Asparagus kicks baked ziti into healthful category


Main dish

Baked Ziti With Asparagus and Fresh Tomato Sauce

For the ziti

12 ounces dried ziti

Kosher salt

1 1/2 pounds asparagus (woody ends trimmed), cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 pound after trimming)

15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese

6 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus 2 tablespoons for baking

1/3 to 2/3 cup low-fat milk

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Freshly ground pepper

For the sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

2 cups diced, peeled and seeded fresh tomatoes (from about 1 3/4 pounds whole tomatoes; see NOTE)

2 tablespoons dry white wine

1/8 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

Kosher salt

Freshly groundpepper

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

For the ziti: Cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a pan of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus pieces, cook for 3 to 5 minutes until just tender. Drain and immediately transfer to the ice water. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

Combine the ricotta, 6 tablespoons of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1/3 cup of the milk and the basil in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (If your ricotta is dry, you’ll need to add some or all of the remaining 1/3 cup milk.

Drain the ziti well; add to the ricotta mixture along with the asparagus pieces and toss to incorporate. Transfer the ziti-asparagus mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the sauce: Combine the oil and garlic in a medium saute pan over medium-low heat. Cook for 10 minutes, reducing the heat as needed so the garlic softens but does not brown.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the tomatoes (no accumulated juices). Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring the tomatoes a few times. Add the wine and sugar, then season with salt and pepper to taste; increase the heat to medium-high. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until the liquid in the pan has reduced by half. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil: taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Spoon the tomato sauce over the ziti-asparagus mixture. You do not have to cover the ziti completely, but try to distribute the sauce evenly.

Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano evenly over the top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the dish is heated through. (If you need to keep the ziti in the oven any longer, cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle basil on top. Makes 6-8 servings.

NOTE: To peel and seed tomatoes, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Have ready a bowl of ice water. Cut an “X” in the bottom of each tomato and remove the stem. Working with one at a time, place the tomato in the boiling water for 15 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to quickly transfer it to the ice water. The skin should slip off. Cut the tomatoes in half; scoop or shake out the gel and seeds in each half.

Per serving (based on 8): 320 calories, 16 g protein, 39 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar.

Special to The Washington Post

Do you find baked ziti dishes a little one-dimensional and on the heavy side?

Here, the pasta is mixed with a sauce of ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano and a little milk. To kick the dish into the healthful-and-delicious category, lots of asparagus is added, plus a fresh tomato sauce.

This can be served as a side dish with grilled chicken.

Read more Food stories from the Miami Herald

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