In yesterday’s Get Thyself on a Budget post, I encouraged you to approach eating as you would your household budget. Is that new sweater how you really want to spend your money? It may not cost much, but is there something better you could do with your money than buy yet another sweater?
My spouse, Michael, came up with a useful way of examining the true cost of a purchase. He went beyond how many hours of work it would cost to buy, say, a new pair of LeBron James Nike sneakers. Instead, he realized that thinking more in terms of (and anyone who teaches will appreciate this example), “How many hours of grading would I have to do to pay for these sneakers?” When he realized he would have to spend almost 4 hours of grading or responding to administrative emails as a trade-off for the shoes, it made him think twice (whereupon he decided, no, the sneakers are not worth it, and returned them).
So what does this have to do with Baked Ziti? Ah, it’s a wonderful dish. It’s a comfort food into which we seek refuge from cold weather, lift our spirits after a bad day, or indulge in to remind us of the joys of a home-cooked meal. But it’s an expensive dish. The pasta and cheese taste so good, but the calories add up very quickly. It limits what we can pair with them, since they’re so calorie-dense on their own. Let’s face it: To work out the cost of just one portion is a lot of work. You have to calculate the nutritional information for the whole casserole, portion out your serving, and avoid being tempted by what’s left in the dish.
A much easier way is to lighten up what goes into the casserole. Whether you’re looking to lose weight or just lead a healthier lifestyle, this recipe is worth trying. I talk about shirataki noodles in my Spinach Fettuccine recipe . They aren’t an exact substitute for wheat pasta, but they’re a trade-off I’m definitely willing to make for the cost benefit of this substitution. I also use Daiya mozzarella and nut-based Parmesan cheeses, which aren’t necessarily cheaper for the calorie budget, but are better for us and the planet.
As I explain on my newly revised About/Start Here page , I will offer advice when I post recipes to help people, like me, who are cooking for a varied-diet household, or just want to implement healthier food options. So for this recipe, I show how much it would ‘cost’ before and after my make-over. I also share how I serve this for the omnivore, the vegetarian, and the vegan.
Baked Ziti Recipe
This recipe serves 2 and is easy to double if you have more mouths to feed.
Spray a 5 x 7 glass dish with Pam.
Mix the following:
- 8 oz. shirataki macaroni-style noodles (following package instructions)
- 4 white button mushrooms, cut into fours and sweated in the microwave (i.e., put them in the microwave for about 30 seconds until the liquid comes out, then drain it off the mushrooms)
- 3/4 c. spaghetti sauce
- 1 ½ t. Italian herb mix
- ½ t. crushed red pepper (optional)
- ½ oz. (14 grams) shredded mozzarella, like Daiya
- 2 T. Parma or Parmesan cheese
- ¼ c. spaghetti sauce
- ½ oz. (14 gr.) shredded mozzarella, like Daiya
- 1 T. nut-based Parmesan or Parmesan cheese
Bake covered on 420 degrees for 30 minutes until it starts bubbling. Remove cover and bake another 15-20 minutes until cheese is golden brown.
If we compare the two, using part-skim instead of whole fat mozzarella for omnivore dish, the traditional version would have 270 calories, while the make-over version has just 180 calories. The big difference comes in substituting the shirataki for the wheat pasta.
When I serve baked ziti, the omnivore gets the chicken Italian sausage, the vegan gets the Field Roast Italian sausage, and we share sautéed kale (another recipe I will share because it’s sooooo good!).
Michael isn’t quite the veggie eater I am. If I’m making the casserole just for me, I sauté onions, green peppers, mushrooms, garlic, zucchini, and sometimes even broccoli and throw those into the casserole. You can even add the sausage into the skillet and have it all in one dish. Just double the sauce, spices, and cheese ingredients to compensate for the greater volume, but that’s easy enough. And you can portion out and freeze any leftovers for a convenient meal when you’re pressed for time.