Thursday, July 12, 2007

Vegetarian Baked Ziti

To understand why this recipe is so amusing, it is important to know a little about me. If you aren’t interested in me and my story, skip down to the recipe, it is definitely worth a try!

Anyway, the story behind this recipe. As alluded to in the post about bagels, I have a Jew side and Goy side. My mom was raised mostly kosher and my dad went to Catholic school to give you an idea what I am talking about. I never celebrated the very religious holidays from either side, just doing the present giving holidays (Christmas and Chanukah). One year, one of my Catholic friends decided to go vegetarian for Lent. Despite the fact that I don’t do religious holidays, I decided to try it with her because I always toyed with going veg, so this would give me 40 days to try it out and support her at the same time. For the most part I didn’t miss beef. I hated my lack of chicken, but beef I could do without. Except in one dish. My mom’s baked ziti. Oh did I miss baked ziti. Mom always made it with ground beef sautéed with onions, and great tomato garlic pasta sauce surrounding noodles and cheese. It doesn’t get more comforting than that. My mom’s baked ziti was the epitome of comfort food. And so during those 40 days (and 40 nights) I hated my lack of baked ziti. My mom’s first response (as a Jew who didn’t really understand vegetarianism or Lent) was “if you want it so bad, just eat it!” No, by this point I was also proving something to myself (besides supporting my friend and doing something good for animals, the earth and my health). Then a friend of the family suggested broccoli instead of meat. It was an odd idea, but we thought we’d give it a try. I have never looked back. I changed the recipe slightly to accommodate the broccoli and make it quicker, but it is even more associated with comfort food now than it was back in the days of ground beef. You can of course switch back to the meat, but this version is healthier and just as fulfilling.

Vegetarian Baked Ziti
1 lb box of ziti or rigatoni pasta
1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce (I like ones with chunks of tomato and onion)
1 8oz bag of shredded mozzarella or mixed Italian cheeses
1 box frozen chopped broccoli
Optional: basil, Italian seasoning, chopped tomatoes, onion or garlic

1) Put a pot of water on to boil. Meanwhile remove broccoli from the box, put in a bowl and microwave for 1 min. After a minute, take the broccoli out, drain out whatever water you can and break the pieces of ice a little, then microwave another minute. Drain well. If it still has a bit of ice, microwave a little longer, but (very important) do NOT actually cook the broccoli. You don’t want it warm, just thawed. Once it is thawed, drop broccoli into a colander and drain. Using your hands, push ALL the water out of the broccoli. Excess water leads to soggy ziti, and you don’t want that. 2) By this time your water should have started to boil. Preheat the oven to 350F. Cook your pasta for about a minute less than you would if you were just going to eat it. You want it to hold its shape and not overcook in the oven, but you also don’t want it hard, so about a minute before you would eat the pasta plain is when you want to drain it.
3) While the pasta cooks, take a big, deep oven safe bowl (ceramic or glass have both worked for me) and pour all but about a cup of the pasta sauce in. add all but ½ a cup of the cheese. Add the tomatoes, onion and/or garlic if you are using it. Add the drained broccoli and stir to combine.
4) When the pasta is done, drain it and pour on top of the sauce mixture. Pour most of the leftover sauce on top (leave a few spoonfuls though). Stir it all together gently to avoid breaking the pasta (the sauce on top and bottom helps it mix more smoothly, making less breakage).
5) Once mixed, top with remaining few spoonfuls of sauce, basil or seasonings if you are adding them, then the leftover cheese. 6) Cover with lid or aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove lid or foil and bake another 15-25 minutes depending on how crunchy you like your top pieces (I like the top pieces very crunchy, as does my room mate, so we stick close to 25. Last night I was hungry so I didn’t wait as long, so, as you will see in the pictures, the top was not very crisp)So simple and so delicious. I probably make this dish once a week. I have not met a single person yet who didn’t like this dish. It does take a while but there are so few ingredients and so little effort that it is worth every minute. Seems so impressive that you can serve it to a group, but if you just have a few people, make just as much because the leftovers are great too. Depending on everyone’s hunger, this makes anywhere from 3-5 servings.
This baked ziti is my first entry into Presto Pasta Nights. Oh man, looking at past pasta entries just makes me want to drool...and then become Italian. Can you adopt a culture? If so, these pasta recipes on other blogs make me want to be Italian, without a doubt! Check them out and try not to bite the screen!


Ruth Daniels said...

Great post and perfectly delicious looking ziti. Thanks for joining in the Presto Pasta Night fun. Hope you plan on playing again soon.

Anonymous said...

Was veryyy delicious, my whole family (extremely picky eaters) loved it. I used half an onion and it seemed to make the dish.
Will make this again!

Lauren said...

I just made this tonight and it was hit! Thanks for the easy and delicious recipe!