I really struggled to name this dish. It’s basically baked ziti. However, we add ground white meat, spinach, and use whole wheat penne instead of standard ziti. I still don’t like the name, but it’s stupid to waste any more time thinking about it.
Anyways, this is my go-to for friends who have babies or need a frozen meal. If I have a free afternoon on a weekend sometimes I will buy disposable 8 x 8 pans and the needed ingredients, and make up a few dinners. Freeze them with saran wrap and foil with tape on the top explaining how to reheat.
The reason this is great is because it’s like a casserole, but its not a casserole. We think of casseroles as creamy, cheesy, limp veggies, and generally unhealthy. But the good side of a casserole is that it has all the necessary “dinner” components all in one dish! That’s why this is great. Whole wheat grains (pasta), veggies (tomatoes and spinach), dairy (cheese) and protein (ground meat). It’s all you need, and all in one place!
This dish allows for a lot of personalizing. You could use ground beef, pork, lamb, veal, turkey, etc. Today I used chicken because I got it on special. You could add roasted or sauteed veggies of your choice (but keep the tomatoes as they create our sauce). You could also have fun with the cheeses, as long as you stay in the italian family… asiago, provolone, fontina, pecorino, ricotta, or even gorgonzola. I stick to mozzarella and parmesan, as to not offend the picky teen-aged palates.
6 oz. whole wheat rotini or penne
2 tbsp. olive oil
½ onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. ground turkey or chicken
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz) can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tsp. dried basil (or 1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil)
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 c. packed fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
¼ c. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1. Bring water to boil (lid on) in pot. When it boils, add 1 tbsp. salt and stir; add pasta and stir. Boil (with lid OFF) for 8 minutes or until cooked al dente.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Grease 8 x 8 in. square baking pan.
4. Meanwhile, in large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until softened. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant (do not brown garlic; watch closely).
5. Add chicken and break up with wooden spoon until evenly browned and barely any pink is left.
6. Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, basil and spinach. Stir until combined and spinach is wilted.
Notice in the ingredients I call for 1 tsp. dried or 1 tbsp. fresh? Dried herbs or spices are concentrated, so you will need 1/3 of the amount you’d use for fresh. This is general rule of thumb. Next time a recipe calls for 3 tbsp. of fresh parsley, chopped, know that you can sub in 1 tbsp. dried parsley for similar, though not as good, results.
7. When pasta is cooked, drain it in the sink. Add pasta to skillet and toss with ½ c. mozzarella cheese and 2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese.
8. Carefully pour mixture into baking pan. Top with remaining cheese.
9. Bake in oven approximately 20 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.
10. Remove from oven, let stand for 1 minute.
This was very well received by my class and the leftovers were even BETTER received by my homeroom, who devoured it in about five minutes. Yum!