Baked Ziti

We didn't have a lot of money growing up so we ate a lot of casseroles and pasta dishes. Baked ziti was one of my favorites but since I went plant-based I haven't been able to enjoy some of the things my mama used to make. Traditionally, this dish is prepared with only 4 ingredients; noodles, sauce, meat, cheese. Two out of four of those are not approved vegan ingredients so this beauty here is my vegan take on a childhood memory.
You'll find that this recipe is easily adaptable for those of you, like my husband, who prefer a vegetarian diet over vegan. Instead of cashew ricotta, you can use regular ricotta, or instead of Panko bread crumbs, feel free to use shredded cheese. The recipe I use for Cashew Ricotta recipe can be found here.
For gluten-free, use gluten-free noodles and be sure your sauce doesn't have gluten listed as one of the ingredients (it's not normal if they do). If you're just going for less gluten, omit the bread crumbs. I usually go without toppings because I have found it to be cheaper when using less ingredients and I have not yet found packageless breadcrumbs. I don't really have the time to make my own.
All of the ingredients I can usually find package-free at my local WinCo Foods but most people don't have that luxury so I've incorporated instructions for packaged items.

PLANT BASED BAKED ZITI
Serves 6-8 people   |   Prep time: 20 minutes   |   Cook time: 30 minutes Author: Makenna Langford

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 box ziti noodles (16 oz)
  • 2 jars pasta sauce (or 1 3/4 large cans)
  • 2-3 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 5-6 small mushrooms, sliced or diced (your preference)
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup hemp seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (optional)
  • bread crumbs (optional)
DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Precook pasta according to box directions. While noodles cook, prep veggies.
  2. Drain pasta and put them back into the pot. Add sauce, veggies, nutritional yeast, and hemp seeds, stir until evenly coated. (You can add the ricotta at this point if you want to do things the easy way but I find that it tastes better if you add it in later.)
  3. Empty contents of pot into a large baking dish (usually 9x13 inches). Spread evenly.
  4. With a fork, scoop even globs of ricotta out onto the pasta, stir in small sections. It's okay if it's not evenly mixed but it should be spread out enough that you'll get some in every bite. Top with bread crumbs.
  5. Place baking dish on baking rack in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 minutes (or until cheese has fully melted if you went the vegetarian route.) 

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