Over the weekend, I was craving comfort in the form of a hot, cheesy baked ziti. I was going to make a classic version, but at the last minute I decided to see if I could sneak some extra nutrition into the pan. This baked rigatoni with eggplant and chicken sausage ended up being everything I hoped it would be, and more – it’s like baked ziti and eggplant parmesan had a baby.
With a nearly one-to-one pasta-to-eggplant ratio plus wilted baby spinach there’s plenty of vegetable goodness in every bite. Crumbled chicken sausage (I swear by the store-made sausage from Whole Foods) and my favorite jarred tomato-basil sauce also add tons of flavor.
As an added bonus, all of those delicious ingredients add a ton of bulk to the pasta. That means you’ll have enough to fill two pans! This baked rigatoni is perfect for feeding a crowd – or you can freeze the second pan to bake another time. Bake it straight from frozen for an easy dinner that requires practically no thought.
For baked recipes like this one, I like to use hearty pasta with ridges that grab onto the sauce. Rigatoni is my favorite, you can also use ziti with lines or even penne. For the best results, slightly under-boil your rigatoni. That way it won’t get mushy when it continues to cook in the oven. Part skim ricotta makes the pasta nice and creamy without the greasiness of full fat versions and low moisture mozzarella melts like a dream over the top. (Next time, I want to experiment with using Go Veggie cream cheese instead of ricotta as a way to reduce the lactose in this recipe and cut back even more on fat and calories.)
Serve this pasta with a giant green salad, garlic bread, and red wine for a classic, comforting dinner.