Cheap Eats- Veggie Baked Ziti

By the time I get home from work then go to the gym or yoga class I am not in the mood to cook dinner. I just want to heat something up, pour a glass of wine and relax. However, ‘heating something up’ can lead to lots of processed frozen meals or take out (which adds up).

Lately I’ve been cooking a casserole sort of meal on Sundays and then freezing some to eat the rest of the week or weeks later. The only issue with this plan is that many casseroles are not necessarily healthy. Craving some baked ziti a few weeks ago I decided to skim Pinterest for a recipe that slipped in some vegetables.

Wah-la! Veggie Baked Ziti! I cut down the costs of this recipe by substituting fresh vegetables for frozen ones. I got a bag of Archer Farms “Mediterranean Vegetable Mix” at Target which had a good mix of veggies that suited an italian meal. If you happen to have some fresh vegetables on hand or live in a more convenient area to getting fresh, cheap produce by all means, use them! Then instead of that lovely organic mariana sauce, whole grain pasta, organic cheeses and fresh herbs that Danielle from Something Sweet used, I subbed in canned tomato sauce, pasta that was on sale, regular ricotta, and some store brand italian seasoning. Ha, yep. This post is titled “Cheap Eats” for a reason.

So, to review you will need:

1 box of penne pasta (I won’t judge whether you choose whole-grain or flour)
1 32 oz can of tomato sauce (I like a lot of ‘gravy’)
2 lb. container of ricotta cheese
mozzarella and/or parmesan cheese (sometimes there are sales on the shredded kind which will save you time, but usually blocks of cheese are cheaper and healthier)
veggies – I used Archer Farms frozen “Mediterranean Vegetable Mix”
Italian seasoning

Get cooking:

1. Preheat your oven to 350 and boil your pasta. Spread a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking pan or casserole dish (any pan that is  a few inches deep and long enough to fit a box of pasta will work).

2. Then spread a layer of ricotta cheese into the tomato sauce.

3. Spread a layer of cooked pasta on top of the tomato and ricotta mixture.

4. Add another layer of sauce on top of the pasta and then a layer of your frozen vegetables.

5. Cover the vegetables with ricotta cheese.

6. Repeat the previous steps if you have room for more layers.

7. However, you should end with sauce and cheese. You never want the pasta or veggies to be the top layer because they will burn. So once you have all your pasta and veggies in the dish, cover them with a layer of tomato sauce, then shredded cheese and finally Italian seasoning.

8. Pop your ziti in the oven uncovered and let it cook for about 45 minutes. When the cheese is all melted and bubbly the dish is good to go!

I usually have leftover sauce which I save for reheating. Reheating pasta dries out the sauce so I always add a little of the leftover to refresh the dish.

Obviously this is by no means the healthiest dinner but it has to be better than a Lean Cuisine and if you really have a craving for some baked pasta it’s an excellent way to sneak in something green. Also this is an all-in-one meal: vegetables, carbs & protein! If you make my cheaper version of Veggie Baked Ziti you will:

  1. Have time to meet up with friends for drinks after work this week.
  2. Have money for meeting up with friends for drinks after work this week.
  3. Have something tasty to heat up when you come home from meeting up with friends for drinks after work this week.

The Pinterest photo that started it all.

Thanks, Something Sweet for your recipe inspiration!

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