I recently celebrated my birthday, and that can only mean one thing: I’m in desperate need of lots and lots of vegetables to counteract the chocolate cake and ice cream I’ve had every day for the past week.  Eek!  Luckily I came across this recipe from Rachael Ray, which has tomatoes, peas, and asparagus to make me feel healthy, but still loads of pasta and three kinds of cheese to make it edible.  The flavors are subtle but the whole dish is very light and spring-like, which I am in such need of after eating heavy meals all winter.  This would be a great dish to entertain with since it makes a whole 9×13 casserole, or if you live by yourself like me you can have leftovers for a week and still freeze some!

I made garlic bread to go along with this meal.  This is one of my favorite tricks: buy a regular baguette from the store and slather it up with your own garlic butter.  For mine, I use half a stick of softened butter, 3-4 cloves garlic, and a few tablespoons of fresh basil.  Mix the ingredients together, spread it on the baguette sliced in half lengthwise, cover in foil, and put in the oven for the last 5-6 minutes that the casserole is baking.  Delectable!

Spring Ziti (from Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book)

Ingredients Cost
2 T. olive oil pantry
3 shallots, thinly sliced $1.50
3 large garlic cloves, chopped $0.10
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes $1.50
salt and pepper pantry
4 sprigs tarragon, leaves removed, chopped $1.40
1/2 c. basil, (10 leaves) chopped $1.40
1 lb. ziti rigate $1.09
1 lb. asparagus $4.00
1 c. frozen peas $0.50
1 c. ricotta cheese $1.15
1 c. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated $1.15
1 tsp. lemon zest $0.20
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, sliced $3.99
Total Cost (9 servings) $17.98
Cost per Serving $2.00

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.

While waiting for the water to boil, heat the olive oil in a skillet and saute the shallots and garlic until soft.  Add the tomatoes and crush with the back of a spoon.  Season with salt and pepper, and cook for five minutes.  Remove from heat and add basil and tarragon.

After the pasta has been cooking for five minutes, add the asparagus and frozen peas to the same pot.  When the pasta is al dente, drain it along with the veggies.  Into the pasta pot, add the ricotta, half the Parmigiano, and the lemon zest.  Return the pasta and veggies to the pot and stir.

Pour half of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish.  Add the pasta and veggies, then top with the remaining sauce.  Dot the top of the casserole with the mozzarella, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano.  Bake in the oven for 12 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbly.