Friday, July 27, 2012

Skinny Baked Italian Pasta

When I've got people coming over for dinner, I try to make sure everyone can enjoy the meal. Making a baked pasta with some cheese, meat and veggies seems to always win the hearts of my guests. It is also quite affordable to make when you've got a handful of people to feed. Now most baked pasta dishes I've had are quite heavy. They consist of a lot of meat, cheese and oil, with very little veg except the tomato sauce. This is a much better for you version! Who knew pasta could be figure friendly? I hear from clients that pasta is a diet no-no, but it doesn't have to be. I don't believe in giving up the foods you enjoy, but enjoying them in a healthier and portion controlled manner. By adding a bit more veg, reducing the cheese, choosing lean meats - this can be a great main dish to serve. Serving it with a fresh garden salad can make this a simple meal everyone can enjoy (even the kids!). No one has to know you've lighten-up a hearty dish like this one! So go ahead - eat your pasta, you deserve to savor the food you enjoy. 

The baby bella mushrooms are more flavorful and meatier than white button mushrooms, so I highly recommend using them. If you are concerned about the spice factor, then opt for a mild Italian turkey sausage. If you can't find turkey sausage, most stores have pork Italian sausages, just be aware the nutritional info may go up some. If you have a gluten intolerance, just substitute the pasta and bread crumbs for gluten free versions (rice, quinoa, etc). 

Skinny Baked Italian Pasta

Cook Time: < 35 minutes
Prep Time: < 10 minutes
Serves: 9


  • 1 lb of whole wheat penne pasta
  • 6 cups of plain organic tomato sauce 
  • 2 tbsp dried Italian seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8oz of baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup of frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 lb of grass-fed lean ground beef
  • 2 hot Italian turkey sausages, remove from casing
  • 1 cup of part skim ricotta
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
  • 1oz fresh Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • olive oil spray

In a large stock pot, cook the penne in salted water, until almost completely cooked (make sure to not over cook). Drain the pasta and set aside in a side bowl.

In a medium pot add the tomato sauce and Italian seasoning and bring to almost a boil. Cover, lower heat and allow to simmer while everything is cooking. Add salt and pepper if you'd like. This sauce should simmer about 10 minutes or longer. 

As the pasta and sauce is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and the garlic and allow to saute for about 4-5 minutes. 

Then add the mushrooms, spinach and salt and pepper to taste. Allow the mixture to cook for 4-5 more minutes. Remove from the stove and set it aside on a side plate. Wipe down the skillet.

In the same skillet, add the ground beef and turkey sausage. Crumble and brown until completely cooked through (about 10 minutes).

Then in the large stock pot you used to cook the pasta, add the pasta back in, mushroom mixture, cooked ground meat, tomato sauce and the ricotta cheese. Stir everything together well. Make sure to coat the pasta well with the sauce. 

In a 13 x 9 pan, pour the pasta mixture in and spread out evenly. Sprinkle the bread crumbs, parsley and cheese over top. Spray lightly with a little olive oil spray over the top of the breadcrumbs.

Bake, uncovered for 20 minutes. Then place under the broiler for 1 minute or 2 to brown to the top. Allow the pasta to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Info per (generous-sized) serving:
Calories: 425 ; Fat: 11.5g ; Carbohydrate: 50g ; Fiber: 8g; Sugar: 5g ; Protein: 29g 

Nutritional Info per Serving:
Calories: 420 ; Fat: 10.5g ; Carbohydrate: 50g; Fiber: 9g ; Sugar: 7.5g ; Protein: 29.5g

Monday, July 23, 2012

Baked Italian Zucchini Boats

I wanted to thank all of the guest bloggers from the past week for the awesome posts!! If you missed any of them - check my archive section from Week 7/15-7/22. Different recipes and topics such as Date Balls, Open Faced Baked Stuffed Peppers, Tips for Staying Motivated and Chardonnay Steamed Mussels. I'm starting to settle back in at home with the new babe and enjoying being a new parent. I definitely underestimated how time consuming a newborn can be! I've been eating up all of my freezer meals (that I prepped beforehand) and meals made by family members the past 2 weeks. I'm glad to start cooking again, but I'm not sure how much time I'll have to writing up the posts, taking pictures, etc. I'll try to post something new every couple days and hopefully over time get back to posting daily. Ok enough talk.... on to the recipe...

I got a bunch of great looking zucchinis at the farmers market and was looking to make a simple side to go with the main dish I had made. Since I had some ricotta and some jarred pasta sauce in the fridge just hanging out, I decided to put them to use. I wasn't sure whether to cut up the zucchini into slices and toss it with the tomato sauce and ricotta or make a stuffing out of it. It looks much prettier as a zucchini boat :) . Super simple to make and took practically no time to prep. I could totally eat these as a first course or as a side to any meal - they are just so tasty!!

I used Newman's Own Organic Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce as the sauce (my favorite go-to sauce). Any pasta sauce you enjoy will work in this dish. I chose to not cook the zucchini too much, because I like my veggies to have a bite to them. Baking the boat helps dry them out some - since zucchini can be quite wet. By omitting the bread crumbs this dish is gluten-free and low carb. Happy eating!

Baked Italian Zucchini Boats

Cook Time: 25 minutes @ 400F
Prep Time: < 5 minutes
Serves: 2

  • 1 large zucchini, split in half horizontally (2 pieces)
  • 2 tbsp part skim ricotta cheese, divided
  • 2 tbsp jarred organic pasta sauce, divided
  • 1 tbsp whole wheat breadcrumbs, divided
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
  • fresh parsley, minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F and get a cookie sheet out to place the boats on.

Take the zucchini halves and scoop out the center some with a spoon. Just enough to make a "boat".

Spread 1 tbsp of ricotta and 1 tbsp of tomato sauce on each half.

Sprinkle the parsley, 1/2 tbsp of breadcrumbs and Parm on top of the tomato sauce.

Salt and pepper to taste and lightly spray with a little oil over the breadcrumb topping.

Bake at 400F for 25 minutes, or until the zucchini is slightly soft. Serve warmed

Nutritional Info per serving:
Calories: 100 ; Fat: 3g ; Carbohydrate: 12.5g ; Fiber: 2.5 ; Sugar: 4g ; Protein: 5.5g 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Guest Post - Jen's Cinnamon, Chocolate & Date Bread

Hey Everyone! It's Jen from JenBeansBlog with a 2nd recipe using dates (check out my Date Balls from Monday!). It's the weekend and that means more time to play around in the kitchen. Just surround yourself in the company of yeast, flour, and some good quality dates (and maybe a glass of wine) and you'll be sure to create something spectacular. For something nutritious and delicious on its own or dipped into egg for french toast, give this recipe a try! 

Cinnamon, Chocolate & Date Bread 

2 tsp bread machine yeast
3/4 cup warm soy milk
1 large egg
1 1/2 cup bread flour
1 cup wheat flour
2 tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup Medjool dates
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp cocoa powder

Dissolve yeast in milk for 5 mins so that it starts to bubble. Mix in egg and flours and oil until homogeneous and proof for several hours until at least doubled in size. 

In a food processor, add dates, cinnamon and cocoa powder and process until you get a crumbly date mixture. 

Flour a working surface, roll out dough to get maximum surface area and smear date mixture on top. Roll the dough and curl into an oiled baking tin. I used a loaf tin and curled the dough roll several times over. 

Proof for at least 1 hour. Preheat oven to 415 C. Brush the surface of the dough with egg wash and bake for 20 - 25 mins.

Because I had promised to bring this loaf on a cottaging trip, I could not dig in right away. When we cut into the loaf a few days later, it had hardened a bit but still smelled wonderful. We drenched it in egg/nutmeg/milk and fried it up. Topped with peanut butter and syrup, some fresh blueberries and bananas, and combined with the beautiful view of the lake and pine trees, chirping of birds and quite lapping of the waves against the dock, it was the closest thing to what I imagine retirement to be like :)

Happy baking/cooking everyone!