Trying to get some vegetables into your diet? (Sneaking in more vegetables in your kids’ diet also counts!)
Here is an easy weeknight dish that accomplishes that, and even meat eaters will approve.
I think it was in Mark Bittman’s Food Matters that I first read about the benefits of stretching meat centric dishes with vegetables and/or grains. It’s a nice compromise, because you are not cutting out meat completely–if you are an omnivore–but just reducing the amount and bulking up on vegetables and grains. This accomplishes a lot of great things at once:
From a health standpoint, eating less saturated fats and more healthy fats from plants is always a good thing.
From an environmental standpoint, eating less meat and more plants is also a good thing.
From your pocket book’s standpoint, it is a lot cheaper to maintain a diet heavier on plants (especially if you grow a lot of them–something I, unfortunately, haven’t had to luck of doing) rather than on meats.
My husband is a meat person — I’ve mentioned before he only used to eat brown food (think bacon, beef, chicken, potatoes, peanut butter, bread, etc.) for a lot of his life before we got together! I’m not going to force him to become a vegetarian — it would never work anyway. And I eat meat also — just not so much red meat.
This is a simple, fast weeknight dish that you can adapt to suit your preference. If you like more meat, add more. No meat, omit it. You can swap ground turkey or chicken for the beef. Use whatever vegetable you like. Since zucchini is a family favorite, I use it. But I think this dish would also be great with eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, even fall friendly vegetables like butternut or acorn squash. The more variety of colors, the better! Just be sure to cut the pieces into similar sizes.
I used Fiori pasta because I had a package in the pantry, but any bite sized pasta would work well.
Make a Béchamel sauce if you’d like an extra layer of flavor and richness.
Top with mozzarella — note: Freeze the mozzarella about 30-60 minutes before grating, so it is easier to grate!
Throw in the broiler for a quick melt and you’re done!
Easy Weeknight Baked Pasta with Meat and Veggies (based on Rachel Ray’s Baked Ziti)
Lb. pasta of your choice (I used Fiori)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (one whole small onion)
½ lb. ground meat (I used lean beef)
3 cups chopped vegetable (I used one large zucchini)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 28 oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes
pepper to taste
For Béchamel Sauce (optional):
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
grated nutmeg to taste
¼ cup grated parmesan
4 oz. grated mozzarella
- Bring large pot of water to boil. Season with salt.
- While waiting for water to boil, put mozzarella in freezer to firm up. Heat oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat.
- Sauté onions and beef until beef is no longer pink. Add garlic and let cook until fragrant. Add zucchini or other vegetable. Sauté until softened slightly. Add canned tomatoes. Turn heat down to low, cover, and let simmer, stirring occasionally until vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.
- If using, make béchamel sauce. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add flour and quickly whisk with butter to prevent from clumping. Sauté for a minute. Gradually add a little bit of milk while whisking. Don’t add it too fast, or the sauce will become lumpy. Add just enough at a time to smooth it out. When it is the consistency of a smooth, liquid paste, add the rest of milk, while whisking. Season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg to taste. Let simmer and thicken about five minutes.
- Meanwhile cook pasta al dente according to package instructions. Set aside.
- Preheat broiler. Coat the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with spray or olive oil. Set aside.
- Assemble baked pasta. Combine cooked pasta and cooked sauce in the large pot you used to cook the pasta in. Add grated parmesan. Stir to combine. Transfer to baking dish. Top with a layer of béchamel sauce. Cover with grated mozzarella. Broil in oven until cheese is melted and is starting to brown, about 2-3 minutes.