To my knowledge, I've never eaten a ziti and I certainly have never made one, but I've always loved the name. Ziti. Ziti. Ziti. Isn't it great?! When the spinach manicotti was gobbled up, eldest daughter was still fuming that she didn't get her fair share, and she pleaded for me to make another. She kinda had a point, because her sister and I eat like normal people and she eats like a bird, but I didn't want to make exactly the same recipe right away, so I decided it was time to investigate Baked Ziti.
I didn't want to make a classic ziti, which is primarily a pasta and cheese casserole, sometimes with meat – I wanted to fill it with vegetables. I often scheme how to get more vegetables into my kids. They like most vegetables, and they do eat salads (especially the dancer), but feeding them a variety of cooked vegetables can be a challenge, and vegetables are where the nutrition is, baby. :)
Neither daughter cares much for mushrooms, but the eldest will eat them if they aren't obvious - she has stated it's ok in this situation. (The youngest would feel betrayed if she discovered that I hid them in her food, but she's not around this week and, even if she were, she's eating gluten free for the next few weeks.) So I decided that mushrooms would definitely be included, and also zucchini, another veggie she isn't crazy about. She likes carrots and spinach, so of course those would also be included.
I had trouble finding a recipe that met my requirements. There was a Baked Ziti Primavera on allrecipes.com that was kinda sorta what I wanted, but not quite. There was an uber healthy Baked Ziti with Vegetables on the Mayo Clinic website. I used features from both recipes, added my own ideas, and here you go. I have no idea if it's anything like a "real" ziti, but it's a pasta casserole with vegetables and cheese and the mushrooms are almost invisible, so it's a "home run", as far as I'm concerned. :)
Baked Ziti with VegetablesPasta
- 1-16oz box Barilla Ziti pasta (or equivalent)
- 2 small zucchini, finely diced
- 2 carrots, finely diced
- 1-8oz box crimini mushrooms, finely diced (any sort of mushrooms could be substituted)
- ~5oz baby spinach (I used most of a 6oz bag of Trader Joes organic baby spinach)
- 1-14.5 oz can Muir Glen Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes (or equivalent)
- 1/2 cup No Chicken broth
- 4 cubes Dorit crushed garlic (or equivalent)
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- additional broth, or water, as needed
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1-24oz jar prepared pasta sauce
- 1-15oz container of ricotta
- 2 Tbsp fresh basil, cut into chiffonade, or 2 tsp dried
- 1/2 cup grated cheese mixture (plus extra for topping)
- parmesan (also for topping)
A little mise-en-place
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Bring a pot of water to boil and cook ziti, as directed. The Barilla box says to simmer for 11 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Heat a large skillet and add about 1/2 cup broth. When hot, add the carrots and cook for a bit. Then add the zucchini and mushrooms and cook for a bit more. Add more broth, or water, as needed. Finally, add the diced tomatoes with juice, the spinach, the 4 cubes of crushed garlic, the dried oregano and dried basil (if using dry). Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until all veggies are cooked and it tastes yummy.
- In a large bowl, place the veggie mixture, the ricotta cheese, the fresh basil (if using fresh - I used fresh), and the jar of pasta sauce. Mix together and add the pasta, separating the pieces if necessary. Add about a 1/2 cup of grated cheese (whatever kind you like). Mix thoroughly.
- Place the mixture into a lasagna pan which has been sprayed with a non-stick spray. (I have one of those All Clad cast iron enamel roasting pans. It weighs a ton, but I love it.)
- Sprinkle with parmesan and any other cheese mix that you like.
- Cover with foil and place in preheated oven. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes until cheese is golden and bubbly.
Notes: Eldest daughter loved the taste, but felt it needed more sauce. For now, I'm serving it with extra pasta sauce, but next time I need to make it "saucier." :)