Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Skinny Baked Ziti with Spinach

Back in March, we had the Budnicks over for a pre-Parade Day dinner.  If you think back to the March news headlines, you’ll recall the Catholic cardinals had gathered in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new Pope after Benedict XV stepped down in February.  With March Madness on the brain, Brian had started in-depth research on cardinal candidates, and proposed we recreate the Religious News Service’s Sweet Sistine – me and KK against the Budnicks.  We drew up a bracket, selected numbers for our draft picks, and divided the top 16 candidates between the brackets.  Just two weeks after the bracket was set, the cardinals elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis.  Shockingly, Bergoglio was not in our bracket (how could that be!?), but thankfully we had a tiebreaker rule already in place – we chose fiscal quarters, and whichever month was the new pope’s birth month would determine the winner.  Bergoglio is a December baby which meant the prize was awarded to Brian.   Prize? What prize? The winner was awarded a home-cooked meal paired with a nice bottle of wine.  I’m still wondering if Brian rigged the bracket… it was, after all, his idea to begin with! Nevertheless, I’m always happy to host friends for dinner, and last night the Budnicks cashed in on their prize!

I picked up some fresh salad veggies and an amazing loaf of onion and pepper bread from Sobseys Produce (no leftovers of that!), and served the baked ziti with Wine Garage Pinot Noir.  The baked ziti came together easily; the most arduous step was waiting for the pasta water to boil! My crushed tomatoes were seasoned with basil, so I suggest adding additional herbs to the pot if you’re using unseasoned tomatoes.  I thought the dish could use more tomatoes/sauce, but everyone else in attendance thought it was a good pasta-to-tomato-to-cheese ratio.  Steph “ruined” our healthy meal by bringing over a pint of Eddy’s Caramel Delight Slow Churned ice cream.  At least Slow Churned ice cream has ⅓ fewer calories and ½ the fat than regular ice cream! :D

Skinny Baked Ziti with Spinach
Adapted from Skinny Taste
Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6-8

12 oz. uncooked pasta, such as ziti or penne
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed
28 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
8 oz. shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, until al dente. Drain and return to pot.

2. When the pasta water boils, preheat oven to 375°F.  Spray a 9x13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

3. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan (big enough to fit cooked pasta), heat olive oil over medium heat.  Sauté garlic, stirring frequently, 1-2 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and add chopped spinach, crushed tomatoes, oregano, basil, crushed red pepper and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Remove sauce mixture from heat, add pasta to saucepan, and stir to combine.  Add Parmesan cheese, ricotta, and half of the mozzarella.  Mix well then transfer mixture to the baking pan.  Top with remaining mozzarella.

5. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until mozzarella is melted and the edges are lightly browned. Let it cool 5 minutes before serving.

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