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This Easy Cheesy Red Lentil Pasta Baked Ziti is a hearty, delicious, meatless and gluten-free Italian meal featuring three kinds of cheese and red lentil penne pasta.
It's kind of funny how the whole rhyming thing worked out with the title of this post even though I hadn't even planned for that to happen. But what's not funny, though, is how cheesy this ziti really is!
Warning: From this point on, only serious cheese lovers welcome...
We're talking three kinds of cheese here people - ricotta, mozzarella and Pecorino Romano. There's even cheese in the sauce! Why? A better question would be: why not?
In my professional "cheeseivore" opinion, when there's cheese involved, go big or GO BIGGER! 😉
Unfortunately, if my poor husband followed that advice he would be going somewhere all right...somewhere with a shiny porcelain throne.
Oh, the poor thing. He can only have a small serving. That means the girls and I have to eat all the rest. Aw, what a shame!
But on the bright side, he definitely has had his fair share of this cheesy goodness over the years. I've been making it the same way since I can remember. Every time I had to bring a dish to a party, it was baked ziti.
And as I mentioned in my post for Chickpea Flour Homemade Manicotti, our Christmas dinner is always an Italian meal. Sometimes it's manicotti and sometimes it's ziti.
Either way, I always use my Ricotta Cheese Mixture for both dishes. The only difference between my ziti of the past and my ziti of the present is...the pasta.
As the name of this dish suggests, I now use red lentil pasta to make my ziti instead of traditional wheat-based ziti noodles. What I love about red lentil pasta is that it's a great source of protein.
This is especially awesome since I don't use any meat in my ziti. If you haven't tried red lentil pasta before, it is a delicious gluten-free alternative that is not only protein-rich, but also holds its own in a baked dish.
To put it simply, it doesn't turn into a mushy mess. Now if you overcook it, you will end up with a mushy mess but that's true about pasta in general, so moving on...
I've compiled a list of sorts of my favorite red lentil penne pastas that would be amazing in baked ziti for your convenience.
Red Lentil Penne Pasta by Brand
We'll start with the one I used for this dish - Explore Cuisine Organic Red Lentil Penne.
This penne combines organic red lentil flour with organic brown rice flour. Each 2-oz. serving contains 11 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. According to the package, it also has 15% of one's daily recommended intake of iron based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Next up is Modern Table's penne.
This pasta is made from red lentil flour, white rice and pea protein. Like Explore, Modern Table also contains 11 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber per 2-oz. serving as well as 15% of a day's worth of iron based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Another pasta I love is Chickapea.
The Chickapea brand combines organic red lentil flour with organic chickpea flour. Not only is it full of protein (15 grams per 2 oz. serving), it also packs in 8 grams of fiber for the same serving size. Chickapea also boasts 20% of daily iron based on a 2,000-calorie diet in addition to 25% thiamin, 15% vitamin B6, 35% folate and more.
Last but not least is Barilla's red lentil penne.
This pasta is made with just red lentil flour. It has 13 grams of protein per 2-oz. serving. The package breaks down the fiber into soluble and insoluble with 3 grams of each for a total of 6 grams per 2-oz. serving. Iron is listed at 15% of a day's value based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Now you can choose the one that suits you best. 🙂
While you're deciding...
How to Make This Baked Ziti with Red Lentil Pasta
Start by preparing the ricotta cheese mixture and refrigerate until ready to use. Next, preheat your oven to 375°F. Add crushed tomatoes with basil (I used my favorite brand, Tuttorosso), garlic, grated cheese and parsley to a saucepan.
Stir to combine. Cover and cook over medium to medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the sauce is done, remove from heat.
While the sauce is cooking, prepare the pasta according to package directions except cook molto al dente, which is slightly undercooked. It should be slightly firm but not too hard.
For example, the pasta I used had a cooking time of 8-10 minutes, and I cooked it for 6 minutes. I'd recommend starting with 2 minutes less than suggested to ensure it does not become overcooked, which will result in the pasta falling apart when it is baked.
After draining the pasta, return to pot.
Carefully add the sauce as it will still be hot.
Stir in ricotta cheese mixture.
Scoop evenly into a 13 x 9 inch baking dish. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese.
Bake for 30 minutes until cheese is melted and ziti is bubbly.
Easy Cheesy Lentil Pasta Baked Ziti
- 1 Ricotta Cheese Mixture (click for the recipe)
- 56 oz. crushed tomatoes with basil (I used Tuttorosso brand)
- 2 cloves garlic (peeled and chopped)
- 2 tbsp grated Pecorino Romano cheese *see notes below regarding vegetarian cheese options
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley (chopped)
- 8 oz red lentil penne pasta (I used Explore Cuisine)
- 8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese *see notes below regarding vegetarian cheese options
- Prepare ricotta cheese mixture according to recipe and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Preheat your oven to 375°F.
- Add crushed tomatoes, garlic, grated cheese and parsley to a 4-quart saucepan. Stir to combine. Cover and cook over medium to medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the sauce is done, remove from heat.
- While sauce is cooking, prepare the pasta according to package directions except cook molto al dente, which is slightly undercooked. It should be slightly firm but not too hard. For example, the pasta I used had a cooking time of 8-10 minutes, and I cooked it for 6 minutes. I'd recommend starting with 2 minutes less than suggested to ensure it does not become overcooked which will result in the pasta falling apart when it is baked.
- After draining the pasta, return to pot.
- Carefully add the sauce to the pasta as it will still be hot.
- Stir in ricotta cheese mixture.
- Scoop evenly into a 13 x 9 inch baking dish
- Top with shredded mozzarella cheese.
- Bake for 30 minutes until cheese is melted and ziti is bubbly.
(Please refer to the post above for instructional photographs for this recipe)
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