Baked Ziti Recipe with Whole Wheat Pasta

Melted cheese, ground meat and some pasta. Dig in!

Welcome back to the Topgolf kitchen!  This time, I have a healthy baked ziti recipe that your friends and family will love. Of course, if you crave the cheesiest and greasiest baked ziti on the planet, have at it! No judgment.

Although the basic foundation for baked ziti is more or less the same every time, you can add all sorts of ingredients, like different kinds of peppers, mushrooms and meat. The best part? For less than $30, you can whip up 2-3 trays and still have some left over, and baked ziti tastes great the day after. Perhaps you and I will agree to disagree on that one.

With this in mind, below is my recipe for healthier baked ziti.

Baked Ziti Ingredients

Pasta

You only need one box of ziti to fill a standard size rectangular baking tray. The big question? What type of ziti do you prefer? My wife and I enjoy Ronzoni Healthy Harvest 100 Percent Whole Grain pasta, but Trader Joes sells a fantastic brown rice pasta, so we flip back and forth.

Some go with enriched flower, which is perfectly fine, and in most cases cheaper than the alternative.

Mozzarella Cheese

One block of mozzarella cheese is all you need to produce a single tray of baked ziti. Similar to the pasta, it all comes down to personal preference. Part skim, or whole milk? I go with the former, but both types of mozzarella work beautifully, and it’s debatable whether people can tell the difference once it melts.

For now, shred the mozzarella cheese and set it aside. If a tiny piece breaks off the block, eat it! I won’t tell anyone.

Ricotta, or not to Ricotta?

If you eat and/or make baked ziti, ricotta cheese is usually a key ingredient. I nixed it for this baked ziti recipe, and if you’re concerned about calories, part skim ricotta is the better option. 

Meat

This baked ziti contains ground chicken or turkey. If you go that route, consider the percentages, as in lean versus fat. This time, I went with ground turkey that was 85 percent lean and 15 percent fat.  A high percentage of lean means you’ll need to add seasoning to prevent the meat from being dry. A high percentage of fat, meanwhile, will result in greasier meat.

Are you a fan of ground beef? Most baked ziti that I have at parties includes ground beef and it’s delicious.  Vegetarian? A meatless baked ziti with mushrooms and other veggies is a beautiful thing.

Pasta Sauce

If you prefer to make your own sauce (or do you call it gravy?), that’s incredible. Short on time? A couple of jars off the shelf will do the job. We go with Francesco Rinaldi Garden Combo or Sweet and Tasty Tomato, and it takes a jar and a half to make a tray of baked ziti.

Naturally, there all sorts of pasta sauces, some with meat, veggies or both. As always, pick the one that you love the most.

The rest…

Below are some ingredients to have on hand before making your baked ziti.

  • Kosher salt
  • Minced garlic
  • Adobo
  • Olive oil

Baked Ziti Recipe

Set your oven to bake, and pre-heat to 350 degrees.

Place a pot of water on the stove over medium heat. When the water boils, sprinkle a tablespoon of kosher salt or two into the pot, then add the pasta. You don’t have to include salt if you don’t want to. This is basically your chance to season the water and pasta prior to cooking.

When the pasta cooks to your preference (mushy, al dente), turn off the stove, remove the pot and immediately pour the contents into a strainer to remove water. Set the pasta aside to drain.

Drizzle some olive oil into a skillet, then set the skillet on the stove over medium heat.  When the pan is hot, put the meat into the skillet, then additional ingredients. In this case, chopped red pepper, chopped yellow onion, two teaspoons of Adobo and minced garlic. Make sure the meat is cooked thoroughly, then remove the skillet from the stovetop and transfer its contents into a room temperature container.

Now it’s time to put everything together, and it’s all about layering. Pour some sauce (gravy?) into the bottom of the pan, then go in the following order… pasta, shredded cheese, turkey meat… and then repeat until you fill the pan.

Sprinkle a generous amount of shredded mozzarella cheese on top and then place the tray into the oven. Cook for 30-40 minutes until the top layer of cheese melts. If you prefer your cheese well done, broil the baked ziti for another five minutes. This also means that you’ll have some crunchy pasta around the edges of the pan, which is always a good thing. That said, keep a close eye on the ziti while broiling to make sure it doesn’t burn.

There you go! A baked ziti recipe that allows you to indulge without some of the guilt. If you have your own baked ziti recipe and/or modifications, we’d love to hear about it.

Baked ziti is a dish that brings people together around the dinner table, and there are benefits to sharing a meal with those you care about the most.

Now check out this delicious recipe for whole wheat pasta salad with imitation crabmeat. We also have a rice cauliflower shrimp dish that you can make in 30 minutes.