I'm always on the look-out for recipes that take a well-loved dish with meat, and turn it into a meatless version. I'm also a huge lover of beans. Even when meat-free dishes don't call for beans, I'm usually adding them in anyways. So I was really excited when I saw this recipe that took one of my favorite family dishes, baked ziti, and not only omitted the ground meat, but also added in lentils. It's been a very long time since I've had baked ziti but that's all about to change with this recipe. I thought it was delicious and I will definitely be holding onto this recipe for later.
There are a couple things I want to point out that I did differently from the recipe. I used gluten-free pasta. I've tried using gluten-free pastas in the past for various dishes and have found that they don't always hold up, especially when it's a one-pot recipe where the pasta cooks in the liquid with everything else. However, the pasta worked great in this dish, but I did under-cook it by about 2 minutes, so it still had some bite to it before I added it into the casserole dish to bake. So, if you plan to use gluten-free pasta just be sure to under-cook it a bit so that it holds it's shape and doesn't turn to mush while the casserole bakes. I also didn't put the cheese on the casserole for the initial baking process. Mainly because the casserole came right up to the top and if I put foil on it, the cheese would have stuck... and I didn't feel like rummaging around my cabinet looking for toothpicks. So, I put the foil on the casserole without the cheese for the first half of baking and then when it was time to crank the heat and remove the foil, I put the cheese on and baked it until it was bubbly. Like I said before, I really enjoyed this dish and it will be a winter staple in our house from here on out.
recipe adapted from Cookie and Kate
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1¼ cups regular brown lentils, picked over for debris and rinsed
- 3 cups water
Pasta and everything else
- 12 ounces ziti, rigatoni or penne pasta
- 2 cups grated part-skim mozzarella cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Pinch of red pepper flakes (omit if sensitive to spice)
- 24 ounces spaghetti sauce
- 1 cup cottage or ricotta cheese
- To cook the lentils: In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is turning translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the lentils and water, and stir to combine.
- Raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer until the lentils are tender and cooked through, about 30 to 40 minutes. Drain the mixture well in a fine-mesh sieve and return the lentils to their pot. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta just until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and return the pasta to the pot. (if using gluten-free pasta under-cook the pasta. It will continue to cook in the oven)
- Add the lentils to the pasta. Add ½ cup of the cheese, reserving the rest for later. Season to taste with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes (if using).
- Pour 1 cup of the marinara sauce into a 13x9-inch baking dish. Spread the sauce around with a spatula so the base of the baker is evenly coated. Pour the lentil and pasta mixture into the baker and spread it so it’s evenly distributed. Using a spoon, dollop cottage or ricotta cheese in big spoonfuls over the pasta, then just lightly swirl the mixture a bit so the cottage cheese is still concentrated in those areas.
- Drizzle the rest of the sauce evenly over the dish (adding extra sauce if you’d like) and gently spread it over the pasta. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella evenly over the dish. Cover the baker tightly with aluminum foil—don’t let it touch the cheese—or stick a few wooden toothpicks down the center and place a generously sized piece of parchment paper, folded in the middle to make a “tent” over the baker.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the covering, increase the heat to 450, and continue baking until the cheese on top is golden and spotty, 3 to 9 more minutes. Remove from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.