I took a classic baked ziti recipe, and packed it with veggies instead of meat and cheese to get a healthier baked ziti recipe! This healthier baked ziti recipe hits the spot and serves a lot!
What’s different from the Baked Ziti I know and love? Why is this Baked Ziti Healthy?
Baked Ziti is a classic recipe served at sports teams’ dinners and family parties for decades in the US. It’s easy for the home chef to prepare, and generally inexpensive. Best of all, it serves many people with minimal active cooking time.
You can often find this classic baked pasta dish on many menus at Italian restaurants. It’s typically served in one of two ways: either it’s vegetarian with just pasta, sauce, and cheese, or it’s served with a meat sauce. Regardless of which way it’s prepared, the dish isn’t very nutrient dense. This healthy baked ziti still provides the same comfort as the classic dish, but in a much more nutritious way.
While remaining vegetarian, we made this baked ziti healthy by packing in tons of veggies, and easy to prepare for any meatless dinner. In place of meat, we made a savory vegan bolognese (meat sauce) out of finely chopped mushrooms and walnuts. We’ve also substituted half of the ricotta needed for this recipe with spinach to add extra nutrients. It’s also super easy to make this recipe vegan if you use vegan ricotta and/or vegan mozzarella.
Healthy Baked Ziti: Food science tips
Baked ziti has a different texture than ziti made in a pot on the stove. This is because the oven draws out most of the moisture. Be sure to add excess sauce to prevent the pasta from drying out. Make sure to cook your veggies before you add them to your tray; otherwise, they will water down the sauce.
Don’t be afraid to add more seasoning! The cheese’s fat can dilute the sauce’s seasonings, so it’s a good idea to add on some extra seasoning to ensure your full flavor comes through.
You can use part-skim products as a healthier alternative. Cheese purists will insist you use full fat, however, it will add more calories and cholesterol. The baked ziti will still be indulgent, regardless of which fat level you select.
Baked Ziti Ingredient Spotlight
While there are many potential recipe variations, a few ingredients cannot be omitted.
While some avoid nuts because of their fat content, walnuts contain beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acids. Walnuts have alpha-linolenic and linoleic acids. These fats may be beneficial for blood vessels and have anti-inflammatory properties.
Spinach is a widely available and recognized leafy green packed with nutrients. It can provide different benefits when raw or cooked. In general, spinach is a great source of calcium, iron, and vitamins C and K. When spinach is cooked, these nutrients become more bioavailable.
We love mushrooms at Made to Sustain! We’ve listed some of our favorite recipes here! They are full of earthy flavor and protein. Mushrooms are great ways to incorporate protein, iron, and fiber into your diet. Here’s a great resource to learn more about the benefits of mushrooms.
Ricotta is a fresh cheese typically made from the leftover production of other cheeses. You can purchase ricotta in whole, skim, or partially skim because it’s based on the type of milk used in cheese production. We’ve purchased our ricotta from a local dairy, but you can also make your ricotta at home.
Baked Ziti Variations
If you don’t like or are allergic to walnuts, check out this recipe we have for vegan bolognese with cauliflower rice and mushrooms.
You can easily make this recipe vegan with vegan ricotta and vegan mozzarella. Many recipes exist to make vegan ricotta from tofu or cashew cream. You can also use vegan mozz. Store-bought has become much more convenient, although they are typically more expensive. You can also try some of our vegan cheese recipes here.
Sustainability tips and tricks
The meatless sauce for this meal yields a significant amount. Try freezing half to make a second amount later. You can also use this same sauce recipe to make lasagna!
Look for locally sourced ingredients. We used a locally sourced cheese available at our grocery store. We checked the manufacturing location, and it was produced within 100 miles of my local shop! You can always check your manufacturing location by reading labels closely.
Use fresh spinach if you’d like. Many are grown hydroponically, but you can find them locally, also. Sub in for kale if you prefer. I like to pack my dishes with veggies, but you can omit them if you prefer.
Baked Ziti FAQ:
Should you cover baked ziti in the oven? Should I cover Baked Ziti with Foil?
No, you don’t need to cover your baked ziti in the oven. There is enough moisture from the vegetables to prevent them from drying. You may risk losing some cheese to the foil if you heat it.
Why is my baked ziti dry?
You should put a layer of sauce at the bottom of your pan before you put your ziti in the pan. It is also helpful to add more sauce than you think you need, as the oven will evaporate some moisture. If your baked ziti has come out dry, you can revive it by adding some additional tomato sauce. If it’s easier, add heated sauce directly into the pan and mix, or adjust per serving on the stove.
What should I pair with Baked Ziti?
Baked Ziti is quite a heavy dish. You can eat it alone as an entree, but many people serve it with additional bread or a salad. I recommend eating a salad or some other form of vegetable. The meal can be filling, so you do not need to pair it with anything else.
Of course, a nice glass of wine pairs excellently with a hearty pasta dish like this!
Healthy Veggie-Packed Meatless Baked Ziti Recipe
- Preparation Time
- Cooking Time
- 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 tbsp Olive oil
- 1.5 tsp low sodium soy sauce
- 8 oz of baby bella mushrooms, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 can tomato paste
- 1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
- 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
- 2 tsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning
- Salt and pepper, as needed
- Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat
- Place your diced onions into the pot to cook until fragrant, salting as needed
- Then add diced mushrooms
- Add salt to cook down
- When moisture is out, add minced garlic
- Then add tomato paste
- Then add diced walnuts and thoroughly mix
- Season with soy sauce for an umami flavor
- Stir well to incorporate
- Then add 1 can of diced tomatoes, with water, followed by crushed tomatoes
- Season with dried oregano or Italian seasoning
- Let simmer for 30 mins
Reserve half of the sauce for another occasion (freeze or refrigerate, or double the recipe)
- 1 box ziti
- 1 cup of ricotta
- 10 oz fresh baby spinach
- 1 block Shredded mozzarella
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp Dried Oregano (optional)
- Mix cooked pasta into the sauce, adding more sauce as needed for complete coating
- Add in your ricotta
- Then add in your baby spinach
- Season with salt, pepper, oregano
- Keep mixing until fully incorporated
- Add salt and pepper as needed
- In a large baking dish, place a layer of reserved sauce at the bottom to prevent the pasta from sticking to the pan
- Start to place in your pasta mixture until filled to the top, Add salt and pepper about halfway through
- Place a layer of shredded mozzarella on top
- Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes, or until cheese appears golden and bubbly
- Serve hot and enjoy!
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