Lighten up baked ziti dish with asparagus

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Food & Dining

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Do you find baked ziti dishes a little one-dimensional and heavy?

Here, the pasta is mixed with a sauce of ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano and a little milk. To kick the dish into the healthful-and-delicious category, lots of asparagus is added, plus a fresh tomato sauce.

This can be served as a side to grilled chicken.

Baked Ziti With Asparagus and Fresh Tomato Sauce

Makes 6 to 8 servings

To peel and seed tomatoes, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Have ready a bowl of ice water. Cut an “X” in the bottom of each tomato and remove the stem. Working with one at a time, place the tomato in the boiling water for 15 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to quickly transfer it to the ice water. The skin should slip off. Halve the tomatoes; scoop or shake out the seeds.

For the ziti:

12 ounces dried ziti

Kosher salt

1½ pounds asparagus (woody ends trimmed), cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 pound after trimming)

15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese

6 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus 2 tablespoons for baking

⅓ to ⅔ cup low-fat milk

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

2 cups diced, peeled and seeded fresh tomatoes (from about 1¾ pounds whole tomatoes; see note)

2 tablespoons dry white wine

⅛ teaspoon sugar, or to taste

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a pan of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus pieces, cook for 3 to 5 minutes until just tender. Drain and transfer to the ice water. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

Combine the ricotta, 6 tablespoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1/3 cup milk and the basil in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (If your ricotta is dry, add some or all of the remaining milk.

Drain the ziti well; add to the ricotta mixture with the asparagus and toss to incorporate. Transfer the ziti-asparagus mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Combine the oil and garlic in a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat. Cook for 10 minutes, reducing the heat as needed so the garlic softens but does not brown.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the tomatoes (no juices). Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring a few times. Add the wine and sugar, then season with salt and pepper; increase the heat to medium-high. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until the liquid has halved. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil.

Spoon the tomato sauce over the ziti. You do not have to cover the ziti completely, but try to distribute the sauce evenly.

Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the dish is heated through. (If you need to keep the ziti in the oven any longer, cover tightly with foil.) Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.