It hit 85 degrees this weekend in Atlanta, but I stubbornly cling to the idea that fall is here. My body certainly thinks so; I’ve been craving heavy comfort foods like baked ziti. But I wanted to make it a little bit healthier, at least. I’m not willing to give up the cheese, but I can cut down on the amount and use low-fat mozzarella and ricotta. And I can at least switch out the heavy meat that’s typically in a baked ziti for a seasonal vegetable like eggplant, which is plenty hearty enough to hold its own with the other heavy ingredients in the ziti.
My son Alex joined us for dinner and so I tried out my dish on two critics with different agendas: Alex, who loves veggie dishes but can particular about food being not flavorful enough and my husband, who loves almost everything except primarily vegetarian foods. Could I please them both?
- 1/2 box ziti or penne pasta
- 1 medium eggplant
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- ¾ tsp. salt
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 pound plum tomatoes (or 1 can plum tomatoes in juice)
- 1 small can tomato paste
- ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
- 3 tbsp. fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- Cut up eggplant and onion into small cubes.
- In large bowl, toss the eggplant and onion with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until evenly coated.
- Arrange veggies in single layer on two 2 large cookie sheets covered in aluminum foil.
- Roast veggies for 30 minutes or until eggplant is tender and golden. A little brownness on the edges is ok and actually kinda yummy.
- When the veggies are roasted, remove from oven and turn the oven down to 375 degrees F.
- I think this tomato sauce is quick and easy and tastes way better than jarred sauce, but don't stress yourself out. If you'd rather use a jar, then go for it. We have lots of fresh tomatoes around here now so I used those, but canned is also a good choice with tomatoes. I wanted this sauce to be run-down-your-face juicy so I added a chopped up regular tomato in addition to the firmer roma variety and I added to tomato paste to give it a bit of smooth body in addition to the chunky tomatoes.
- While the veggies are cooking, coarsely chop up the tomatoes (including skins) and add them, the tomato paste, the basil and the pepper to a saucepan.
- Heat to boiling, breaking up the tomatoes as the sauce cooks.
- Reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes or until sauce thickens to your taste.
- While the veggies and sauce cook, boil the water for the pasta and cook according to directions. When the pasta is finished, stir it into the simmering tomato sauce.
- In a large bowl, add the ricotta cheese, egg, mozzarella, salt and pepper.
- Stir until smooth.
- Start by spraying an 8x8 casserole dish.
- Cover the bottom with 1/3 of the tomato sauce and pasta.
- Next, spoon out 1/2 the ricotta filling on top of the pasta.
- On top of that comes 1/2 the veggie mixture.
- Repeat the process once again, finishing with the final third of the pasta.
- Layer 1 cup shredded mozzarella on top of your beautiful dish.
- Put in the oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until the cheese on top is melted.
So how was the ziti rated by its evaluators? Amazingly well! My son loved it and my husband paid the ziti his highest compliment when he had the leftovers again for dinner the next night. Even I, who always believes that I have not seasoned the dish enough, or that something could have been improved kinda loved it. Definitely comfort food that’s good for the body and the soul.
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