Vegetarian Baked Ziti

I truly don’t think I could survive without some comfort food once in a while. Growing up in an Italian household, pasta with cheese was the ultimate comfort food. So once the weather starts to get chilly, I get to work on ensuring I am extra comforted with said food. However, I also know that this is the time of year my body wants to go into hibernation (i.e. sit on the couch more). Therefore, I lightened this version up just a bit so that a serving won’t break the belt.

 

I gave up meat several years ago and I don’t miss it. But I will say that this is one of those dishes that I prefer with some meat “substance”. I have tried it with just veggies, which is also good, but not quite the real baked ziti I know and love. In my other recipes I have used Lightlife soy crumbles, and I swear by them for the closest thing to ground meat (you can find them near the tofu in the produce section). Of course, you can make this recipe with regular ground meat. But if you are a meat eater, I recommend trying the soy crumbles some time and see how you like them. My meat-eating boyfriend has enjoyed the vegetarian dishes I’ve used them in, and sometimes can’t even tell the difference. Whatever you choose, meat or soy, you will thoroughly enjoy (this dish)!

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Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. short pasta (ziti, penne, rigatoni, rotini, etc.)
  • 2 cups chopped veggies of your choice (mushrooms, peppers, carrots, zucchini, etc.)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 12 oz. package of soy crumbles (I used Lightlife)
  • 1 28 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 16 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded/grated Parmesan cheese

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray a 9×13 dish with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook until just al dente (slightly under-cooking ensures the pasta won’t overcook in the oven). Drain and set aside.
  3. Spread chopped veggies out in a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until tender. Remove from oven and set aside.
  4. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the oil and onion, cooking until the onion has softened and lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the soy crumbles and saute for 8-10 minutes. Add the sauce, oregano, crushed red pepper (if using), salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Mix the sauce/soy mixture with the pasta and roasted veggies.
  5. Spread half of the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Layer the spinach leaves on top, and then spoon the ricotta cheese over the spinach. Spread the rest of the pasta mixture on top of the ricotta. Top with the cheeses.
  6. Spray a large piece of foil with cooking spray and cover the baking dish. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake, uncovered, for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Yields 8 servings. Pairs great with a salad!

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