Mix up your dinner routine with this tasty pasta recipe! Paired with a creamy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and topped with melted mozzarella cheese. Vegetarian.
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!
- 4 large red bell peppers
- 1 lb. ziti pasta
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup diced yellow onion
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup red wine (I used a Merlot)
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 Tbsp. flour
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1 cup milk (I used skim)
- ¼ cup light cream cheese
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
- Roast red bell peppers in a 400 degree F oven for 30-40 minutes until skin is charred and wrinkly. Remove peppers from oven, place in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit until peppers are cool enough to handle, about 30 minutes, then remove the stem and seeds and peel off the skin. The steam from the hot peppers when you covered them with plastic wrap should make the skin come off fairly easily.
- When roasted peppers are peeled and de-seeded, give them a rough chop and set aside.
- Cook pasta in very salty water until 2 minutes less than al dente, then drain and set aside.
- While pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Add garlic and onion to saucepan and sauté until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add all of the chopped roasted red pepper pieces, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar and cook for 2 minutes until vinegar is bubbling and fragrant.
- Add red wine to saucepan and cook for 3-4 minutes until wine has reached a simmer, then remove mixture from heat.
- Transfer wine and red pepper mixture to a separate bowl and return the saucepan to the stove over medium-high heat. No need to clean out the pan - you'll return the red pepper mixture to the same pan in a few minutes.
- Melt butter in the saucepan and add flour. Whisk to form a roux and let cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Add vegetable stock to roux slowly, whisking constantly to work out any lumps.
- Add milk to vegetable stock and whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, until mixture has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. The sauce won't thicken a whole lot, so don't worry if it still looks a little thin.
- Add cream cheese to sauce and whisk to combine. When cream cheese has melted, return red pepper mixture to the saucepan and stir to combine. Bring sauce back to a low simmer, then remove saucepan from heat.
- Blend sauce with an immersion blender (you could also transfer sauce to a regular blender) until all chunks have been blended and you have a smooth sauce. Taste and re-season as necessary.
- Add cooked ziti to sauce and toss to combine. Transfer pasta to a large baking dish and top with shredded mozzarella. You can bake it immediately or save it in the fridge for another day.
- When you're ready to eat, bake ziti at 375 for 20-25 minutes until cheese has melted and slightly browned. If you had the ziti in the fridge before baking, it may take a little longer to cook.
- Top ziti with fresh chopped parsley and serve immediately.