As the weather turns colder, main dish salads of summer give way to warm, comforting suppers. The goal around our house is to make wintertime meals as healthy as they are soothing. Pasta dishes like baked ziti are especially satisfying, but often avoided because of the glycemic index, gluten intolerance, or heavy carb load.
Sausage & Vegetable Baked Ziti is a step in the right direction in creating healthier meals for your family. Substituting brown rice pasta for regular white pasta, chicken instead of pork, and incorporating vegetables transforms everyday baked ziti into a healthy, complete meal. Of course, any favorite pasta will work, but if you’ve never tried Tinkyáda brown rice pasta, I highly recommend it. Its texture and taste is more consistent with regular pasta than even whole wheat varieties. Brown rice pasta gives our bodies a break from the abundance of wheat products in the American diet, avoiding that too-full feeling. Using Tinkyáda brown rice pasta makes it celiac and diabetic friendly too.
For the meat lovers out there, I use chicken Italian sausage, which is less fatty than pork sausage, yet delivers on taste. Two great sources for specialty sausage here in Colorado Springs, Ranch Foods Direct, and Whole Foods Market, offer a delicious assortment. Savory Italian sausage, brown rice pasta, and caramelized vegetables, all team-up to create a healthy, flavor-packed one-dish meal, perfect to fend off the chill of winter.
Italian Sausage & Vegetable Baked Ziti
1/2 pound mild chicken Italian sausage
1/2 pound hot chicken Italian sausage
1 cup broccoli — cut into small 1″ pieces
1 cup cauliflower — cut into small 1″ pieces
1 cup zucchini squash — cut into halved 1/4″ slices
1 pound whole milk cottage cheese
2 large eggs — lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese — grated
1/2 pound Tinkyáda brown rice penne pasta — tubular pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 medium garlic cloves — minced
28 ounces tomato sauce
15 ounces diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon whole sugar (optional) — date, palm, or cane
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream*
8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese — cut into 1/4-inch pieces, not shredded
Heat oven to 350°. Brown and crumble sausage; drain on paper towel and set aside. In the same skillet, cook vegetables on med-high heat to brown 3-4 minutes to evaporate excess moisture and lightly caramelize. Remove from heat and set aside. Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in medium bowl; set aside.
Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in large pot over high heat. Stir in 2 tsp. salt and pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta begins to soften, but not cooked through, 8-10 minutes. Drain pasta and leave in colander (leave pot unwashed).
Heat oil and garlic in a saucepan over medium heat until garlic is fragrant but not brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in ½ cup basil and sugar (optional); season with salt and pepper.
Stir cornstarch into heavy cream in small bowl; transfer to the pasta pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove pot from heat and add cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup of the tomato sauce, and ¾ cup mozzarella; stir to combine. Add pasta, vegetables, and sausage; stir to coat well.
Transfer pasta mixture to 13×9-inch baking dish and spread remaining tomato sauce evenly over pasta. Sprinkle remaining ¾ cup mozzarella and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over top. Cover baking dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to cook until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, 20-30 minutes longer. Cool for 10 minutes and serve.
NOTES: Tinkyáda pasta can be found in health food stores, as well as grocery stores with a good health food section. *Whole milk can be substituted for the heavy cream by increasing the amount of cornstarch to 2 teaspoons and increasing the cooking time to thicken by 1 to 2 minutes.