Food

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Baked Ziti – The Roasted Root

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Baked Ziti is a magnificently comforting dinner casserole with a tomato-based meat sauce and a creamy dairy-free cauliflower sauce for the topping. This incredibly filling meal is amazing for those of us who are sensitive to gluten and dairy. 

Don’t worry if you aren’t gluten-free or dairy-free, I have included options for making traditional ziti in this post as well 🙂

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Baked Ziti made with gluten-free pasta noodles and a creamy cauliflower sauce instead of cheese.

You know when you have one of those magically perfect days wherein you crush your workout, your playlist jives with your mood all day long, there’s harmony everywhere you go, and your cat makes it to the tile before puking?

That is exactly what this baked ziti is like. It nails life right in the bullseye. 

If you haven’t heard of baked ziti, no sweat – I’ll give you the rundown! Ziti is a type of pasta noodle that looks very similar to penne or rigatoni noodles.

Baked Ziti is traditionally made with a tomato-based marinara meat sauce (incorporating either ground beef or Italian sausage) and is baked with cheese on top for a sort of pasta casserole. 

The concept is very similar to Lasagna!

So basically, it’s a slab of heaven.

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Baked Ziti with creamy cauliflower sauce. A healthier take on classic baked ziti

Baked ziti is a fantastic option for folks who love pasta, are all about a meat sauce, or those who love lasagna but find the process of making it to be cumbersome.

Ziti noodles made with wheat flour are easy to find at the grocery store, but it can be a bit more difficult to find gluten-free ziti noodles. 

A very close alternative to ziti are penne noodles, which is what I use for this baked ziti recipe. Rigatoni noodles also work very well! The basic idea is to obtain a short noodle with plenty of surface area for absorbing sauce.

While traditional baked ziti comes with an incredible layer of melted cheese on top, I decided to go dairy-free for this recipe. I’ve mentioned in the past that I do consume aged dairy (cheese) occasionally, but try to keep it minimal. 

My partner also stays away from dairy (it gives both of us GI issues and acne for me), so while we absolutely love it, we try not to eat it in high amounts, like in a casserole.

Dairy-Free Gluten-Free Baked Ziti Pasta with ground beef, red sauce and creamy cauliflower sauce instead of cheese

In order to replace the cheese, I used my Creamy Cauliflower Sauce as inspiration. Does it taste like or have a cheese-like texture? Absolutely not. It does, however, bring a creaminess to the dish, which I find delightful.

An added bonus to taking this approach is fewer extra calories. Don’t get me wrong…I’m a huge lover of calories, but I try not to eat foods that are very calorie dense, as I’m less satiated on lots of fat (contrary to what some people find) versus fiber, carbs and protein. 

How to Make Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Baked Ziti:

Prepare the Creamy Cauliflower Sauce: 

Heat a large pot of water on the stove top and bring it to a full boil. Add the chopped cauliflower and onion and cook until the cauliflower is very tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. 

Boil the cauliflower for mashed cauliflower

Strain the cauliflower and onion into a colander, then transfer to a high powered blender. Add the remaining ingredients for the cauliflower sauce to the blender and blend until completely smooth. Set aside until ready to use. 

Creamy cauliflower sauce for baked ziti

Note: This portion of the recipe can easily be made up to 3 days ahead of time. Simply store the sauce in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.

Prepare the Meat Sauce:

Heat the avocado oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to turn golden-brown, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Scoot the onion off to one side of the skillet and add the ground beef.

Allow the beef to brown for 2 to 3 minutes, then flip to the other side and allow it to brown another 2 to 3 minutes.

Use a spatula to chop up the meat into smaller chunks, then add the rest of the ingredients for the sauce to the skillet. Bring the sauce to a full boil.

Cover and reduce the heat to a gentle boil. Cook for 10 minutes (or up to 50 minutes at very low heat if you have the time), stirring occasionally.

Meat sauce for baked ziti

Cook the Noodles: 

While the sauce is cooking, cook the noodles according to the instructions on the package. Strain into a colander then immediately run cold water over the noodles. This removes excess starch and also stops the cooking process.

Cook the brown rice penne noodles

Make the Casserole:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Transfer the cooked noodles to a large (13” x 9”) casserole dish, followed by the meat sauce. Gently stir until the noodles are well-coated in sauce.

Combine the penne noodles and red meat sauce together in a casserole dish

Pour the creamy cauliflower sauce over the casserole and smooth into an even layer.

Pour the creamy cauliflower sauce over the pasta
Smooth cauliflower sauce into an even layer

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cauliflower sauce has a golden-brown hue to it.

Allow the baked ziti to cool for 10 minutes before serving. 

Dairy-Free Gluten-Free Baked Ziti Pasta with cauliflower sauce instead of cheese

Do you like to meal prep or break up longer recipes into smaller parts? I’ve got you!

Prep Ahead Options:

If you’re a meal prepper or you simply like to make recipes in parts to reduce the workload, there are a couple of prep ahead options here.  You can make either or both of the sauces (the cauliflower cream sauce or the meat sauce) ahead of time. 

Simply prepare the sauce in full, transfer it to a sealable container and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. For best results, use the cauliflower sauce within 3 days of making it and the meat sauce within 5 days of making it.

This baked ziti recipe saves very well! In fact, just like lasagna, it becomes more flavorful as it sits in the refrigerator. 

I made this recipe for my partner for his work lunches and simply divided it between 5 meal prep bowls. I also divided an additional pound of ground beef between the bowls, because man needs his protein to keep that manly stature 😉

Gluten-Free Baked Ziti with creamy dairy-free cauliflower sauce instead of cheese. A healthier pasta recipe!

As always, there are plenty of ways you can change up this recipe to fit your palate and dietary needs. Here are some ideas!

Recipe Adaptations:

  • Use your favorite noodle! If you aren’t gluten-free, feel free to use regular ziti noodles. If you are gluten-free, go with a brand you love that is made using ingredients you like.
  • If you aren’t dairy-free, swap out the creamy cauliflower sauce for cheese! Use 2 to 3 cups of grated mozzarella, 1 cup of grated parmesan, and 1 cup of ricotta cheese (you can skip the ricotta if you aren’t a fan). Simply layer all of the cheeses on top of the saucy noodles and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes. Note: you can also layer the baked ziti as you would lasagna by alternating sauce and cheese.
  • If you have nutritional yeast on hand and want to give the creamy cauliflower sauce a cheesy flavor, add 3 to 4 tablespoons of nutritional yeast to the cauli sauce.
  • Want to add some veggies? Go for it! Carrot, celery, spinach, zucchini and broccoli are all great additions. Simply cook them into the meat sauce in order to incorporate more fiber into the meal.
  • Looking for an alternative to the cauliflower sauce? You can make Cashew Ricotta Cheese for a dairy-free version of ricotta. If you go this route, consider making a double batch for a generous topping to the ziti.

Baked Ziti Recipe made dairy-free and gluten-free using gluten-free noodles and cauliflower sauce instead of cheese. A healthy, comforting casserole recipe

That’s it! Everything you need to know about making both gluten-free and dairy-free baked ziti! I hope you and your family get a kick out of this meal!

More Pasta Recipes:

Baked pasta forever!

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces gluten-free ziti or penne noodles
  • 1 Tbsp avocado oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 pound ground beef or ground Italian sausage
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • [1 (24-oz.) jar marinara sauce] (https://amzn.to/3m4RRdI) (store-bought or homemade)*
  • ½ cup chicken broth or water
  • 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, optional

For the Dairy-Free Creamy Sauce:

  • 1 large head cauliflower, chopped
  • 1/2 medium-sized yellow onion
  • 3 Tbsp avocado oil**
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ⅔ cup chicken broth or beef broth

Instructions

Prepare the Cauliflower Cream Sauce: 

  1. Heat a large pot of water on the stove top and bring it to a full boil. Add the chopped cauliflower and onion and cook until the cauliflower is very tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. 
  2. Strain the cauliflower and onion into a colander, then transfer to a high powered blender. Add the remaining ingredients for the cauliflower sauce to the blender and blend until completely smooth. Set aside until ready to use. 
  3. Note: This portion of the recipe can easily be made up to 3 days ahead of time. Simply store the sauce in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.

Prepare the Meat Sauce:

  1. Heat the avocado oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to turn golden-brown, about 5 to 8 minutes.
  2. Scoot the onion off to one side of the skillet and add the ground beef. Allow the beef to brown for 2 to 3 minutes, then flip to the other side and allow it to brown another 2 to 3 minutes. Use a spatula to chop up the meat into smaller chunks, then add the rest of the ingredients for the sauce to the skillet. Bring the sauce to a full boil. Cover and reduce the heat to a gentle boil. Cook for 10 minutes (or up to 50 minutes at very low heat if you have the time), stirring occasionally.

Cook the Noodles: 

  1. While the sauce is cooking, cook the noodles according to the instructions on the package. Strain into a colander then immediately run cold water over the noodles. This removed excess starch and also stops the cooking process.

Make the Casserole:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Transfer the cooked noodles to a large (13” x 9”) casserole dish, followed by the meat sauce. Gently stir until the noodles are well-coated in sauce.
  3. Pour the creamy cauliflower sauce over the casserole and smooth into an even layer.
  4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cauliflower sauce has a golden-brown hue to it.
  5. Allow the baked ziti to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Notes

*Or use your favorite tomato-based pasta sauce. You’ll need 3 cups, or 24 ounces.

**If you aren’t dairy-free, use ghee or butter instead of avocado oil for the best flavor.

**If you don’t have mustard on hand, you can use cider vinegar or rice vinegar

If you aren’t dairy-free, replace the cauliflower sauce with 3 cups grated mozzarella cheese, 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, and 1 cup ricotta cheese. Simply layer these cheeses over the pasta just as you would a regular casserole

Nutrition Information

Yield 5

Serving Size 1 of 5

Amount Per Serving

Calories 593Total Fat 23gCarbohydrates 69gNet Carbohydrates 64gFiber 5gSugar 9gProtein 28g

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Baked Ziti is a magnificently comforting dinner casserole with a tomato-based meat sauce and a creamy dairy-free cauliflower sauce for the topping.

Source
Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Baked Ziti – The Roasted Root is written by Julia for www.theroastedroot.net

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