online here though (saves me typing). The quantities aren’t the same, but I figure they’re both Martha cookies, so you’ll get the same end result, right? These cookies are basically like an incredibly rich, buttery shortbread, with a nice hit of lime and a delicate powdered sugar coating…perfection for any lime lover! Warning: when coating in the icing sugar, a few of these guys will break on you. You’ll be left with a few broken pieces…I’ll leave you to decide what to do with them. Winking smile

One warm fuzzy moment to leave you with from my market double dip: IMG_1808there are several of the same vendors at both markets. One of my favourites, Dan the Mushroom Man and I always chat and say hello….and when I showed up yesterday, he said he had a surprise for me….then went and bought me THESE! Isn’t that so sweet? I love the market!

I hope that something equally as lovely has happened (or will happen) to you this weekend!

Kashing in on Asparagus

11 May

IMG_1070See this? This, my friends, is fresh asparagus. It is not from Mexico. It is not from Florida. It is not from California. It is 100% LOCAL! I was super-pumped when I saw the sign for it at the farm stand on my way home from school last night. And even though it’s less than 3 days until I leave for vacation, I couldn’t resist buying 2 bunches (the season is SO short, and I’m going to be away for 11 days of it, so I have to get it while I can).

Now onto the “kashing in” part of the title (no, I IMG_1069haven’t betrayed my profession and decided to throw caution to the wind with me spelling). And I’m normally not a fan of gratuitous spelling errors. The photo to the right is kasha, and last night’s supper marked the first time I cooked and ate it. What is kasha? Read more about it here. I am always on a quest to try new and different grains, so on a recent trip to the bulk barn, I picked up a bit of kasha (or buckwheat groats) to try. Side note: sometime in 2011 (we don’t have anything more specific), my little town of Simcoe is getting its own Bulk Barn…and I am SO excited! They have a great selection of baking stuff, grains, and natural foods (and some candies too, I’ll admit it Winking smile) that are hard to find in town. You know you live in a small town when the opening of a Bulk Barn excites you!


So the kasha and asparagus joined forces to make a rocking side salad for last night’s supper. I was cooking for one, so cooked 1/4 cup dry kasha according to the Bulk Barn’s handy tear-off directions mistake. I steamed some asparagus in the microwave for 3 minutes (I like it tender-crisp), used part in a salad for today’s lunch, reserved 3 little spears for my chicken, and chopped the rest up and added to the kasha. I also steamed and added a bit of broccoli (trying to clean out the fridge before vacation…2 DAYS!), as well as chopped raw red onion and red pepper. I stirred in some of my fresh arugula, chives, and parsley (you can never have too many fresh herbs…expect to see A LOT of them on HHH over the spring and summer). I seasoned with salt and pepper, and my dressing was lemon juice, lemon zest, Dijon mustard and fat-free Italian dressing. I put it in the fridge for a couple hours (I had hooping class) to let the flavours blend. Other than the fact that I slightly over-salted the kasha when I cooked it (oops!), this was a delicious, fresh, spring salad. IMG_1071

Now what did I do with those 3 little asparagus spears and my chicken? I made asparagus and ricotta-stuffed chicken. Sounds ritzy, no? But so simple! My filling was a couple tablespoons of light ricotta, mixed with lemon zest, chopped fresh parsley and chives, Dijon mustard, garlic salt and pepper.


I cut the asparagus spears in half. Then, using my boning knife, I cut a slit in a boneless, skinless chicken breast (my knife skills could use a little work though, ‘cause I went all the way through in a couple spots). I stuffed the slit with the ricotta mixture and the halved spears. As you can imagine, it was quite a messy process!


I put the stuffed chicken breast in a small stoneware pan with some chicken broth, and sprinkled the top with Greek seasoning and garlic salt, and covered it with aluminum foil. Since I was going out to hooping class, and cooking the chicken at the same time as I’d be roasting some cauliflower (on time-cook), I didn’t want the chicken to dry out. I set the oven to cook for 45 minutes at 400.


Results? The cauliflower (roasted with the usual suspects: cumin, garlic salt, olive oil, and just for kicks, some Epicure salsa seasoning) was delicious as always – nice and brown and crispy. As I said above, other than the slightly salty kasha, the salad was a real winner. And I really like the nutty flavour of the kasha – add this to the list of delicious “alternative” grains. The chicken? It was good, but the flavour didn’t absolutely knock my socks off. Maybe it needed a bit more salt? But still a good dish. This was a perfect meal for spring – fresh, light and healthy – lots of veggies, whole grain, lean protein and even a bit of calcium from the cheese (gotta get in all the good nutrition I can before vacation)! What “other” grains do you like to cook with? I’m expanding my repertoire. So far I’ve tried kasha, bulgur, couscous, Israeli couscous and quinoa.