Sunday, January 29, 2012

Squash and Spinach Baked Ziti

For the past few months, I've gotten into a rhythm of cooking up a storm on Sundays so that my husband and I have plenty of leftovers for the week. It's helped us cut back on those budget-eating workweek takeout lunches (or in our cases dinners, since we both work evenings) and, since most of the meals have been vegetarian or meat-lite, it's helped us incorporate more veggies into our diets.

Last week, I made a fantastic chickpea-eggplant-papaya curry from one of my favorite cookbooks. This week, I was thinking lasagna, but then I remembered the boxes of rigatoni in our cupboard from our last trip to Costco. So I started thinking baked ziti, but a meat-free version chock full of vegetables. Using one of our favorite homemade pizza variations as inspiration, I came up with a butternut squash and spinach version that turned out well, if a bit dry. I've written what I did, although if I were to make it again, I'd consider this as just a template and try to figure out how to make it a bit more moist. There's always the tomato sauce option I guess. Or maybe more bechamel? Any other suggestions?

And while this does have lots of veggies in it, there's also a fair amount of fat from all of the dairy. Feel free to make this even healthier with whole wheat pasta and, if you must, low-fat cheese.

Squash and Spinach Baked Ziti
(Or quality time with my box grater)

1 small-to-medium butternut squash, peeled and grated
1 lb. frozen spinach
1 box rigatoni
8 oz mozzarella, grated
1/2 cup grated parmeggiano reggiano or grana padano
1 1/4 cup ricotta
10 oz. milk
5 tbsp butter
5 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 large shallots, finely chopped
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper

First, boil the pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside. Then pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Next, make the bechamel sauce. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the shallots. Saute for about 4 minutes on medium-high heat.

Add the flour and whisk until you've created a paste. Then, while whisking with one hand, slowly pour the milk into the saucepan. Keep whisking until the mixture becomes a thick sauce. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Mix the sauce, squash, spinach, ricotta and pasta together in a casserole dish or lasagna pan. Sprinkle the parmeggiano on top.

Bake for about one hour, until the top is lightly browned.

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