Thursday, September 30, 2010

A new twist on a Vegetarian Pasta Bake

Fall temperatures make me crave all of the comfort food of my youth. Coming from an Italian family that usually means cheesy pasta dishes. While I don't think that I would be able to pass up a gooey slice of lasagna with those cheesy strands that just have to be stolen and stuffed into your mouth as you serve it up I have been trying to make a conscious effort to eat better. I know that denying myself my favorites isn't going to work out in the long run so instead I have tried to come up with some ways to lighten up dishes. I find that for many vegetarians (for the record I am not one but many of my friends are and I do try and accommodate them when possible) its easy to fall into the trap of pasta dishes. They are fast, easy and cheap... what more could you want? Well maybe some protein for starters!

Even though this dish looks like a standard version of "lazy man's lazagna" (ie pasta mixed with sauce and cheese and baked vs the painstakingly layers of a real lasagna) there are a few hidden tricks that makes it so much more. While this one was made with "normal" pasta (figured it was time to use it up!) definitely feel free to use whole wheat or rice pasta for an even healthier (or gluten-free) version. By adding both beans and vegetables to this dish you still get a lot of volume but with out all of the carbs or calories of a plate of pasta.

Veggie Pasta & Bean Bake
1 box rotini pasta - cooked and drained
2 large eggplant - peeled and diced
1 green bell pepper - diced
1/2 vidalia onion - diced
2 15.5-19 oz cans of cannelini beans- drained and rinsed
1 jar vegetarian sauce (I used Barilla Mushroom & Garlic but I also like Bertolli)
2 cloves garlic- smashed & diced
1 handful fresh basil - chiffonade
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
1tbsp olive oil + a bit to grease pan
salt & pepper
1 c shredded 2% mozzarella (or italian cheese blend)
1 small ball fresh mozzarella - diced

1) In a large wok pan, heat the oil and add garlic
2) Add peppers, onions and eggplant to pan and saute
3) Once softened, add the beans and 1 c of the pasta sauce and mix till all evenly coated - cover and let cook for 5 min
4) In a large bowl, combine pasta with remaining sauce and add vegetable mixture - combine
5) Season with herbs, salt & pepper to taste
6) Stir in the cubes of mozzarella and transfer into a oiled baking pan (I used my corning ware oval)
7) Top with shredded mozzarella and cover with foil and bake at 350 till bubbling hot (about 15-20 min) - remove foil about 1/2 way through cooking time
8) Remove and let cool for 5-10 min  before serving