Baked Ziti with Zucchini, Artichokes and Pancetta
Baked ziti is a great make-ahead dish, perfect for casual family meals. Many recipes include some type of ground meat or crumbled sausage, but this version is made with a combination of artichoke hearts and zucchini, with the addition of a little chopped pancetta for extra flavor. The recipe is pretty versatile ~ you can substitute different vegetables, use bacon instead of pancetta or omit the meat entirely. See the recipe notes for suggested variations.
- 1 lb ziti
- 4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 medium zucchini
- 1/4 lb pancetta, diced (optional)
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 lb frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and roughly chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 3 cups diced tomatoes
- 1/3 cup cream
- 1 container (15-ounce) ricotta cheese (part-skim is fine)
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, coarsely shredded
- 1 large tomato, thinly sliced
- 2 ounces Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese, grated
- Cook the ziti in salted water according to package directions, drain, return to the pot and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375 °F and spray a large oblong baking dish thoroughly with nonstick spray. Set aside.
- Quarter the zucchini lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat and add 1/2 of the zucchini. Sauté until tender and light golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper during cooking. Add to the pot with the pasta and repeat with the remaining zucchini. Toss to combine.
- If using pancetta, add to the pan and fry until lightly crisped, then add another tablespoon of olive oil along with the onion. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute more.
- Add the artichoke hearts and continue cooking until any liquid has evaporated and the onions are beginning to turn golden. Do not brown. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the dried oregano, tomatoes and cream. Continue cooking until bubbly, remove from the heat and stir in the ricotta.
- Add the mixture to the pasta and zucchini and combine thoroughly. Spread about half of the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish and top with half of the mozzarella. Add the remaining pasta mixture and top with a layer of tomato slices. Sprinkle with Parmigiana-Reggiano, then cover with the rest of the mozzarella.
- Bake until hot, bubbly and lightly browned on top, about 30 to 35 minutes.
You can easily substitute eggplant or a combination of red and green bell peppers for the artichokes. You can also use thick cut bacon in place of the pancetta and prepared marinara in place of the diced tomatoes.