Cooking for Others – Vegetarian Baked Ziti
I had the opportunity to cook for others this week – for friends who were moving and I knew would appreciate dinner while dealing with a moving truck, and for a political campaign office (I won’t say which party, as I’d really like to keep this blog about food, not the very contentious state of politics in the US right now.) I had it in my mind before I went to Canada that I’d make a vegetarian baked ziti recipe, sure to satisfy everyone, but that pesky snow storm that hit Colorado last week caught me off guard and I arrived home to find my basil looking like this. But guess what?While you wouldn’t want to use that basil for a caprese salad, it works just fine when making a nice homemade marinara sauce. So well, in fact, that I think I’ll harvest the rest of it today and use up some of those tomatoes I froze to make some extra sauce for the winter.I like using mushrooms in a vegetarian pasta dish as their meaty texture is a nice stand in for meat itself. The key, though, is to fully caramelize them first so they aren’t watery and rubbery in the baked ziti.Baked ziti is also the perfect dish to use up some of those peppers and onions that I diced and froze from my CSA farm earlier this fall. When you thaw them out, they’ll release a lot of water, so cook them slowly, pouring off extra water, until they seem to no longer release water – then they are ready to use in your baked ziti.Some people just mix everything together for a vegetarian baked ziti, but I prefer a layered approach.Â To assemble, simply toss the pasta with the ricotta and egg and toss the cooked vegetables with just enough marinara sauce to coat them without being too soupy. Create layers with pasta and ricotta, marinara and vegetables, and sliced of fresh mozzarella.I like to use a little extra mozzarella on the top to give it a nice cheesy finish. Cover, bake, serve. It’s simple to transport and paired with a loaf of crusty bread and a simple green salad, you have dinner. Tuck this recipe away for the next time you’re cooking for others.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 bell peppers, diced
- 8 ounces crimini mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
- 3 cups marinara sauce
- 1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 large eggs
- 1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente and drained
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
- Divide olive oil between two large skillets and heat over medium high heat. Add mushrooms to one and cook until all the moisture has been released and the mushrooms are nicely browned. While mushrooms are cooking, add the peppers and onions to the second skillet and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Combine vegetables with marinara sauce and set aside.
- Combine ricotta and eggs and mix well; toss with cooked pasta. Spray a 13 x 9 inch oven safe baking dish with cooking spray. Layer half of the pasta and ricotta on the bottom and top with half of the vegetable mixture. Layer with ⅓ of the mozzarella cheese. Spread remaining pasta and ricotta over the top, cover with remaining vegetables, and top with remaining ⅔ of the mozzarella. cover with foil and bake until cooked through and bubbly, about 45 minutes.
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