Athletes love pasta. And why not? It's tasty, filling and relatively easy to prepare. However, not every pasta dish is up to an athlete's nutritional standards. Traditionally, baked ziti can be laden with fat and sodium. My recipe (below) replaces refined white pasta with whole wheat, uses lean ground turkey in place of beef and involves making your own quick pasta sauce, which is full of flavor without extra salt and preservatives. The result is a delicious baked ziti that will fill you up without bringing down your nutritional standards.
A Better Baked Ziti
Prep time : 10-15 minutes | Cook time: about 1 hour (including oven time)
Servings : 8
- 1 lb. lean ground turkey
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 fennel bulb, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- ¼ cup red wine
- One 28-oz. can of no-salt-added crushed tomatoes
- 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. crushed red pepper
- 1 lb. whole wheat ziti
- 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Set a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the ground turkey and cook until the meat is browned, which should take about 5 minutes. Once it's cooked, remove the ground turkey meat and keep it warm.
- In the same pan, add olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, peppers and fennel. Cook for 8 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Then, throw in the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
- Add the tomato paste and stir until the paste has turned a rich orange-red color, which should take about 3 minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, the Italian seasoning, the salt and the crushed red pepper and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer, partially cover the pan with a lid, and let it cook for about 15-20 minutes (the longer you cook it, the more flavorful it will be.)
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce mixture and stir.
- Coat the inside of a fairly deep baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Pour a third of the pasta mixture into the pan. Then, using a large spoon, drop half of the cottage cheese in large dollops over the pasta. Sprinkle a third of the cheddar cheese on top. Repeat the process with the next layer, using the remaining cottage cheese and a third of the cheddar cheese. Pour the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese.
- Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove baked ziti from the oven and let it rest 10 minutes before serving.
- If you want to pack even more veggies into your ziti , throw in three cups of fresh baby spinach when you add the crushed tomatoes.
- Don't have all the fresh veggies that the recipe calls for? No problem. Swap them out for a one-pound bag of your favorite frozen vegetables. Toss them in with the olive oil and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- If you want more flavor, add fresh oregano and basil. Stir 1 tbsp. of chopped oregano leaves and ¼ cup of chopped basil leaves into the sauce mixture just before assembling the ziti.
- This ziti keeps well. Feel free to cut it into servings, wrap it in freezer paper and plastic wrap and store it in your freezer. Grab it the next time you want a quick and easy meal or snack.
Check out the perfect post-workout pasta recipe.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock