Meet Alex Caspero
Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, Plant-Based Chef and Yoga Instructor. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.
When your last name is Caspero, it’s an unspoken assumption that you know your way around a pasta or two. I swear by the time I was 10, I had already been taught the secret to homemade sauce, how to make perfect manicotti shells, and how to whip up a baked ziti casserole in 30 minutes flat.
Because, in my family, that’s how you showed love.
New baby in the family? Bring the over some ziti. Family friend ill? Make the ziti. Neighbors moved in down the street? You get the idea.
Even in college, my friends knew that whenever there was a gathering of any sort, I would be bringing a giant pan of baked ziti. So, after hearing this month’s theme for Recipe Redux- “share a story of classic cookware – and a healthy recipe to go with it,” I knew I would be remaking our beloved baked ziti.
The only issue was the idea of a classic cookware… mainly in the fact that I didn’t own any. When I moved out to California eight (eight!?) years ago, I did it with two suitcases filled with whatever appliances I could make fit. Over the years, I’ve done an excellent job of owning more cookware than someone with my size kitchen should, but none of them have been hand me downs.
When I first started grad school, with my limited budget yet large desire to grow my own kitchen collection, I distinctly remember purchasing two must have items: a good knife and a Pyrex baking dish. My mom uses her pyrex dish for almost everything: brownies, casseroles, and of course- ziti. So while I didn’t get her dish, I know that if I was to inherit a classic cookware item, this would have been it. Not only is a glass baking dish one of the most versatile items, it’s also the perfect vessel for baked ziti. After all, as a kid in a new state, new town and new school- I had a lot of people to meet and a lot of ziti to prepare.
The original recipe consists of mostly pasta, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and sauce. Amazing? Of course! Nutrient dense? Not even a little bit.
For this version, I left out the mozzarella cheese entirely and subbed in roasted broccoli and kale. Swapping out calorie- dense cheese for healthy vegetables was a no-brainier. Not only did this lighten the calories significantly, the added texture was a welcome change. Creamy sauce, noodles and perfectly roasted vegetables=Amazing! These days, “put some kale on it” has become my motto. If you’re not a fan of cooked kale (<i>like my sweet BL</i>), then leave it out or add extra broccoli.
While jar sauce is fine for a throw-together casserole, for this version I decided to make a fresh roasted sauce using torn basil, roma tomatoes and garlic. Roasted until slightly sweet and caramelized, the fresh tomato sauce totally makes this version.
I don’t know why I didn’t do this years ago. Maybe it’s because this was such an iconic dish that it never dawned on me to change it. Well, I’m glad I did. Not only will I be passing this version on to my kids, I will also be sharing it with all the other Casperos.
If you try this recipe, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, and tag your Instagram photos with #delishknowledge . I absolutely love seeing your creations. Happy cooking!Print
The perfect crowd-pleasing meal. Baked rigatoni stuffed with fresh tomato sauce, broccoli, kale, and ricotta cheese.