Vegetarian Baked Ziti
Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 zucchini, small diced
1 bell pepper (red or orange), cored and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dry oregano
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
6 cups quality Marinara sauce
10 basil leaves, torn or sliced/chopped
1 cup ricotta
½ cup grated Parmesan, divided
6 ounces shredded Mozzarella
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When ready, add the pasta and cook to al dente according to package. When ready, drain pasta but save ½ cup cooking water.
While the pasta is cooking, cook the vegetables. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add onions and cook for 3 minutes, tossing regularly, then add diced zucchini, bell pepper, and garlic. Raise heat to medium-high and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, tossing regularly, until vegetables have softened and cooked through. Season with kosher salt, oregano and paprika. Set aside until needed.
In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, ¼ cup grated Parmesan and 3 tablespoons Mozzarella. Mix well. (If needed, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to help mix the cheese.)
Once the pasta has been cooked and drained, bring it back to the cooking pot. Add ½ of the marinara sauce and the ½ cup of reserved starchy cooking water. Mix well to coat the pasta with the sauce. Fold in the ricotta cheese filling. Mix again to combine, but leave some big “pockets” of the cheese mixture.
Pour a little marinara sauce into the bottom of a 9-1/2 x 13 inch casserole dish. Spread half of the pasta over top. Now add the cooked vegetables and some of the torn basil on top and spread well across the pasta layer. Sprinkle with a bit of shredded mozzarella on top (save some mozzarella for very top layer). Add remaining pasta. Spread remaining marinara sauce on top and add remaining mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.
Place the casserole dish on the middle rack of your heated oven. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes before cutting through. Garnish with fresh basil, and serve.