Isn’t it funny how in many books, the characters don’t take the time to eat? This phenomenon is probably most obvious in the thrillers and YA—both have their respective page-turning qualities which add to their heightened realities, but which also create a lack of time for physical nourishment. Despite this, my collaborator, Melanie, and I decided we’d make sure to get some quality eating time in our book project, “The Vines”. But, when we began to write the food scenes, we discovered the reason why the characters in these types of texts don’t take the time to eat. The plain and simple explanation: it’s boring. Unless food plays a symbolic or purposeful role that drives the plot (think Alice in Wonderland, or Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, or even Bella cooking her rancid chicken in Breaking Dawn of the Twilight series), watching your favorite characters hoss down food just for the sake of nourishment just isn’t that exciting.
That being said, we did manage to fit a few eating occasions in the book, and the food fits the scene and purpose. Along with dealing with teen angst, strange happenings, budding romances and friendships, and understanding the power of the Togon, our characters refuel with concession stand treats, coffee shop faire, fast food (well, maybe not eating this–at one point our protagonist is disgusted by the fast food drippings on her annoying younger brother’s thigh), cafeteria food, sandwiches, and vegetarian pasta.
The vegetarian pasta-bake in our book is inspired by one of my favorite meals, vegetarian baked ziti. It’s easy to make; it takes less than 20 minutes to prep, and around 30 minutes to bake. I have a few versions of this delightful dish, which is sure to satisfy both vegetarians and carnivores alike, but the following version is my favorite.
How to Make Vegetarian Baked Ziti
16 oz ziti noodles (cooked, al dente)
24 oz chunky vegetable spaghetti sauce
12 oz alfredo sauce
6 oz mozzarella cheese
2 zucchini squash (cut in slices, then halved)
1-2 yellow squash (cut in slices, then halved)
8 oz strained, canned spinach
4 oz mushroom slices (canned or fresh)
1-3 Garlic cloves, minced
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Prepare the vegetables
- Cut the zucchini and yellow squash in slices. Halve the slices.
- Sauté the half moon shaped squash pieces on the stovetop on medium heat in olive oil until they soften (approx 6-10 minutes). Use a Dutch oven preferably, or a large frying pan with 2 inch walls.
- Rinse the mushrooms (if canned)
- Open the canned spinach, drain the liquid
- Add the mushrooms and spinach to the vegetable mix
- Mix the sauce with the vegetables
- When the vegetables have softened, add the jar of spaghetti sauce, and the jar of alfredo sauce to the pan.
- Simmer gently. While it simmers, add the minced garlic.
- Place the cooked (al dente) ziti noodles in a large casserole dish
- Pour the sauce/vegetable mix over the ziti noodles
- Fold in half of the mozzarella cheese.
- Bake the mixture, covered, in the oven at 375 degrees for 20 minute.
- Uncover, sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese and bake for 5-10 minutes more (until cheese melts).