{Recipe} Healthier Baked Ziti

One of my favorite comfort foods has always been Baked Ziti. There is just something about warm, gooey, melted cheese and pasta that makes me happy. Team that up with some fresh baked Italian bread (preferably from Brooklyn) and I’m on cloud nine!

The problem is, that as I have become healthier over the years, but I still crave that type of meal. My body now rejects high fat foods and processed carbs. I end up feeling sluggish and sick after I eat them, so I knew I needed to find a way to lighten it. As you know it that can be tricky to do when messing with cheese, but I think this turned out pretty good. I even added spinach/kale to the recipe for some vitamins and nutrients.

While this recipe is not the picture of health, it is lighter than your typical Baked Ziti and you can play around with ingredients to match your likes and dislikes. If you are a fan of gluten-free pasta, feel free to use it in this dish!

Healthier Baked Ziti

Healthier Baked Ziti
(serves 8)

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz uncooked ziti or penne (preferably whole-grain)
  • 28 oz crushed tomatoes (I used Tuttorosso)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 oz frozen spinach, thawed (I didn’t have spinach the last time I made it so I used Kale and it worked great)
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 8 oz fat-free ricotta
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups (8 oz) shredded part skim mozzarella
  • olive oil cooking spray

Directions:Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with oil spray.

In a large pot, cook pasta according to instructions until al dente. Make sure you salt the water before adding the pasta! Drain and return to pot.

As the pasta cooks, heat a medium saucepan, add olive oil and sauté garlic, being careful not to burn it. Add chopped spinach, salt, pepper and crushed tomatoes. Season with basil, Italian seasoning, salt & pepper.

Add sauce to the pasta and gently toss. Add half of the mozzarella, Parmesan cheese and ricotta to the pasta. Carefully mix well, then transfer to your baking pan and top with the remaining mozzarella cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until mozzarella is melted and the edges are lightly browned. Let it cool 5 minutes, then cut it into about 8 equal portions.

*You can make this a day in advance if you need to. Just be sure it’s stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking according to the directions above.

This meal would be perfect with a nice side salad instead of the bread, however it’s one of the few times I look to eat Italian bread and found a delicious 100% Whole Wheat variety that my local grocery store bakes fresh daily.

Do you have a favorite comfort food? Have you ever attempted to lighten it up?

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