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Whole Wheat Baked Ziti with Cauliflower Marinara Sauce is more a wholesome approach to the classic recipe for Baked Ziti. By using whole wheat pasta and an entire steamed and pureed head of cauliflower, this family style dinner has an extra power bunch of nutrients without compromising the taste of the more traditional version.
Baked pasta dishes are almost as highly revered as a busy mom’s best friend as the bottle of red wine awaiting a 5 o’clock pour. They are easy to prepare in advance, freezer friendly and usually also yield some leftovers to bump up the bang for your buck!
But let’s be honest with each other here, piles of starchy carbs, smothered in cheese, sauce and usually meat is not the most lean or health conscious thing we could be serving our families or eating for ourselves. My philosophy when it comes to meals that I want but shouldn’t have is: moderation and modification! Substitute an ingredient or two with a more healthful counterpart or add in a few ingredients that can beef up the nutritional value.
Which is exactly what I’ve done here with this recipe for Whole Wheat Baked Ziti with Cauliflower Marinara Sauce!
Pasta: Whole Wheat VS. White
I’m a big pasta fan, um let me rephrase: I’m a HUGE pasta fan! So I’d be a big fat liar if I said that I always ditch the refined carbs and opt for the whole grain option. Nope, just not true. I’m not going to mislead you, they taste different and the texture is not the same either. HOWEVER when you compare the two, the whole grain option is a more rich in nutrients, higher in fiber and lower on the glycemic index. Meaning your body will break whole grains down more slowly, effectively, and without processing into sugar and spiking your blood sugar level. The reason being is that the white flour pasta has been more refined in processing and stripped of the outer grain, which contains the majority of nutrients, leaving it with less substance and nutritional value.
Here’s how they stack up, nutrition-wise:
One serving (2 ounces) of whole wheat pasta contains 180 calories, 39 grams of carbs, 8 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, and minerals such as magnesium, iron, and zinc.
One serving (2 ounces) of white pasta contains 200 calories, 42 grams of carbs, 7 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, some iron, but no magnesium, iron, or zinc.
So you can see that while the carb and protein count are not too far off from each other, the real value in choosing complex carbs (whole grain) over simple carbs (white refined grains) is not in the calorie count but in nutritional value and the way your body digests the food.
Cauliflower and Ricotta:
Steamed and pureed, the whole head of cauliflower that is added to the Whole Wheat Baked Ziti is hardly noticeable at all. It really just mixes right in with the marinara sauce and ricotta cheese. Pureeing vegetables and hiding them in foods is a really brilliant way to add the vitamins and minerals present in vegetables to a picky eaters’ diet! Certain vegetables, cauliflower included, have such a mild flavor that most of the time your child (I’m assuming, here) would not even be able to tell it was there! If you are interested in other recipes with hidden pureed vegetables try my: “SKINNY” CAULIFLOWER MASHED POTATOES or BUTTERNUT SQUASH MAC AND CHEESE!
After you have the cauliflower pureed, by steaming florets until tender and pureeing in food processor this comes together quite quickly!
Cook the whole wheat pasta to just al dente in large pot of salted boiling water, then drain. As with any baked pasta dish, there will be additional cooking in the oven while baking. So you really do want to make sure it’s al dente or you will have mushy noodles.
Using the same pot that you boiled the pasta in, combine: cooked ziti, marinara sauce, ricotta, cauliflower puree, and seasonings. Stir to incorporate. Transfer pasta to large baking dish and top with shredded mozzarella, parmesan, parsley flakes and you can sprinkle a little salt and pepper on top if you like as well.
Be sure to place baking dish on baking sheet to catch any drippings from scorching on the bottom of your oven then slide in 425 degree preheated oven for 25 minutes, until cheese is melted and golden brown and sauce is bubbly.
If you are making in advance, simply assemble, cover and refrigerate until ready to bake.
To make and freeze: assemble, cover with plastic wrap and freeze in metal or aluminum dish (not glass). When ready to bake, take out of freezer and remove lid or any plastic wrap. Cover with foil and let it sit on the counter while the oven is preheating. Bake in 350 degree oven for 1 hour, remove foil, bump up temperature to 400 and continue baking for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until center is bubbly.
Remove from oven and serve hot and ENJOY!
Whole Wheat Baked Ziti with Cauliflower Marinara Sauce
- food processor or blender
- 1 whole cauliflower steamed and pureed
- 4 oz ricotta low fat
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
- ½ cup parmesan cheese grated
- 2½ cup marinara sauce homemade or store bought
- 16 oz whole wheat ziti
- 1 tsp basil dried or fresh- i used dried
- 1 tsp oregano dried or fresh- i used dried
- 1 tsp parsley dried or fresh- i used dried
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Remove stems from head of cauliflower and cut into florets. Place florets in a steamer basket over about 1 or 2 inches of boiling water. Cover the pot and steam 8 minutes for fully tender florets.
- Remove from heat and add to food processor with ⅓ cup of water to puree until smooth. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 425°
- Cook whole wheat pasta to just al dente in large pot of salted boiling water, then drain. There will be additional cooking in the oven while baking, so you really do want to make sure it's al dente.
- In large bowl or pot used to boil pasta, combine: cooked pasta, marinara sauce, ricotta, cauliflower puree, and seasonings. Stir to incorporate
- Transfer pasta to large baking dish and top with shredded mozzarella, parmesan and parsley flakes.
- Place baking dish on baking sheet and slide in preheated oven for 25 minutes, until cheese is melted and golden brown and sauce is bubbly.
- Remove from oven and serve hot.