I started with this baked ziti recipe on allrecipes.com. And then I went crazy... When I follow a recipe, it is more or less just for an idea and the process, how long do things need to cook, what temperature, etc. Here, I wanted to make it healthier by sneaking in a few more servings of vegetables and cleaning out some odds and ends from the refrigerator. The great thing about this recipe is that you could really use whatever you have on hand.
So this is how I did it:
- Pasta: 1 box of whole wheat rotini. I thought it was a 16 oz but upon closer inspection, the 16 oz box now only contains 13.5 oz. I guess that's the new cost cutting measure.
- 1 lb. of ground turkey. I had some great farmers market organic ground turkey that I was dying to use. Of course you could use any other ground meat or go meatless.
- Veggies: I used 1/2 an onion, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 big carrot, and 4 medium sized baby bella mushrooms. Basically, I cleaned out most of the veggies in my fridge. I'd say you want about 3-4cups of veggies total, but all aspects of this recipe are pretty flexible. Use what you've got.
- Cheese: You want at least 2-3 cups of cheese. Again, I cleaned out all the cheese in my fridge and shredded it up, so I had some provolone, mozzarella, and, believe it or not, swiss! I mixed it all together after shredding it, so that I wouldn't have layers of different cheeses.
- 1 can of black olives
- 1/2 cup of plain nonfat yogurt, this was my substitute for the sour cream.
- 26 oz. of pasta sauce
- 1 C of white wine
- A pat of butter
- A few pinches of salt
- About a teaspoon of brown sugar
- A few shakes of granulated garlic
I used my dutch oven and started by heating the butter. I sliced the onions paper thin using the mandolin. I put them in with the butter, a pinch of salt and the brown sugar and let them cook on low for a while to caramelize the onions. Caramelizing onions always takes me forever, so I didn't bother to start the pasta or the preheat the oven until after I got there. I figured the sauce could always hang out and simmer if I needed it to.
While the onions were doing their thing, I chopped all my other veggies and put them in a bowl so they'd be ready when my pot was ready. I pressed the garlic using the garlic press my friend Hadley got me when she was out here. I sliced a carrot using the mandolin, since I had it out already. I chopped up the mushrooms tiny, I love mushrooms. I crushed and diced up the black olives, my husband loves black olives. You could use any other vegetables - I think celery would be great here, I considered adding some spinach but I thought that might push Jon over the edge. In the end, I had a nice size bowl of vegetables, so that was good enough.
When the onions were nice and brown, I threw the ground turkey in. I like to add about half, let that start to cook, and then add the other half, just so I don't cool my pot too quickly.
Now preheat the oven to 375.
In a separate pot, boil some water, salt it, throw the Rotini in. Cook about 8 minutes, stir occasionally.
When the turkey was almost all the way cooked through, I dumped my veggies in and stirred that. I let that heat up while I was waiting for the water to boil and shredded my cheese.
Shred all the cheese. It doesn't need to be tiny because it's going to have time to melt. You could crumble it and you'd be fine. Since I used swiss and that's clearly not an Italian cheese, I shook a little garlic over my shredded cheese mixture and some "Italian Seasoning" from the herb shelf. There, that makes Swiss cheese Italian, doesn't it? Like I said before, I mixed all my cheeses together, rather than doing layers of different cheeses.
When the veggies were getting all soft and fragrant, I added the pasta sauce. Suddenly, I thought that the pasta sauce wasn't going to be enough liquid to cover all the vegetables and all the pasta, so I decided to grab some white wine out of the fridge.
You know how you can never get all of the pasta sauce out of the bottle? I poured the cup of white wine into the pasta sauce bottle, put the lid back on, and shook it like crazy over the sink. This got all the extra sauce off the sides of the bottle, so when I threw that the wine on top of the pasta sauce, it was tomato saucy and the bottle was clean!
I gave that a good stir, and let that simmer until the rotini was done. In the meantime, I also sprayed olive oil into the casserole dish to prevent sticking.
I drained the rotini. I put half on the bottom of the greased casserole dish. Here comes the layering part, where the allrecipes.com site came in handy because I had a hard time envisioning the layers. I topped it with about 1/3 of the cheese. I then put the yogurt on top of that. The yogurt is hard to spread out, so my suggestion is to use a small spoon and just plop a little dollop every few inches so that you can spread it out as much as possible. It'll spread out a little more in the oven, the purpose is just to give it some creaminess.
I put half the veggie and sauce mixture on top of that, then the rest of the ziti, another 1/3 cheese, then the rest of the sauce, then I topped it with the last of the cheese.
I baked it about 30 minutes until it was all bubbly and the cheese was just starting to brown.
This was a pretty big dish, but I'll happily eat it as leftovers all week. I think it is a great compromise between a filling comfort food and a healthy food full of vegetables. If you're feeding someone who doesn't appreciate vegetables, the trick is to chop them as small as possible, let them sweat and soften in the pan before you add the sauce, and they'll be virtually invisible in the sauce.
Ok, the picture is out of focus... I was more concerned about digging in... but it came out looking a little something like this.
It smelled heavenly and tasted even better. And, yay, leftovers!