Friday, November 2, 2012

Bison and Zucchini Baked Ziti

Bison: It's what's for dinner.
Before you run for the hills, yes I said bison, and believe me, I was more than a little hesitant the first time my father-in-law suggested I try it. I’m a pretty basic chicken, turkey, and pork kind of gal. But honestly, it’s really good. Think ground beef but way better for you.

According to the USDA, 3.5 ounces of raw ground bison only contains 146 calories. That’s fewer calories than the same portion of beef, pork…even turkey. It’s high in protein with 20.23 grams per serving. It has a low total fat content at 7.2 grams. And it’s lower in cholesterol than any of the other commonly ground meats. (See a nutritional comparison chart of ground meat and poultry here.)
Most baked ziti recipes I’ve seen call for a lot of dairy items: ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella cheese, cottage cheese—even sour cream. Well, the hubs and the baby are lactose intolerant so that wouldn’t fly in this house. You’ll notice lite shredded mozzarella in the ingredients below but I actually tried a new dairy-free, soy-free cheese substitute called Daiya and it wasn’t bad. I also swapped ziti noodles for whole wheat penne pasta noodles since they are better for you.

I wasn’t initially planning on posting this recipe—it was just something I tossed together on a whim using ingredients we had around the house and needed to use. However, because BOTH of my kids ate it (actually, the baby actually devoured it), I had to share.
Bison and Zucchini Baked Ziti
Serves 8-10

12-16 ounces whole wheat penne pasta
Olive oil spray
1 pound ground bison meat (or lean ground beef, turkey, or chicken if you’re not feeling adventurous)
Garlic powder
2 medium zucchini squash, chopped
1 (25-ounce) jar pasta sauce (I used Trader Joe's Organic Tomato Basil Marinara)
Olive oil spray (again!)
1 ½-2 cups lite mozzarella cheese, shredded (I used Daiya's vegan Mozzarella Style Shreds)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions in a large pot.

While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil spray in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground bison meat and a dash of garlic powder and brown, stirring often, until meat is cooked through (about 5-6 minutes).
Remove meat from the heat. Add chopped zucchini, and pasta sauce to the skillet and heat over medium for 5 minutes.

When pasta is done cooking, remove from heat, drain, rinse, and return to pot. Add the meat sauce and stir well to combine.
Spritz a large (I used 9x13) glass baking dish with olive oil spray. Spoon half of the pasta into the baking dish and cover with half of the mozzarella cheese. Spoon remaining pasta over the cheese and add the rest of the cheese as the top “layer.”

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until cheese is brown and bubbling and pasta is heated through.
As you’ll note in the picture below, the cheese substitute doesn’t get all browned and bubbly like real cheese does. But even without all the yummy gooey goodness, my version was still pretty darn tasty. The vegan cheese isn’t quite as salty as the real deal so I did something I seldom do—I added a little salt and pepper to the finished product.

Not as gooey and bubbly as "real" cheese, but still pretty yummy!
The hubs and I both liked this dish, however, as I mentioned above the fact that the BOTH of my kids ate it is the reason you’re seeing it here. The baby gobbled it up for dinner and as leftovers the next day. And in my book, that equals epic success.  

If you’re a little wary of the bison meat, I get it. You can wimp out and use ground turkey, chicken, or beef, but I encourage you to think outside the box a little…it’s good for you!
Give this recipe a try and let me know what you—and your kiddos think.

Until next time,

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