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An old recipe revisited with twists of flavor

Students don’t have much time, and poor food choices are usually a direct result of this. One method that works well in dealing with this dilemma is to find time on one night to make a lot of food and then freeze the rest for the following week.

This version of baked ziti, which is loaded with fresh vegetables and two different cheeses, is sure to fill you up in one serving and can be quickly defrosted in the microwave or oven. It’s not the fastest dish to make, but it’s perfect if you’re having a night in with friends who want to pitch in and help.

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, then boil the ziti according to package instructions while the oven is preheating. Make sure not to overcook the pasta because you will be baking it later. While it is cooking, open the can of tomatoes and pour them into a bowl. Add a heaping tablespoon of tomato paste to the tomatoes. Mix well. For a thicker sauce, add extra tomato paste.In a separate bowl, grate the mozzarella until you have about a cup of it.

When the pasta is done, strain it and pour it into the pan. Add the tomato sauce mixture onto the pasta. It’s better to leave the sauce lying on top of the pasta. Later, you will mix it with the vegetables.

There are a number of ways to prepare the vegetables for this dish. The most nutritious way would be to place the chopped and washed vegetables on top of the pasta and sauce without cooking them first. This way, they will retain the most nutrients and will still be crunchy after baking.

Another way to preserve the nutrients would be to steam the vegetables before placing them in the pan.

If you like your vegetables more thoroughly cooked, saute the vegetables in extra virgin olive oil, garlic and basil. First, heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the entire pan. Next, add about five crushed cloves of garlic to the hot oil. Make sure not to burn the garlic or it will taste bitter. Then add the fresh or dried basil and all of the vegetables. Add salt and pepper to season. Saute the vegetables for about 10 minutes or until they are cooked to your liking. Be sure to stir the vegetables as they are cooking to avoid burning them.

After preparing the vegetables, put them in the pan on top of the pasta and sauce. Mix the pasta, sauce and vegetables together in the pan.

The next step is to add the two cheeses. First, add the ricotta. Take tablespoonfuls of ricotta and place them all over the dish, until all the cheese is used. Smooth the cheese over so that it covers all of the pasta. Next, sprinkle the shredded mozzarella on top of the ricotta. Add some salt and pepper to the mozzarella to spice it up one last time.

Now you are ready to bake. Place the dish in the oven and let it bake for 25 minutes or until the cheese is melted and slightly brown.

After it’s done baking, you will want to let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving. This dish serves four people.

For a delicious baked ziti with lower fat, use skim milk or non-fat ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. If you’re a meat lover, chicken works well with this dish. You’ll want to saute the chicken – chopped, preferably – in the olive oil and garlic until it’s cooked throughout. Then, add the vegetables and proceed with the recipe.

For some great garlic bread to accompany your dish, take a loaf of French bread and cut it into thick slices. Toast each slice. After toasting, add some extra virgin olive oil to each slice. Then, take a clove of garlic and rub it onto each slice. This will flavor the bread without adding chunks of garlic.

Prep time: 60 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Required materials:

A 13×9-inch glass pan

Ingredients:

12 oz. ziti

8 oz. whole-milk ricotta cheese (Polly-O recommended)

8 oz. whole-milk mozzarella cheese (Polly-O recommended)

1 14.5-oz. can of marinated, diced tomatoes

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

Basil, dried or fresh

5 cloves of garlic (more or less to taste)

Salt

Pepper

An assortment of vegetables, which can include broccoli, green, red or yellow peppers, asparagus, zucchini, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, olives and sugar snap peas