On a Healthier Baked Penne

When I was in my twenties, and could pretty much eat anything I wanted to.  So I often turned to pasta for dinner.  In my this carbohydrated rotation was baked ziti, plated with lots of ricotta, and topped with mozzarella.

20170402_193452Over the years, I’ve discovered many great recipes for tofu ricotta, which I’ve used to make stuffed shells, and other traditionally cheese-stuffed Italian meals.  While generally pretty easy to make, tofu ricotta still does require getting a blender out.  And that’s just too much work for a batch of lazy man’s lasagna.

Baked pasta dishes are usually a caloric nightmare.  Cheese stuffed meals, filled with unhealthy saturated fat, and loaded with calories.  Fortunately, there’s a vegan option that’s healthier, cruelty free, and delicious.

My local Whole Foods didn’t have whole wheat ziti in stock, so I opted instead for penne. I personally prefer the excellent biodynamic, whole wheat variety offered by DeLallo.  At 6g fiber, and 6g protein per serving, it beats your standard semolina varietal.

For the pasta, I prefer to cook it a little more al dente than usual.  It’s going to bake, so I20170402_193552 don’t want to overcook it before it goes in the oven.  Of course, that’s my preference.  I usually prefer my pasta a little less al dente to begin with.

I start by lining a baking pan with some pasta sauce.  I tend to treat pasta sauce like wine.  It’s worth splurging once in a while to get something special.  Living not too far from Providence, RI, USA, I have access to Federal Hill Foods’ marinara sauce.

If you don’t know Federal Hill, it’s an old-time Italian neighborhood in Providence.  This Little Italy is – in my opinion – the best I’ve been to in the States, and I’ve been to quite a few.  The Federal Hill Foods sauce is exceptional.

Rather than draining the pasta, I use a slotted spoon to scoop out the penne and add it to the pan.  My theory (and it’s just a theory) is that leaving a little moisturizer on the pasta would help prevent over-drying.  I haven’t thought that through too carefully, so prep your pasta your way.

Next, I a20170402_195246dd a layer of ricotta by way of Kite Hill’s almond milk artisan blend.  The almond flavor does ring through in this cheese, but it’s subtle.  Tofu-based ricottas is more bland (though still great) than Kite Hill’s soy free alternative.  At $7 a pop though, you’ll get more for your money going the tofu route.
Another layer of penne tops the ricotta, and some more sauce to cover the layers.  The final touch is to spread Daiya’s mozzarella shreds atop the pan.  No one does mozz better than Daiya.  It’s a hard cheese to get right.  I’m still searching for the perfect soft mozz for a caprese salad (I have a simple tofu based alternative that works well).

Finally, it’s time to bake the dish.  The pasta is already cooked, so heating the sauce, and ricotta is the next task.  Heating at 400 for about 20 minutes should give you a good even temperature.  Switching on the broiler for about 5-10 minutes gives the Daiya a chance to melt like dairy-based baked pasta dishes.  20170402_195344

This dish sticks together like lasagna, so you can dish out a cake-like serving.  Top with some more sauce – made bolognese with some Tofurky chorizo.  Serve with a Field Roast Italian sausage, and top with Follow Your Heat Parmesan.

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