A favorite in many homes on "Italian night," baked ziti is usually laden with meat and cheese. This version relies on the flavors of mushrooms and spinach instead.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped portobello, cremini, or button mushrooms
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can stewed tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
7 cups torn spinach (about 1/2 pound)
3 cups hot cooked ziti (about 2 1/4 cups uncooked short tube-shaped pasta)
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
How to Make It
Preheat oven to 375°.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and bell peppers, and sauté 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in basil, salt, black pepper, tomatoes, and tomato sauce, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes or until slightly thick. Stir in spinach; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Stir in pasta. Spoon into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Dollop with ricotta.
Cover and bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake an additional 5 minutes or until lightly browned.
Note: To make ahead, assemble casserole as directed. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature, and bake as directed.
My fussy spouse enjoyed this the first time I served it, which was fine. The clincher is that when I reheated the frozen leftovers some weeks later he raved! That is unusual. When I said I would save the recipe he agreed wholeheartedly. I served it with a simple salad with cherry pie for dessert.m. A hit!
I made half the recipe in an 8x8 pan, and we enjoyed it as a family meal. I substituted an anaheim pepper for the bell (for a little zip) and added chopped fresh basil and oregano. I also stirred about one TB pesto into the sauce. Another important change: layered the ricotta in between two layers of spinach mixture to keep it moist, then topped with grated sharp provolone instead of parmesan. With those flavor intensifiers, it made a nice dinner along with a romaine/arugula salad and crunchy breadsticks.