Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Amanda's Baked Ziti

It looks like our winter wonderland hopes have been answered...we got snow. Half the city called in for a snow day. You know what I did? Ran outside and snapped a few shots of my ladies exploring the yard. Yes, I am THAT chicken lady. At least I own up to it of my own accord.

It is possible they have seen snow before, but they certainly hadn't played it in until this week.

There is an old wives tale that if the family chickens have an early molt, it means winter will be worse than normal this year.

I promise to keep you informed if I see a trend forming with their feather loss and the snow...

Now, time for some food. In honor of Thanksgiving, I figured I should share a nice hearty alternative to the old traditional turkey supper. In this case, a vegetarian version of my family's baked ziti recipe. My mother used to make a batch of this on cold days when I was a kid. Her version had sausage, ground beef, lots and lots of cheese, etc. Obviously, my version has been tweaked a bit for my vegetarian palate. I prefer to use rice pasta as opposed to normal pasta for wheat/dietary purposes. You can pretty much substitute any veggie, type of pasta, and cheese or sauce into this delicious casserole. Sometimes I make it the more traditional way with ricotta cheese mixed in before I bake it (you can substitute nonfat cottage cheese to save some fat). Play around and make it your own. Enjoy!

Amanda's Baked Ziti
  • 1 16 oz bag of ziti or fusilli rice pasta
  • 1-2 jars of pasta sauce (I used one of garlic tomato & vodka tomato)
  • 1/2 of one 6 oz container of pesto (I used chipotle)
  • 1 package of fake Gimme Lean soy sausage
  • 1 onion, chopped  
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced 
  • 1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup black olives, sliced 
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano 
  • 1 tsp dried basil 
  • Shredded Italian cheese for topping

Bring a large pot of water (2-3 quarts) to a boil. Follow the directions on the pasta packaging and prepare as directed (you can continue doing this throughout the next few steps). I tend to make mine a wee bit on the al dente side, but that is a personal preference. Drain when complete, and set aside.

In a large sauce pan, pour in tomato sauces and half of the pesto container (3 oz). You can add more as your personal taste dictates. Turn the stove burner to low-medium heat. Add sliced black olives, bay leaves, half of the chopped fresh basil, dried thyme, dried oregano, dried basil, and garlic. Bring to a warm temperature (slight bubble) as you complete the following steps.

While you are warming the sauce and boiling the pasta, make the meatballs with the Gimme Lean sausage. You can make larger meatballs by mixing in some bread crumbs and diced onions, or you can go the easy route (like I did) and make simple ones with simply the fake meat. In a large skillet, heat some olive oil on medium and slightly brown the meatballs for a few minutes. Then add the onions and continue to saute until slightly transparent (few minutes). Next add the mushrooms and saute until slightly tender. Finally add the red bell pepper for a minute or two. Remember to mix during the cooking.

Next mix the meatballs and veggies into the tomato sauce. Follow this up with mixing the cooked and drained pasta into the sauce. Two jars of sauce should cover you here. I prefer to have more sauce than less sauce (thus 2 jars), hence I leave it up to you to make it your preference. If it seems a little runny for any reason, just remember some of the moisture will bake out.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Pour the pasta mixture into a large casserole dish or baking dish. Smooth the top into an even layer. Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the entire dish. Follow up with the remaining half of the chopped basil (I forgot in this instance). Sprinkle additional toppings like red pepper flakes, more dried herbs, salt and pepper, or nutritional yeast (all of which I did). Cover with a lid or foil and bake for approximately 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. The top should look golden and crispy, the edges bubbling.

Remove from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving. Make sure to have some garlic bread handy!

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