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Italian Classics Made Healthy

Hey everyone! It’s a been a busy week here at WTAF headquarters, and I’ve barely had any time to cook, let alone blog. Before we get to today’s recipe, I want to take a minute to debrief everyone on what’s been going on lately:

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  • We were recently published in a fantastic Iranian life and style blog. A great contact, Shirin Shahin is the founder of The Saffron Life. She was gracious enough to allow me to guest blog for her, and it would be my pleasure to let her do the same. Do check out her site for anything and everything Persian-related! Shirin has some great insight on Persian culture, not to mention some fantastic Persian recipes.

Baked Ziti Made Easy

Most of you know how I eat gluten-free because of my wheat allergy. When I was first baked ziti diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I stayed away from anything and everything that had wheat. But I was even afraid to try gluten-free items like lasagna or stuffed shells. I don’t know if it was the loads of dairy that freaked me out, or the fact that there was secretly some gluten in these foods, but I definitely steered clear of these dishes. Over time, however, I’ve grown more comfortable with dishes like this, and realized that by making my own healthy versions I can still enjoy these foods with everyone else. This version of baked ziti is not only gluten-free. I have also taken the time to remove excess fat where I could and use more natural and organic ingredients.

How I Cut Gluten, Fat, and Artificial Preservatives from This Dish

  • Brown Rice Pasta–I know this is a pretty easy change and something I rave about all the time on this blog. Brown rice pasta is especially great in baked dishes like ziti or lasagna because you really can’t tell it’s not pasta. Between the sauce, the meat, the ricotta, and the cheese, even the pickiest eaters can’t tell this dish is gluten free. This is a go-to meal I make when entertaining. Usually no one can tell that it’s made with brown rice pasta.
  • Shred the Cheese Yourself–Why would I take the time to shred the cheese myself when I can just buy pre-shredded cheese at the grocery store? Because pre-shredded cheese is loaded with cellulose! If you’re a foodie like me, you’re heard about this crazy preservative and how it’s actually derived from beavers (yes, beavers). Manufacturers and food companies argue that cellulose keeps the cheese from caking. But I say why not skip the cellulose all together and just shred the cheese yourself? Sure it takes a little more time, but in my opinion it’s worth it. Moreover, I’ve noticed that when I use pre-shredded cheese, I don’t get as good of a melt factor. That is, the cellulose from the cheese keeps it from melting well. Ever since I’ve switched to grating cheese myself, that problem has completely disappeared.
  • Avoid Sausage and Make Your Own Spiced Pork–When I was shopping for the sausage, I looked at the package and noticed corn syrup was in the ingredients list. Since when does corn syrup (i.e. sugar) belong in meat? I decided to opt out and instead create my own sausage-inspired pork meatballs. I simply bought organic lean ground pork, added the flavorings that would be in sausage, and rolled this mixture into meatballs. It might not have the exact taste as sausage, but you’ll still get that spicy taste without unnecessary fat and artificial ingredients.
Print Recipe
Gluten Free Baked Ziti with 'Sausage' Meatballs
Prep Time 60 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the meatballs
For the sauce
For the pasta and filling
Prep Time 60 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the meatballs
For the sauce
For the pasta and filling
Instructions
For the Meatballs
  1. Mix all ingredients until well combined. Roll into small 1-inch balls and set aside.
For the sauce
  1. Saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper (not listed in ingredients).
  2. Add crushed tomatoes, seasoning, and tomato paste. Bring sauce to a boil for 10 minutes. Then let it simmer for another 15.
  3. Add the meatballs to the mixture. Let the mixture of sauce and meatballs cook at a low simmer/boil for another 30 minutes until meat is cooked and sauce has thickened.
For the pasta
  1. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain and return to hot pot.
  2. Mix ricotta cheese and half of the Parmesan in a separate bowl. Add this mixture to the hot pasta and mix well.
  3. Add only the sauce and meatballs to the pasta mixture. Add in batches, as sometimes you might have more sauce then you need. You want the pasta to be a rose pink color with specs of white ricotta cheese.
  4. Pour the pasta mixture into a greased, oven safe 9 X 13 pan. Top with mozzarella and remaining Parmesan. Bake at 375 degrees covered for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.
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