A Little More Each Day

One working mama learning to run & to maintain my 100+ pound weight loss!

Making a lighter baked ziti

on March 18, 2014

A couple of months ago, I wrote about making “light” and “full octane” versions of my jambalaya side by side. Last weekend, I took that approach again when making baked ziti and it worked out surprisingly well. I used only one extra dish and the only extra prep I did was microwaving a spaghetti squash. My original baked ziti recipe has always been a weekend-meal in that it requires a fair bit of work, so making a lighter version really didn’t add much to the plate.

In general, if you’re going to try to make ANY two dishes at the same time (not just a light/regular version), the most important thing is to think through the recipes before you start so that you know what you’ll need and have things ready without having to fumble around for extra supplies while you’re already juggling more than one dish. In this case, that meant thinking through my baked ziti recipe (below) and thinking about what elements were non-negotiable (spicy sausage, that baked in the oven goodness of a baked pasta dish) and what could be lightened up. In this case, I decided to try out spaghetti squash instead of the pasta as I know I like spaghetti squash when it is baked in a pasta-casserole-ish setting. I also decided to try to swap cottage cheese for the ricotta to get some the creaminess with a little more protein and less fat. I swapped out a generous dose of mozzarella throughout the dish for a sprinkling of parmesan over the top of the final product, letting the stronger flavor of the parm do a lot of work for me. All in all, I was happy with the swaps I made and assembling the dishes was pretty easy.

I set up two dishes: a small casserole dish for the light version to bake in (do the mixing in that container) and a large bowl for regular version (which I’ve always used to mix it up in – less mess than trying to contain such a large amount to my lasagna pan!). I set the small dish I was using on my kitchen scale and zeroed it out before adding items that would have a point value (ie anything not a veggie that was “free” with WW). This is definitely an instance in which using a kitchen scale to measure by weight was a lot easier than using many different measuring cups!

I have the recipes here with the swaps I made noted. While the “full octane” baked ziti is definitely one of my favorite recipes from my pre-weight loss days, I really enjoyed the lighter version as well and will definitely be making it again.

Have you ever tried making a lighter version of your favorite dishes? How did it turn out? Definitely share any recipes that have worked out for you! I love trying new recipes!

Baked Ziti:

8 servings (2 servings light version)

1 lb Italian turkey sausage (half regular/half spicy) * For the light version, I used 4 ounces sausage
1 box penne/ziti/rotini (whatever noodles you like), cooked per package directions *1/2 spaghetti squash, microwaved
32 oz tub ricotta cheese *10 oz fat free cottage cheese

Basic tomato sauce:
1 onion, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
4 oz red wine
2-14 oz cans diced roasted tomatoes
1-28 oz can crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons Italian seasoning
Add-ins to tomato sauce (if you have them – not needed):
1 cup grilled veggies (leftover zucchini in this case)
1 cup roasted cherry tomatoes

1 cup roasted mini sweet peppers (I just tossed these in the oven to roast while I was starting the rest of the sauce)

2 cups mozzarella cheese

Shredded parmesan cheese

First, brown the sausage and drain any excess fat. I pulled out 4 ounces into the “light” dish, using the scale, and approximately a pound into the regular bowl. *I actually browned a pound each of regular and spicy Italian sausage and just saved the extra for pizza later this week.

Basic tomato sauce:
Cook the diced onions and bell pepper in the same pot (to pick up the extra sausage bits) over medium heat for 5 minutes, until things are translucent and just starting to brown.

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Add the garlic cloves and stir around for a minute before adding the tomato paste. Let the tomato paste and veggie mixture cook for 2 minutes before adding the red wine. Let the wine simmer for a few additional minutes before adding the remainder of the ingredients. For my basic tomato sauce, I add tomatoes and Italian seasoning. For baked ziti, because I’m serving this with sausage in the mix, I tend to let the sauce itself have a milder flavor than I would if I was serving it as a more traditional spaghetti (in which case, I might add black pepper, crushed red pepper, fresh basil, etc). This weekend, as I had a bunch of veggies left over from grilling the night before, I threw those into the sauce as well but that is totally optional. Because I’d added the other veggies, I used the immersion blender to puree the sauce but normally I leave it a little chunky. Let the sauce simmer for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to come together.

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Assembly of the “full octane” baked ziti:
In a large bowl, mix the pound of sausage, cooked sausage, ricotta cheese, 1 cup mozzarella and 2-3 cups tomato sauce (depending on how wet and saucey versus cheesy you’d like the final product to be). Transfer this to a large rectangular baking dish and top with another cup of mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 until brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

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Assembly of the “light” baked ziti (well, not really ziti):
In your casserole, add 1/2 spaghetti squash (microwaved, strands removed) and 1 cup tomato sauce. Zero your scale (ie, put the dish with all its current contents on the scale and push the “zero” or “tare” button – the on/off button on my Oxo scale – so that the scale resets to zero taking into account the weight is already bearing and measures the weight of only the next ingredient you add) and then add 4oz cooked sausage; zero again and add 10 oz cottage cheese and mix. I also stirred in some spinach leaves and you could mix in any other veggies you’d like. After things are mixed together, zero your scale and sprinkle the top with an ounce of parmesan cheese (or two depending on how many points you want to spend). Again, bake at 350 until brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. *Because of the spaghetti squash, this will be a wetter casserole.

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All I have to worry about points for in the dish would be the sausage, the ricotta and the parmesan and those would be easy to track individually without having to use the recipe builder thanks to using the scale.

Of course, I have absolutely no menu planning done for this weekend so I’m open to any suggestions of new recipes to try this weekend!

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