Honestly, the inspiration for this meal prep is ridiculous and (very?) telling about me as a person. Last week I was talking to someone on a dating app and we were talking about food, specifically baked ziti. I tend not to have much of a filter and send whatever pops into my head, so I told him that I do not trust people who don’t put ricotta cheese in their baked ziti. I didn’t hear back from him, it’s possible he thinks I’m a little crazy, but I still stand by it! Ricotta makes everything creamy and delicious.
So, that led me to wanting to make baked ziti, with ricotta, this week! However, I strayed a bit from my mother’s recipe that I grew up eating. I wanted to incorporate veggies into it so I decreased the amount of pasta and added some roasted veg and hoped for the best. The finished product did not disappoint at all. Cheesy, filling, delicious, all with some healthy vitamins and minerals! I’m eating mine with a side salad because I’m still on my kick of premade salads as part of meal prep and it’s the perfect, comforting meal for this rainy, dreary week in NC.
As usual, you can switch things up to make this your dream baked ziti! Here are the components:
- the sauce – I made my own but if you’re short on time or just don’t want to make your own you can totally use store bought and add your meat of choice (if you’re using any) to it
- the meat – I used ground turkey because that’s what I had in the freezer, but you can use whatever you want – ground chicken, ground beef, ground pork, sausage would also be so tasty in here. For all types, make sure you take the time to brown it! This adds so much extra flavor to the whole dish. If you’re using a meat that already has seasonings in it just be mindful of what additional seasonings you’re adding. We don’t want over-spiced or super salty sauce here
- the pasta – I used whole wheat rotini because they were out of ziti at the store! a tragedy, but this is delicious with whatever pasta shape you use. Short pasta with lots of spots for sauce and cheese to get into are perfect here.
- the veg – these are honestly totally optional. If you’re not using any, double the amount of pasta and enjoy! I used bell peppers and squash but really almost any veg would work. I would stay away from super crunchy ones, like carrots, but it’s up to you
- the cheese – clearly I believe the ricotta is required, but you do you, we can still be friends even if you leave it out. You can add some parm to the cheese mix if you want, I just didn’t have any on hand
That’s it! Also, it’s entirely possible that technically this is a ‘pasta bake’, not a baked ziti, depending on how you look at it. Either way, it’s absolutely delicious for meal prep or a tasty dinner! It reheats beautifully and freezes wonderfully too.
makes 5-6 servings
for the veg layer
- 2 bell peppers
- 1 small zucchini
- 1 small yellow squash
- 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
for the sauce
- 1 lb ground turkey, or other ground meat
- 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 Tbsp butter, optional
- 1/2 white onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 1/2 cups marinara sauce OR large can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp fennel, optional
- 1 tsp salt, or more to taste
- pepper to taste
for the cheese layer
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and drained
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/3 lb pasta (double if not using any veg)
How to do it
- get ready: preheat the oven to 425*
- prep the veg: cut the bell peppers, zucchini, and yellow squash into 1/2″ pieces and set aside. for the sauce, mince the garlic and chop the onion into small pieces
- roast the veg: make the veg layer by placing the prepped bell peppers, zucchini, and yellow squash onto one or two sheet pans. they should have enough room to be spread out so they roast and don’t steam. Toss with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast for 15-20 minutes until slightly caramelized. set aside. decrease the oven temp to 350*
- brown the meat: while the veg are roasting, start the sauce by heating a large pot over medium heat. add the olive oil and place the meat in a layer on the bottom of the pan. let sit for several minutes until the meat is browned on the bottom. don’t skip this as it creates lots of flavor! once browned, stir and use a wooden spoon to break the meat into small pieces. once fully cooked remove from the pan
- cook the aromatics: in the pan the meat was in, add the butter and onion. cook for 4-5 minutes until slightly translucent. you may need to turn the heat down to medium low if the onions start to brown. add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
- build the flavor: add the meat and tomato paste into the pan and stir well, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan. cook for 3-5 minutes to cook out the tomato paste, otherwise it can taste a bit odd
- finish the sauce: add the marinara sauce or crushed tomatoes, whichever you’re using, along with the Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, fennel, salt, and pepper. turn the heat down to low and cover while making the remaining components
- make the pasta: boil some water and cook your pasta 1-2 minutes less than what’s on the package. cover and set aside
- make the cheese layer: combine all of the cheese layer ingredients, reserving about 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese for topping
- layer it up: assemble the ziti in an 8×8 pan. place a small amount of sauce in the bottom of the pan, just enough to barely cover it. next, place half of the pasta in the pan, then half of the veggies, then half of the cheese mixture, then about half of the sauce. repeat all the layers and then top with the reserved mozzarella cheese.
- bake: bake in the preheated oven (at 350*) for 20-25 minutes. if eating immediately, let cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing and enjoying! if using for meal prep, let cool completely (completely!!) before slicing and storing. reheat in the oven or microwave and enjoy