Thursday, July 28, 2011

Easy Low-fat Baked Ziti

We've been penny-pinching once again, so I've just been trying to use what's already readily available in my fridge and pantry. I was in the mood for something easy and filling, and of course healthy, and despite the heat, decided to make a baked ziti. 

Low-fat Baked Ziti with Quick Tomato Sauce

1 16 oz. package whole wheat ziti or penne pasta
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 cup spinach
½ cup low fat sour cream
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp red pepper flake
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Sautee half the onion and garlic in 1 tbsp of the olive oil over low heat, then add the tomato sauce and stir. Add the oregano, basil, pepper flake, salt and pepper and stir in, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Sautee the remainder of the garlic and onion in the rest of the olive oil for 2 minutes then add the spinach. Cook over low heat until wilted and fragrant.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente, toss with a little olive oil, and keep set aside. Grease a casserole dish that is around 14x10 and at least 2 inches deep with a little olive oil. When sauce is done, mix the sour cream in then add most of the mixture to the pasta until well coated. Reserve some for topping the casserole with.

Put a layer of pasta on the bottom of the pan, then top with the spinach spread evenly over the pasta layer. Sprinkle half the cheese over the spinach, then add a second layer of the pasta on top. Sprinkle with remaining sauce and cheese. Cover with tin foil or leave open if you want it to get extra crispy and put in the middle rack in oven. Cook for 20 minutes, depending on how brown you may want the top.  Serve with a yummy salad.

Lily enjoyed this ziti just as it was- it really is an ideal meal for toddlers, packed with appropriate servings of whole grains, veggies and dairy. For babies you can puree some spinach with a little mozzarella and sauce, or just the spinach for younger babies who aren't eating tomatoes and/or cheese yet, or just add a little breast milk.

Feel free to substitute the sauce with jarred sauce if you prefer, or use your own style. This is just a quick and easy way to make a simple tomato sauce that still tastes quite good! I always get complimented on it despite the little effort I put into it.

It’s no secret that whole grains are very good for you, and eating whole grain pasta reduces your carb in-take and helps maintain a healthy weight. I’ll be honest that I didn’t really like whole wheat pasta the first few times I tried it. It reminded me of cardboard, especially when used in Italian cooking. But, eventually I learned the trick was in the amount of time I cooked it! Foolishly, I’d been cooking it as long as I cooked regular dry pasta, and it had been coming out a bit too chewy and harder than I like. I did raise the cooking time by a minute at a time, and finally came to the conclusion that 15 minutes for a 4-6 serving amount of pasta is just right; it stays tender and not mushy. And now, I actually prefer the taste of whole wheat pasta!

I hope you will give whole wheat a try for this recipe even if you don’t like it. Try the 15 minute method and don’t forget to add some salt to the water! Naturally-sourced from the sea is best. Whole grains are loaded with a crazy amount of vitamins and nutrients like folic acid, magnesium, fiber, and B vitamins to name a few. Besides being a healthier choice for lowering your weight, whole grains help prevent diabetes and give you more energy than eating foods made from white flour that lack the bran and germ, which contain most of the nutrients. Whole grains also support the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal system, keeping your heart healthy and strong, and your bowels…well, regular. Studies have even shown the magical grain to protect against and prevent breast cancer.

Trust me…you’re better off with whole wheat over white wheat any day, it may just take some getting used to. Soon, white bread will taste as bland to you as cardboard does J

I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of this fabulous ziti, so hear is an image breaking down the whole grain and more info on the same subject:

Image courtesy
More info on whole grain benefits, and the benefits of other foods as well:

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