Primavera means “spring” in Italian, with pasta primavera being made with vibrantly colorful springtime vegetables and herbs. My baked ziti recipe is pretty much a cross between pasta primavera and traditional ziti. It’s also a weeknight friendly one pot meal that I make a lot because I can get it on the table quickly and I always have leftovers.
Less Cheese Please
I have completely eliminated all dairy from my diet, except for cheese. The reason I still eat cheese is not because I think cheese is a health food. Regardless of what the dairy industry would like you to believe, cheese is not healthy. The reason I still eat cheese is much more simplistic…. cheese tastes good. Really, really good.
However, I use cheese as a condiment and I use it sparingly. Luckily, just a little bit of good cheese goes a very long way.
In this case, each serving of my baked ziti recipe contains less than ¼ cup cheese, which is technically less than a serving and not very much at all. But the dish still maintains that special richness that makes ziti so irresistible. One of the ways I preserve the rich texture is by making a cheese-like cream from ricotta and hemp seeds. The hemp seeds are a vegan superfood that not only add important omega fats but also help keep the recipe tasting rich and decadent without adding any negative, empty calories.
More Salt Please
When cooking pasta, especially if using the whole grain variety called for in this recipe, you need to generously salt the pasta water. Italian cooks will tell you to salt the water until it tastes like the Mediterranean Sea. That means just salt it a whole lot! The pasta will absorb the salted water and you’ll be amazed at the difference in your pasta…and your baked ziti recipe too.
Primavera Baked Ziti Recipe
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large shallots, minced
- Unrefined sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 can (15 ounces) organic crushed tomatoes
- 2 cans (15 ounces) organic diced tomatoes, drained
- 1/4 cup fresh tarragon, leaved removed, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 12 ounces whole wheat ziti (or quinoa ziti)
- 4 large carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips
- 1 pound thin asparagus, ends trimmed, chopped into 1 1/2-inch pieces on an angle
- 1 cup frozen petite peas
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
- 3/4 cup grass-fed grated cheddar cheese
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Place a very large pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil.
- Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots; sauté for 2-3 minutes. Season shallots with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, stir in the tarragon and basil. Set sauce aside.
- Add the ziti to the boiling water. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the carrots, asparagus, and peas to the pot. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.
- While the pasta and vegetables are cooking, add the pine nuts, hempseeds, lemon juice and water to a high speed blender (such as a Vitamix). Process on high until smooth and creamy. Season with salt to taste.
- Drain the pasta and vegetables. Add the pine nut-hemp mixture to the still hot pot. Add the pasta and vegetables back to the pot and stir to coat evenly.
- Pour half the tomato sauce into a large baking dish (or into 2 small baking dishes.) Add all of the pasta and vegetable mixture. Pour the remaining tomato sauce on top. Sprinkle with shredded cheese. Bake, uncovered, until top is brown and bubbly, about 12 minutes. Serve warm.