Baked Ziti with Chicken and Spinach

Nov 13th

I read an article recently that says the reasons diets fail is because the dieter returns to his or her original patterns after losing the weight. I definitely weighed about 15 pounds more in college than I do now and no, I haven’t spent the last ten years on a diet. The only way to lose the weight and keep it off is to actually overhaul the way you eat.

When I noticed the “small changes” working for me, I got excited and started making more of them. Before I knew it I was drinking my coffee black, and was asking my mom if she could please make her homemade pizza dough with 100% whole wheat flour (she looked at me like I had two heads). I’ve since shifted into much more normal patterns, albiet still pretty healthy (I take my coffee with skim and Truvia, thank you very much).

These changes have certainly impacted the way I cook. For instance, I don’t think I’ve made a classic baked ziti yet in my own kitchen. You know, white pasta, sauce and cheese. I love the idea of baked pasta dishes but it will be whole wheat, there will be lean protein, and there will be vegetables. This recipe isn’t “diet food” – with the gobs of melted cheese it falls into the category of “comfort food” for me. I can dig in and know that it’s good for my body, and for my family’s bodies. Does it need a big hunk of buttery garlic bread on the side? Nopers – that bread has its place, but it’s with a low-calorie, broth-based soup. Learning the right way to eat isn’t rocket science but it does take time, energy and interest.

And now for a practical point on cooking – never make a dish like this that only serves 4. If the recipe is written for 4 people, it’s easy to double. Baked pasta dishes freeze well and are great leftovers for lunch the next day.

Baked Ziti with Chicken and Spinach

Serves 8

1 (13.5)  oz. box whole wheat rotini or penne

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 white onion, diced

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. ground turkey or chicken

2 tbsp. tomato paste

2 (14.5 oz) can petite diced tomatoes

1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1 tsp. salt

4 c. packed fresh baby spinach

2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

1/2 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. Drain.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish with nonstick spray.

3. In a large skillet or dutch oven, heat oil over medium high heat. Add chopped onion and cook until softened. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant

4. Add chicken/turkey and break up with wooden spoon until evenly browned and cooked through. Add paste and cook, stirring, for about two minutes.

5. Add diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, crushed pepper, salt and spinach. Stir until combined and spinach is wilted.

6. Add pasta to skillet and toss with 1 c. mozzarella cheese and 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese. If your skillet isn’t large enough to acommodate this, transfer to largest mixing bowl OR just mix in prepared 9 x 13 pan.

7. Carefully pour mixture into baking pan. Top with remaining cheese.

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8. Bake in oven approximately 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden.

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9. Remove from oven, let stand for 1 minute, and serve.

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