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baked ziti, with a butternut twist

Butternut baked ziti
After a week’s worth of scrubbing, peeling, prepping, roasting, mashing, stuffing and baking, the time for a  lightning-quick dinner is now.
The key is to avoid stumbling blocks like convenience foods, take-out, delivery and fast food now that the feast of all feasts has passed.

Ah, yes. Thanksgiving. For some, it’s a frenzy of food, friends and frivolity, for others, it’s a time of boundless gratitude and quiet contemplation. Most of the excitement is focused on the big day meal, but what about those dinners on the days leading up to and after?

The hallmarks of great holiday-rush meals are minimal prep, minimal equipment, unattended cooking, and creative use of leftovers and pantry staples. Big batches are a bonus! After all, you and your kitchen deserve a break from time to time.

It's easy resolve to eat smarter in the days surrounding T-day, but the trick is to do that without compromising taste. For a quick, easy and delicious weeknight meal, your go-to dish for busy times should nearly always be a casserole.

Casseroles use only one or two dishes, can be tossed together quickly, baked unattended, and guarantee wonderful leftovers.

Thinking to yourself, “Eww, casseroles are gross?” What about lasagna, tetrazzini, pastitsio, cassoulet, strata, mac and cheese, or baked ziti? All casseroles, all undeniably delicious.

Baked ziti is a classic casserole, easily assembled in advance and baked later. This version uses homemade roasted butternut squash puree instead of tomato sauce; mozzarella tops this casserole for incomparable toasty cheese taste.

Roasted Butternut Squash Baked Ziti

Serves 4

Forkful of Roasted Butternut Squash Baked Ziti
This recipe can be made with commercially-prepared frozen or homemade purée. Homemade purée tend to be less watery, so thin it with a bit of water to a sauce-like consistency.
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped coarsely
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano, divided
  • 3 cups frozen butternut or other winter squash purée, thawed
  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces ziti rigate, cooked just al dente, drained
  • 4 ounces part-skim mozzarella, coarsely shredded
Preheat oven to 375°F. Brush an 8-inch square baking dish with oil; set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until softened and just starting to brown, 4-6 minutes. Stir in garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, combine ricotta, egg, and 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano. In a medium bowl, stir together onion-garlic mixture, squash purée, sage, salt, and pepper. Add ricotta mixture to bowl; stir together briefly (do not mix completely.) Add cooked ziti; toss to combine.

Spread ziti mixture evenly in prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano and mozzarella.

Place casserole in oven, and bake until top is browned and sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.