A Perfectly Light Summer Meal…(and Happy Mother’s Day…Lots of Love to my Momma!)

Finally…getting to post this wonderful recipe I developed before experiencing our nightmare of the past few weeks…

A few weeks ago, I was thinking that I really wanted baked ziti or baked penne (same difference in my book), but I didn’t want it with plain spaghetti sauce or with a heavy meat, such as ground beef or bison. So, I decided to try something different…baked penne with summer vegetables! I hadn’t seen anything else like it out there and now really wonder why…because it’s awesome! Perfect and light and makes lots of leftovers for lunches. I used some leftover homemade marinara sauce to add character and topped it off with, *gasp* full fat fresh mozzarella (you can indulge once in a while…it’s worth it…) and freshly grated Parmesan.This is a really quick batch cooking meal, so not many process pictures, as the process isn’t really exciting or unusual…your teenager could whip this together in no time flat (well…except for the time they spend whining having to make dinner…).

Ingredients:

  • 1 box of Penne or Ziti (I used Barilla Plus Penne…I love Barilla’s Plus line…)
  • 1 Small – Medium Yellow Squash
  • 2 Small – Medium Zucchini (still early in the season, no monster ones yet)
  • 4-5 Mushrooms (more if not using mushroom marinara)
  • 1 Medium Green Pepper
  • 1 Medium Red Pepper
  • 3 cloves Minced Garlic (more or less to taste)
  • 1/4 cup Onion (optional, I didn’t use it this time, but it would add some more depth)
  • 1 jar of your favorite Marinara (or homemade…I used my Mushroom and Green Pepper Marinara)
  • 1/4 cup Freshly Grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 lb (8 oz) Freshly sliced Mozzarella
  • 1 small tub Fat Free Ricotta (can use part-skim or full fat if you want it heavier…but it’s a summer meal…I prefer things less creamy in the summer…well also in the winter…)
  • Red Pepper Flakes (to taste, if desired)
  • 1/2 tbsp Olive Oil (for light sauteing of veggies)

The first task of this meal is the chopping…it’s a bit time consuming, but the amount of veggies I listed up there are for two meals. As you chop the veggies up, place half in one container and half into another (sealable) container for use in another meal. I used mine for a quick weeknight vegetable pasta primavera…

The key is to chop the veggies into bite sized pieces…you obviously don’t want them to be larger than the pasta…

After chopping, bring a pot to boil and cook your pasta of choice. Follow the instructions on the box, but subtract about a minute or cook it on the low end of the cooking range…it will cook a little bit more later, so you don’t want it to get mushy.

When the pasta is done, drain and rinse with cold water, it’s going to sit there for a few minutes, so you don’t want it to stick together. Now, preheat your oven to 400F…

In a deep dish saute pan, heat up a bit of olive oil and add garlic (be careful to keep an eye on the garlic, you don’t want it to burn…). After a minute or two, add the veggies (well half of the veggies you cut up, remember, the other half is reserved for another meal). Saute for a few minutes, until mushrooms have darkened a little bit and add your marinara sauce. Simmer for another couple of minutes. Fold in red pepper flakes (if desired, you can also add for serving).

Now add the pasta to your saute and fold in ricotta. Let it warm a bit on low and then transfer to a large greased baking dish.

I love how this dish has wonderful color to it…

Then add your freshly sliced mozzarella, evenly across the dish and sprinkle the freshly grated Parmesan on top.

Fresh mozzarella can be tricky to work with, but it really does a better job of fully covering the dish than store-bought shredded mozzarella…

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, take off foil to brown the cheese. This took awhile for me, about 10-15 minutes, but keep an eye on it, your results will very likely vary…

Let sit for a few minutes before cutting…

Gave me a great opportunity to get my pictures (and wait on my husband, who was running quite late from work…)!

I find this meal much more exciting than more traditional baked ziti/penne dishes I’ve had in the past…plus it doesn’t sit on the stomach as they tend to…

Once cooled a bit, cut and serve. I cut it into 12 servings…so…lots of leftovers for my lunches!

It also reheats quite well for those lunches…last week I think I had it 3 days for lunch. We stored 4 exra servings in the fridge and the rest in ziploc bags in the freezer (which is a great space saving technique).

Edit: I said that I hadn’t seen anything like this before…well, I just did a quick internet search and noticed Giada De Laurentiis in fact does have something very similar…she roasts the veggies before adding to the penne, interesting touch…may try that next time!

I haven’t worked out the nutrition on this one yet, but it’s not half bad for you…loads better than with ground beef!