Gluten-Free Baked Ziti

My lovely mom celebrated her birthday earlier this month. As a special treat, I declared I was going to make dinner for her and our family. I wanted a meal that I could put together ahead of time so I wasn’t doing all the prep work when my family was over.

Happily, I came across Annie’s Eats and her recipe for baked ziti. (Thanks, Annie!) I made baked mostaccioli before – pasta sauce, pasta, and cheese topped with some more cheese. Simple and delicious. Baked ziti, which I had never made before, is a little different though, and I was super excited to try it. First of all, it’s made with meat in the sauce. Annie’s recipe calls for Italian turkey sausage, which I’m sure would have been delicious, but we don’t care for sausage, so I used lean ground turkey instead. Also, the sauce is made with cream, so it’s not just a straight-up tomato sauce.

I made the dish gluten-free by using corn pasta instead of regular. Luckily that was the only gluten-free conversion I needed to make! To cut down on the fat, I used fat-free half and half in place of the heavy cream and I also used reduced-fat mozzarella. Unfortunatly, even with those modifications, this dish is still a bit high in points value, so save it for a special ocassion or plan ahead.

This is a cool recipe because it uses cottage cheese instead of ricotta, which Tim cannot eat. I just put the cottage cheese in my food processor to get rid of the curds. The consistency was wonderfully creamy – a nice alternative to ricotta.

I’m not gonna lie, this took a while to put together. To make it easy on yourself, definitely have all your ingredients measured out and ready to go before you begin. If not, you will be scrambling around your kitchen like a crazy thing. Trust me!

The recipe called for a 9×13 pan. While it did fit into a 9×13 pan, I did find it to be a bit overfull. If you have a pan that’s slightly larger, I’d recommend using it instead. If you don’t, you can place your 9×13 pan on a larger sheet pan to catch any sauce or cheese that might escape, or you can divide it between two smaller pans.

It definitely paid off to have made the dish the night before. After I prepped the dish, I let it cool thoroughly before putting it in the fridge overnight. Take the dish out of the fridge one to two hours before you’re ready to bake it so it can come down to room temperature. This will help it bake more evenly and in less time. You can then bake the dish as directed below.

Baked Ziti
adapted from Annie’s Eats Baked Ziti

1 pound 1% cottage cheese
2 large eggs
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, shredded and divided
1 Tablespoon salt
1 pound uncooked gluten-free ziti or mostaccioli
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/4 pounds extra lean ground turkey (99% fat-free)
1/2 cup white onion, finely chopped
5 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup fat-free half and half
8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella, shredded

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Place the cottage cheese, eggs, and about 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese into a food processor. Process until smooth; set aside. (Note: If you don’t mind the curds in the cottage cheese, you may skip the food processor and simply whisk the ingredients together in a medium bowl.)

Bring a large stock pot of water to a rolling boil. Add 1 Tablespoon of salt and the pasta and stir. Cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is not quite al dente. Cooking times for gluten-free pasta vary greatly, so test for doneness frequently. Drain the pasta and leave it in the colander. You will use the stock pot again in a later step – no need to clean it.

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turkey, break it apart, and cook until halfway browned. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook until the turkey is completely browned and the onion has softened. Reduce heat to medium and add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano. Stir until well-combined. Bring to a gentle simmer, then stir ocassionally for about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar. Slowly stir in 1/2 cup of the basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the half and half. Pour this mixture into the stock pot you cooked the pasta in. Place the pan over medium heat. Whisking contstantly, bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for about three to four minutes; the mixture will thicken slightly. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the cottage cheese mixture. Stir in about 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce mixture and about 3/4 cup of mozzarella. Stir until well-combined. Gently fold in the pasta until it is thoroughly coated.

Transfer the pasta mixture into a 9×13 baking dish. Carefully pour the remaining tomato sauce mixture over the top of the pasta mixture. Use a rubber spatula to spread the sauce so it’s evenly distributed. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan evenly over the top of the sauce mixture. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the dish and cook for another 30 minutes until the cheese has melted and is starting to brown. Cool uncovered on a rack for about 15-20 minutes. Garnish with the remaining two Tablespoons of basil.

Serve alongside a fresh salad and some gluten-free garlic bread or rolls for a filling meal. This reheats well for leftovers too. Always a bonus!

Makes 8 large servings (14 points+ per serving).