Recipe by Joanne Bruno
Maybe this is just an Italian thing, but every year at Christmas my mother makes a cheese-studded baked pasta dish as an appetizer. By the time the main course comes around no one even wants to so much as look at the large hunk of roasted meat she has prepared. Rather than suggest for the fifteenth year in a row that she choose one or the either (as no one can possibly have room in their stomach for both), I’ve caved and come up with a lighter version of baked ziti that provides all the satisfaction of the real deal without making you feel like you’re headed into a food coma after eating it. This version is stuffed with smoky roasted eggplant and a slightly spicy sauce, so it’s big on flavor while cutting back a bit on all the cheese, making it the perfect touch of moderation in an otherwise totally indulgent holiday season.
Joanne Bruno is a food writer and third year MD/PhD student. Find more of delicious ramblings over at her blog: Eats Well With Others
Calories per serving: 320 per serving
Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 1 hour 15 mins
Total time: 1 hour 20 mins
2 firm eggplants, about 1 1/2 lb each
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz canned crushed tomatoes
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
8 oz whole wheat ziti or penne
3/4 cup part-skim ricotta
4 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel the eggplant and cut it into 1-inch cubes. Toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and salt, to taste. Spread over a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and let roast for 25-35 minutes, or until browned, tossing once halfway through. Set aside.
2. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, heat 1 tbsp olive oil. Saute the onion until tender and translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add in the tomatoes, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until 1 minute short of al dente. Toss the pasta with the sauce, eggplant, and ricotta cheese. Spread evenly in a 9x13-inch pan. Top with fresh mozzarella slices and bake for 10-15 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted. Let set for 5 minutes before serving.