I realized today that the only recipes I’ve shared this year have pretttttty much been pasta, pizza, or things with hollandaise. Have I ruined your New Year’s diet resolution? I’m sorry. But not THAT sorry, because when you eat this roasted red pepper baked ziti you’ll totally forgive me and we’ll all be friends again. (Also, there’s no cream in this recipe! See? HEALTH CONSCIOUS, BAM).
This is a great make-ahead dish: I divided a whole batch into a few individual baking dishes and stored them all in the fridge so I could have baked ziti on demand this week. Grad school classes started again on Wednesday (umm, yuck) and I’ve been in something of an Amazon.com black shopping hole this week picking out new things to help me organize my kitchen and get my cooking life back on track. I can’t wait to show you guys all the fun things I’ve found to help spruce up our teeny tiny apartment kitchen on a broke-grad-student budget! (If you’re interested, you can follow along with #StrawberryKitchenReno on Instagram). Maybe next I’ll “renovate” my closet, since right now my closet is basically a pile of clothes on the floor. BUT BACK TO THE POINT: having ready-made, easy-to-heat up meals has been great this week with all the chaos.
It’s so easy to slip into the habit of ordering food or hitting a drive-through when you’re tight on time or tired after a long day, but I find that I feel sooooo much better if I make time- even just once a week! – to cook big batches of food that will last me through a few days of crazy-busy-tired-grad-school-working-ness. This ziti is DEFINITELY a new staple in that make-ahead-meal rotation, along with meals like Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna, that One Pot Spicy Pasta from awhile back, and this Black Bean Corn and Turkey Chili.
This ziti has a few more ingredients than I generally put in a pasta recipe, and it takes a little time, but it’s TOTALLY worth it. You end up with a rich, creamy, smoky red pepper sauce that tastes OH-so-good with a handful of melty mozzarella.
The challenge with this sauce was figuring out how to make it thick enough without compromising the red pepper flavor. I settled for using a LOT of roasted red peppers and a béchamel with vegetable stock and skim milk, so we have a sauce with plenty of red pepper flavor and a rich, creamy taste that’s actually pretty healthy (as far as pasta sauces go, anyway).
There’s a little bit of light cream cheese in the sauce for flavor and creaminess, and other than that the only cheese here is the mozzarella on top. If you wanted to make this dish vegan, you could use almond or coconut milk in place of cow’s milk, nix the cream cheese altogether, and eat it as is or add some vegan cheese on top and bake it. Want to make it a little heartier? Add some shredded chicken or Italian sausage to the mix. This baked ziti is a nice, simple blank canvas – add your favorite toppings to make it your own! [read more…]