Back in my college days, I lived entirely off of pasta and cheese (well almost entirely), but of course I wouldn’t have the same thing all the time… one week it’d be manicotti, and then stuffed shells, a nice lasagna thrown in here and there, and when I needed a quick dinner, spaghetti with parmesan cheese. I know, I know… you’re thinking about how creative and delicious that sounds.
Well, Adam doesn’t like cheese – crazy I know! – so I was forced to use a lot less cheese in my cooking whenever we would eat together. Since we’ve been married, I’ve used cheese quite sparingly.
My body is very grateful that cheese no longer consumes 50% of my diet, but I still crave a good cheesy pasta every now and then. I desperately wanted to find a way that both Adam and I could enjoy some cheesy pasta dish. After a little creative thinking I came up with this solution, which is a lot healthier than most zitis, and, more importantly, satisfies my desire for cheese and Adam’s disgust of it!
This is pretty much two recipes combined into one. They can be cooked together in a large casserole dish or in two separate but smaller dishes.
- 1 box (16oz) ziti
- 3 cups of frozen vegetables (I really like broccoli, peas, and corn)
- 1/2 lb ground beef
- 16 oz ricotta cheese
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, separated
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 jar (32 oz) tomato sauce, split
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 2 tsp dried basil, split
- 2 tsp dried oregano, split
- 2 tsp parsley, split
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add ziti, and stir occasionally until cooked to al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain the pasta.
Meanwhile, cook frozen vegetables. I usually like to do it over the stovetop, but I’m pressed for time, I’ll just pop them in the microwave.
Cook ground beef in a large skillet, breaking it up into small pieces. It is cooked when the meat is all brown instead of pink, then drain the excess liquid.
In a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, egg, 1 tsp basil, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp parsley, and salt and pepper.
Once the meat is drained, move the skillet to a cool burner and mix in 1 cup tomato sauce, 1 tsp basil, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp parsley, and salt and pepper.
When vegetables are cooked, add half of them to the cheesy mixture and half to the beef.
Once the pasta is cooked and drained, mix half of it into the cheesy mixture and half in with the beef.
Now, you have two options here: either cook the cheese and the beef in the same large casserole dish, one on each side, or separate them into two medium-sized pans. Either way, pour enough tomato sauce into the casserole dish(es) to cover the bottom. Fill the dish(es) with the pasta mixtures. Cover the pasta with remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella cheese on the top.
Cover with aluminum foil and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Take foil off and cook for 10 more minutes or until cheese begins to bubble.
Remove from the oven, let cool for a few minutes, and ENJOY!
Yum! All gone!
This can be adjusted any way you want – more vegetables, less cheese, more meat, etc. I’ve used as little as 8 oz ricotta cheese before.
For meat only sauce:
1) Cook 1lb ground beef in a large skillet, breaking up into small chunks. Once cooked, drain the excess liquid out and more to a cool burner.
2) Mix in 2 cups tomato sauce, 3 cups cooked vegetables, 2 tsp basil, 2 tsp oregano, 2 tsp parsley, salt, and papper.
For vegetarian sauce:
1) Mix 32 oz ricotta cheese, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 1 egg, 1 cup tomato sauce, 3 cups cooked vegetables, 2 tsp basil, 2 tsp oregano, 2 tsp parsley, salt, and pepper.
Serves 8 Prep time: 20 minutes active / 40 minutes inactive