Baked Ziti with Turkey Meatballs & Spinach

March 19 - Dinner by the Boy - garlicky grilled white shrimp & local pork chops with string beans
March 20 - nectarine glazed chicken thighs with pan-fried mixed potatoes & string beans
March 21 - Pinto Bean Enchiladas with Red Sauce
March 22 - Baked Ziti with Turkey Meatballs & Spinach

So I'm on week 2 of this whole meal-planning thing and it's going fairly well so far.  I stuck to the four meals I planned for last week.  I'm going with four meals because we do eat out or order in occasionally and at least one meal in a week will yield leftovers that need to be dealt with.  Plus it leaves a little room for me to have a spontaneous inspiration and cook what I'm craving.  I had planned out Tortilla Pie, Mussels with Saffron & Mustard, Rouladen & Spaetzle and Marmalade Glazed Chicken Thighs.  The chicken thighs were supposed to be for Friday, but the boy got home from work early nand we were able to go out for dinner, then on Saturday he decided he wanted to cook dinner, which I will never turn down and boy am I glad I didn't because it was delicious!  I got to Sunday and had defrosted the chicken thighs but still hadn't made them, so I knew rather than let them go to waste I had to cook them.  Since I had made a dinner plan I didn't have to put too much thought into the meal which was great.  I had planned ahead had all of the ingredients and threw together a quick and easy meal.

This ziti is an idea I've been playing around with and decided to try out this week when the boy asked for lasagna.  He rarely asks for things, but for whatever reason I wasn't up to making it and then decided that a baked ziti would be a nice compromise. I tested something I had been wanting to do and he got a hearty cheesy, baked pasta.  Win, win.  I also got to freeze half of it for when I'm out of town for two weeks and he'll be on his own for dinner.

Baked Ziti with Turkey Meatballs & Spinach
served 6-8

1lb ground turkey
3/4 - 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I processed 2 sliced of foccacia bread in my food processor)
1/2 cup freshly grated cheese pecorino romano
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley chopped
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp granulated onion
sea salt & black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

1 lb ziti or penne rigate
3 cups vodka sauce or any other leftover or jarred tomato-based sauce
1 1/2 cup ricotta
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 box of frozen chopped spinach defrosted and drained

1.  Leave the spinach out for a few hours to defrost.  Once defrosted, place in the center of a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out all of the liquid.  You'll end up with a small ball of spinach, about the size of 1/2 cup.
2. To make the meatballs gently combine all the meatball ingredients, except for the olive oil in a large bowl, be careful not to overwork the meat.  Form the turkey mixture into 1" balls, you should get approximately 24 meatballs.
3.  Heat a large deep skillet over medium heat.  Add a good glug of extra virgin olive oil.  Add in a few of the meatballs, I was able to do 8 at a time, being careful not to crowd the pan.  Brown the meatballs on each side until the are completely golden brown.  Reserve and brown the rest of the balls.
4.  While browning the meatballs bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. drain and reserve.
5.  Preheat oven to 375F. When the pasta is cooked and the meat balls are cooked, combine the ricotta, spinach and 1 cup of shredded mozzarella.
6.  Carefully mix the pasta with the sauce and ricotta mixture. Once combined add in the browned meatballs and toss gently until evenly distributed.  Pour into a large lightly greased casserole, or you can do like I did and pour into 2 smaller casseroles and freeze one for another night.
7.  Top the ziti with reserved mozzarella and place into the oven and baked for 45 minutes until the top is golden brown.  Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
NOTE: If you aren't going to bake the ziti right away I'd recommend simmer the meatballs in the sauce for 20-30 minutes or throw them in the oven to bake for 10 minutes, just to make sure they are cooked through.  I had the oven on from baking so I baked them since I was freezing some and made it early in the day long before dinner.  They are small and likely cooke almost all the way through while browning, but you don't want to play around with partially cooked poultry

I know that planning ahead for a week's worth of food is what most people do. I guess I just never realized how beneficial it would be, not only to the challenge but also for those night when the last thing I want to think about is dinner.   So I'm trying again.  This week I have planned out:

Gluten-Free Lemon Mascarpone Pancakes with raspberry syrup
Baked Ziti with Turkey Sausage (Done)
Stuffed Baby Eggplants
Roast Chicken - recipe still TBD

I've already passed on the pancakes, at least for dinner. But I will still make them if not for breakfast this weekend or lunch since I have the ingredients and it's a recipe I want to try to make work.