Vegetable Ziti

It’s been a long while, dear readers…today’s recipe is something I made WEEKS ago, but…

more on that later.

This ziti is made with whole-wheat pasta, assorted vegetables, and a tomato sauce that can be used for anything Italian. As my grandmother did in her lasagna, I swapped the ricotta for cottage cheese – it’s a totally optional swap, but I enjoy the change in texture and the richness in flavor.

Now, why, you may ask, has it been so long since I’ve written? In a word, teenagers. (And don’t sigh in resignation – teenagers in general are sweet and wonderful and those that aren’t give the rest of them a bad name.)

I am a 10th grade English teacher, and it’s a job I used to love and now love occasionally and makes me want to smash things occasionally. For some reason, it’s gotten harder every year. Really, I think most people have NO IDEA how hard it is. Ever juggled cats? That might be a comparison.

I’ll spare you my woes, but basically when school starts I have so little energy that I barely cook and use my remaining energy on my students. Every year, I become a better teacher, and every year, I think that results in me working harder (not what I expected.)

Now, for ziti.

My boyfriend often requests ziti, and I think I make it differently every time? Maybe. I always combine a few recipes and kind of wing it, but the result is roughly the same.

First, I make the sauce (which, in this case, I made a day ahead, as we were having friends over for dinner.)

sauce prep
The essentials.

You can dump it all in a pot, and let it simmer for as long as you like – an hour is the minimum necessary. After 30 minutes, you can add in vegetables of your choice – I always have mushrooms and broccoli, and sometimes yellow and green squash.

sauce with veggies
Apologies for the bad picture…I’ll do better next time.

To make ziti, you combine two cups of sauce with your ricotta or cottage cheese, and then blend it with the cooked whole-wheat pasta. Then you pour over the remaining sauce, and top with cheese (and dare I say it – breadcrumbs.)

All in all, it’s pretty easy. Can you do this with bottled sauce? Yes. Should you? No. Once you start making your own tomato sauce, you’ll never go back. This recipe uses the pantry essentials of boxed tomatoes. I switched from canned to boxed a few years back, since there may be danger in canned foods. And new to the pantry essentials list – Italian seasoning and season salt.

IMG_20170818_180521

Vegetable Ziti

ingredients

  • [for sauce – makes a large batch; halve for smaller ziti portion]
    • 2 TB olive oil
    • 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 2 TB minced garlic
    • 26 oz boxed chopped tomatoes
    • 17 oz container tomato sauce
    • 2 TB tomato paste
    • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 2 TB Italian Seasoning
    • ~1-1/2 TB Season Salt (Morton’s is my preference)
    • freshly ground pepper, to taste
    • 1-2 tsp sugar, to balance the acidity
    • any of the following assortment of vegetables; quantities to your taste)
      • cremini mushrooms
      • yellow and green squash
      • broccoli florets
      • greens, like spinach or kale

sauce method

  1. Heat oil in tall stock pot over medium. Once oil is hot, add bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Saute until onion and bell pepper soften.
  2. Add remaining ingredients (except vegetables), and bring to a simmer (it WILL splatter. Maybe wear an apron). Alternately, you can dump ALL sauce ingredients in a pot and bring to a simmer. You don’t have to saute onion, bell pepper, and garlic first.
  3. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add broccoli and mushrooms, if using. Simmer for an additional 15 minutes and add squash. Continue to simmer for 15 more minutes, watching that the squash doesn’t completely break down. If you are simmering for longer than an hour, adjust times accordingly.

[for ziti]

  • 2/3 box whole-wheat ziti or penne, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
  • 1.5 cup shredded mozzarella / 1/2 cup parmesan, or 2 cups of shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • cooked tomato sauce, divided

method

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a small bowl, combine 2 cups tomato sauce with ricotta cheese.
  3. Ladle a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a 13×9 pan. Pour cooked pasta into over top.
  4. Add tomato/cheese mixture and stir until combined.
  5. Pour remaining sauce over pasta (you may not have to use all of it).
  6. Top pasta with cheeses, and cover with foil.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover, top with breadcrumbs, and cook for 15 more minutes.
  8. Serve and enjoy with some garlic bread and a crisp salad.

 

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