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!
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!
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
Serving Size: 1/4th of recipe
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?