As I’ve said many times before, Weight Watchers changed my life, not just in helping me lose weight, but in teaching me to cook. When I recommitted myself to the program the second time, I discovered their website which was loaded with recipes that looked manageable, but also super tasty! I liked them too because they were old comfort food recipes, modified to not be a lot of points like the real thing. And not in the way that some low fat cook books do it, with egg and sugar substitutes and fat free cheese. Their recipes included all natural ingredients, but in a lot of cases just less of them.
One of my favorite recipes from when I first started learning to cook was Baked Ziti. As a kid, we never really had baked ziti, or casseroles in general, because I don’t think my mom liked recipes with more than one step. Ziti definitely has more than one step. Also, in the real version, there is a lot of cheese, which she wouldn’t have appreciated because it would have been too fattening. And finally, my mom doesn’t eat pasta. So while baked ziti isn’t a meal that this little jewish girl ate growing up in the suburbs, its definitely something I was excited to be able to make and eat while on Weight Watchers.
Once I made the ww recipe the first time, it quickly became mine and Evan’s (then boyfriend, now husband) favorite. It is one of the first recipes that I felt confident making. It has also become a running joke between Evan and me because once when we first started dating I wanted to cook him baked ziti at his apartment. I remember I had had a terrible day and it was raining and I was in a wretched mood, but I packed all my ingredients into a shopping back and headed out to his apartment. And he lived out in Bensonhurst (yeah, I don’t know either). Finally I arrived, started unloading my ingredients, and pretty much burst into tears. I had forgotten the ziti. It is pretty impossible to cook baked ziti without the ziti. After consoling me for a few minutes, Evan ordered in pizza.
Evan reminded me of this story recently when we were talking about how far I have come as a cook. I’m much more aware of what I’m doing in the kitchen. I understand my food more. I make detailed shopping lists and visit the farmer’s market every weekend. I go beyond the recipe and think about what would make it better. I’m stalling. I just don’t want to tell you that, once again, I forgot the ziti when we went grocery shopping and Evan had to go back the next day and get it for me. To my credit, the reason I forgot the ziti is because I was too busy trying to decide what to put in the sauce. But at the end of the day, I forgot the ziti 5 years ago, and I forgot the ziti this weekend. Somethings will probably never change.
Nevertheless, I made a baked ziti last night with no recipe, just to see if I could and to prove I’m not the same ziti-forgetting scatterbrain I was 5 years ago. I was really proud of my No Recipe Baked Ziti. It is definitely a lightened up version of the old classic, since I did train in the Weight Watchers culinary school. Evan doesn’t eat beef, so I use turkey for my sauce, which makes it healthier. The sauce is what I imagine a traditional italian sauce would be like, if your italian grandmother was on a diet. Also, there is no ricotta in this one, just mozzarella and parmesan, but I actually prefer it that way, since it doesn’t sit so heavy in your stomach, and its one less ingredient I can forget to buy at the grocery story.
No Recipe Baked Ziti
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1-2 ribs celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 lb ground turkey
1 cup dry red wine (I used white, because it was all I had, but I think red would be better)
1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed (they’re just better, I promise)
1 Tbsp tomato paste
3/4 lb ziti
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Heat olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat (you could also use any large sauce pan)
When oil is hot, add onion, carrot, celery and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables begin to brown slightly, 7-8 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook one minute before adding the thyme and rosemary. When herbs begin to smell amazing, add the ground turkey, breaking it up as you add it to the pan.
Cook until turkey is no longer pink but has not started to brown (if it does, turn down your heat a little bit. Also, if it get a little brown, not a big deal)
Deglaze the pan with red wine, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook down the wine until it is almost all absorbed into the meat and vegetables.
Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and bring to a boil. Once the mixture boils, turn the heat to low and let simmer for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350.
Cook pasta according to package directions, straining it one minute before it is done.
Once your sauce has thickened, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. Coat the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish with the sauce. Add half the baked ziti. Add half the sauce and half of the mozzarella. Layer with the rest of the pasta, and the rest of the sauce. Cover the top with the remaining mozzarella and the parmesan.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, until top is slightly browned and bubbling.