Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Baked Ziti - Lightened Up

"So what, no freaking ziti now?" was all I kept thinking as I made this baked ziti and that's because baked ziti is not a dish that I usually make. In fact, this was my first time making it so I associate ziti with The Sopranos! But I decided to make it because my roommate's parents gave us a box of ziti a while back, and as I was cleaning out the pantry I decided that we needed to use it up.

Like I said, I wasn't familiar with this pasta, so the first thing I did was read the recipe for baked ziti on the box. With the POUND of mozzerella cheese listed, plus ricotta cheese, plus parmesan cheese, I thought "It's bathing suit season April and after that lasagna you made a few weeks back, you cannot do this!" Then, I immediately thought of Anthony Jr's line from the very 1st Sopranos episode "So what, no freaking ziti now?"  And I responed to myself (only in my mind because clearly I'm not crazy!) "YES THERE WILL BE ZITI!"  Just a lighter, more figure friendly version.

So here's my recipe!  I only used 2 cups of cheese, added a lean(er) meat, some colorful, vitamin-rich veggies and what I created was a lighter version of the classic Italian dish that was still comforting and still satisfying.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 yellow bell pepper
What a handful of basil and parsley looks like
1 orange bell pepper
salt and pepper (to taste)
red pepper flakes (optional)
1 lb hot Italian turkey sausage (Casings Removed)
1 handful of basil
1 handful of parsley
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 box ziti pasta (1 lb)
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 cup parmesean cheese
non-stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large pot, cook the ziti according to package directions (don't forget to generously salt the pasta water). You want the pasta to be just shy of "al dente" because the pasta will continue to cook in the oven.

While the pasta water is boiling, chop your vegetables.  Finely chop the onion and garlic.  Then remove the seeds and ribs of the bell peppers and chop into strips that are about as wide and as long as the ziti pasta.  Next heat the olive oil in another large pot, add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.  Add the bell peppers, salt and pepper to taste, and sauté for another 3-4 minutes.  Then add the turkey sausage, breaking it up with the edge of your spoon or spatula. If you like a little extra heat, you can add a couple pinches of red pepper flakes here.

When the turkey sausage has browned, add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste.  Roughly chop the basil and parsley and stir it into the sauce.  Allow the sauce to come to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, and allow the sauce to cook for another 15 minutes.

Once your pasta is cooked and throughly drained, add it to the sauce and stir to combine.  Mix the 2 cheeses in a small bowl and set aside.   Then spray a casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray, pour half of the pasta/meat sauce into the dish, and then cover with half of the cheese.  Pour the other half of the pasta into the dish and cover with the remaining cheese.  Place the pasta dish onto a baking sheet, in case some bubbles over, and bake uncovered for 30 mins.  Remove the ziti from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes, (if you can resist) and enjoy!  You can garnish with extra parsley and just a sprinkle of parm.  Serve with bread for mopping.

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