Pasta

Pesto Baked Ziti (Vegetarian)

pesto baked ziti

I have been working on Pesto Baked Ziti at various times throughout the year. At first it was bland, then it was too soupy, but now it’s finally perfect. And, to my excitement, my husband agrees. There are four reasons why my husband typically wouldn’t be raving about this dish: 1) there’s no meat in it; 2) he’s not a huge fan of pesto; 3) he doesn’t like that a bag of pine nuts costs $12.99; and 4) he hates tomatoes. 

Why do I bother to try to make a pesto bake that he likes? Because I happened to love homemade pesto so much that it almost makes me cry out of joy. Almost. 

homemade pesto

Oh my, this pesto looks good.

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Pine nuts, parmesan cheese, + basil: the major flavors creating the rich flavor of pesto.

chopped heirloom tomatoes

I didn’t know what heirloom tomatoes were until I went to the grocery store and a produce employee mentioned he was throwing out a bunch of heirloom tomatoes. From what he told me, an heirloom tomato is essentially a tomato with great genes! (Unfortunately, it also rots quickly, as I discovered, so use them fast.)

wilted spinach

I hate throwing out spinach, which is a chronic problem of mine, so I used a solid 2 cups of packed spinach in this recipe. Delicious.

prepping the ingredients

And my beloved pine nuts. Pine nuts are delicious. I use them in homemade granola bars, pastas, all kinds of things. As pricey as they are, I find them difficult to resist. 

mixing the pesto in

I made my homemade pesto over the weekend, and then tossed together the pasta bake on a work night. 

adding the pine nuts

Pasta bakes are great for experimentation and throwing in all types of veggies, nuts, and cheeses you might have hanging out in your kitchen.

mixing the pasta

pesto bake on the plate

Homemade Pesto Baked Ziti
Rich and filling pasta bake with homemade pesto. Make the pesto ahead, and toss the pasta bake together on the fly!
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For the Pesto
  1. 4 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  2. 1/4 cup Italian parsley
  3. 2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  4. 1 cup pine nuts
  5. 1 1/2 cups shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  6. 1/2 lemon, juiced (or 1tbsp fresh lemon juice)
  7. 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
  8. salt and ground black pepper to taste
For the Pasta Bake
  1. 1 lb. ziti pasta (or any similarly shaped pasta)
  2. 1 cup chopped heirloom tomatoes
  3. 1 tbsp olive oil
  4. 2 cups packed spinach
  5. 1/2 cup pinenuts
  6. 1 cup of your homemade pesto, or more as desired
  7. 1/4 cup water
  8. 1 cup shredded Asiago cheese
For the Pesto
  1. Place basil, Italian parsley, and garlic into a food processor, pulse several times to combine, scraping down sides as needed. Process until all are finely chopped, 1-2 minutes. If needed, for ease of processing, add a dash of olive oil (from your 1/2 cup used for the recipe).
  2. Add pine nuts to basil mixture; continue processing, scraping down sides as needed. Process until all is finely chopped, 1-2 minutes. If needed add a dash of olive oil (from your 1/2 cup used for the recipe).
  3. Add Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into mixture until all are finely ground.
  4. Mix lemon juice into mixture with the machine running; slowly drizzle olive oil into pesto in the running machine until incorporated and pesto is thoroughly combined. For this pasta, it's fine if the pesto is very thick. It will incorporated into the pasta and make it a bit runnier.
  5. Turn off machine and season pesto to taste with salt and black pepper.
For the Pasta Bake
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. While the water is boiling, prepare and measure your ingredients. Add the past to the water and cook according to package directions.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, take a skillet and heat 1tbsp olive oil on medium heat. Place 2 cups of packed spinach in the skillet, stirring and moving it around constantly, until the spinach is wilted. See my photo above if you're wondering what it should look like. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Once the pasta noodles are finished cooking, drain the pasta. Put the pasta in a large bowl to combine with all other ingredients. Mix in chopped tomato and pesto until thoroughly combined.
  5. Add pinenuts and wilted spinach. Mix until thoroughly and evenly combined. Add 1/4 cup of water to make mixture a bit more "saucy."
  6. If you want, you can add additional pesto, to your desired level of coating.
  7. Transfer your pasta mixture to a 9x13 baking dish and sprinkle with the Asiago cheese.
  8. Cover loosely with aluminum foil. I usually stick about three metal appetizer skewers in my pasta bakes to prop the aluminum foil up and prevent the cheese from sticking to the foil.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes. Then remove aluminum foil and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes until the cheese is melted.
Notes
  1. Use your left over pesto to make pesto grilled cheese sandwiches later in the week! The pesto will last in the fridge for 5-7 days. (Perhaps longer, I don't know...it's usually gone by then...)
Kara the Cook http://karathecook.com/
pesto baked ziti

Did I mention this pesto baked ziti is sans meat? Yes I did. But really, I am bringing that up again because if you are not vegetarian, you could always throw in a cup or two of chopped up baked chicken. Once again, I love pasta bakes because they can gracefully transform into any type of meal your little heart & stomach desire. <3

Happy pesto-making!

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Easy Summer Vegetable Lasagna

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It seems I start every post with “I love (insert type of food),” but once again, it’s true: I love lasagna. I usually think of it as a winter food, and one that requires a few hours of prep if done well. But this is a quick and easy summer recipe using, yes, you guessed it, ready to bake lasagna noodles! And it definitely won’t take you hours. 

A heads up, I did skip a few steps in the photos below. So make sure to follow the instructions, not just the photos.

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Use a deliciously smokey flavored cheese to give this dish the perfect pop and flare.

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This lasagna is great for improvising. In this recipe, if you keep the sweet onion and spinach mix, you can substitute almost any vegetables you desire for the zucchinis and eggplant. 

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The pan looks like some sort of splatter design I drew in Paint on my computer in the 90’s.

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Oven-ready lasagna noodles are a great choice, this coming from someone who likes to do a lot from scratch. I find they work best in lasagnas because they stay firm, whereas homemade or store-bought pot boiled noodles don’t. Especially in a vegetable lasagna, when the veggies add a lot of water already, oven-ready noodles are preferred.

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Spread as much or as little tomato sauce as you desire. (Or as your acid reflux desires.)

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Eggplant will shrink about half it’s size so don’t be shy with it. 

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And a beautiful mix of yellow and green zucchini, like little polka dots on a dress. 

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Layer with ricotta cheese, fresh herbs, and parmesan cheese. 

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Sprinkle some cheese, a layer of noodles, a bit more sauce…

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Some sweet onion and spinach…

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…and finally some more smoked shredded cheese.

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Yes, I do love lasagna. Not as much as I love my husband. But I definitely do love lasagna. And did I mention, he loved this meal too?  

Easy Summer Vegetable Lasagna
A fresh and easy twist on lasagna, perfect for the summer.
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Ingredients
  1. 9-12 oven ready lasagna noodles (depending on the dimensions of your pan, I used 9 in my pan)
  2. 1 tbsp olive oil
  3. 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  4. 1 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
  5. 4 cups (packed) fresh spinach leaves
  6. 1 medium green zucchini
  7. 1 medium yellow zucchini
  8. 1 eggplant
  9. 15oz whole milk ricotta cheese
  10. 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  11. 1 large egg
  12. 1 tbsp fresh thyme, roughly chopped
  13. 1 tbsp fresh basil, minced
  14. 1-1/2 or so cups tomato sauce (really, to your own preference)
  15. 2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
  16. 1 cup smoked mozarella/provolone/gruyère/cheddar (whichever you can find) cheese, grated
  17. Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare all your ingredients: chop, slice, mince!
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-heat for about 2 or 3 minutes. Add the onions and cook 2 minutes. Add garlic. Continue cooking until onions become soft and translucent, about 2 or so more minutes.
  3. Add the spinach leaves to the onions and garlic. The pan will be heaping and awkward! It's okay. Cook it, stirring regularly and carefully, until all the spinach begins to wilt, about 2-3 minutes. Then remove from heat.
  4. Meanwhile, using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, carefully slice the zucchinis and eggplant into rounds. Slice thinly, but if you slice the eggplant too thin it disappears.
  5. In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, half of the parmesan, the thyme and basil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the egg and stir again until well mixed.
Prepare in the Pan
  1. You're all set to go! Spoon a few tablespoons of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a 9-inch-by-13-inch dish, just enough to coat the bottom with a thin layer. It doesn't have to be perfect.
  2. Layer a third of the lasagna noodles along the bottom of the pan, and top with a generous layer of sauce. Layer the eggplant slices, then the zucchinis, in rows, overlapping slightly.
  3. Divide the ricotta mixture in half, and using your fingers, spread the first half in a layer, as best you can. It doesn't have to be perfect.
  4. Sprinkle a third of the mozzarella and a third of the smoked cheese on top.
  5. Add a second layer of lasagna noodles, layer with sauce, and top with the spinach and onions, followed by the remaining ricotta, another third of the mozzarella and another third of the smoked cheese.
  6. Add the last layer of lasagne noodles, top with all the remaining cheese.
  7. Cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 40 minutes until the cheese is fully melted and the lasagna is cooked through.
  8. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees, remove the foil, and cook uncovered for an additional 12 minutes until the cheese begins to bubble and turn golden brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and let sit for about 10 minutes before slicing. Serve warm.
Notes
  1. This recipe freezes well!
  2. The cheese measurements are forgiving: use a little more or less as you desire.
Kara the Cook http://karathecook.com/
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Happy cooking, baking, and eating!

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PS. If you are wondering if I ever think it’s too hot to turn the oven on, the answer is unequivocally no! My husband may disagree..:)