BAKED PASTA & MINI MEATBALLS


This is the perfect cold weather, family meal.

It’s easy to make it ahead, store it & heat it up when you’re in a pinch…trying to come up with something quick to make for dinner.

Something that the whole family will eat.

This recipe is my spin on the classic Baked Ziti.

I added some mini meatballs, because I knew my kids would go nuts for them.

I added a bit of garlic & pureed the sauce through a food mill…the smoother texture goes over better with my kids.

But, you can easily leave it chunky…or, even use a good quality jarred sauce to save time.

Begin by coarsely chopping one 35 ounce can of whole tomatoes {I use the San Marzano variety}.


Add 1 cup of chopped onions, 3 cloves of smashed garlic & 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to a medium saucepan & cook over moderate heat, until the onions are softened lightly, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes & season with some kosher salt & freshly ground pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low & cook for 45 minutes.

When finished, run the sauce through a food mill & transfer back to the saucepan.
While the sauce is cooking, make the mini meatballs…

Add a 1/2 pound each of ground pork & lean ground beef to a mxing bowl. To that, add a 1/2 cup of Parmesan, 1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons milk, 1/4 cup parsley & 1 {lightly beaten} egg. Along with, a generous sprinkle of kosher salt & freshly ground pepper. Gently mix until all the ingredients are just incorporated. Do not over mix.

Roll out into small meatballs {each meatball is approximately 2 tablespoons}.

Heat a 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium, non-stick skillet. Add as many of the meatballs as possible, without over-crowding the pan. Cook, flipping the meatballs around frequently, until golden brown {they don’t have to be cooked through}. Continue with another batch, if necessary, until all the meatballs are browned.


Add the meatballs to the sauce. Cover the pot & keep the sauce on low. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until the meatballs are completely cooked.

To assemble, begin by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Begin cooking 1 pound of pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until barely al dente. I like to use Mezzi Rigatoni, but any shaped pasta will work.
Into a mixing bowl, add 1 cup of part-skim ricotta cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, 1/4 cup parsley & a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.

Stir to combine. When the pasta is cooked, drain & transfer back to the pot.

Add the ricotta mixture,

meatballs & most of the sauce. Then, add in a 1/2 pound of fresh mozzarella, cubed.

Stir to combine & transfer to a large, greased, oven-safe casserole dish. Cover with foil & bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil & sprinkle a bit of grated Parmesan over the top. Return to the oven & bake for another 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

Serve with some of the remaining sauce on the side.

Baked Pasta & Mini Meatballs

Serves 6
This is my spin on the classic baked ziti, with the addition of mini meatballs…making it even more kid-friendly. This dish can be split in two & one batch reserved for another meal. Cool the baked pasta completely, wrap well & freeze. Reheat in a 350 degree oven, covered in foil, until hot, about 30 minutes.
I added ground pork to my basic meatball recipe to help insure they would stay moist. But, you can use all beef, if desired. The sauce is a version of Marcella Hazan’s delicious Tomato Sauce with Onions & Butter.

1 cup chopped onion
3 small cloves of garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 35 ounce can whole tomatoes, chopped
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese {divided}, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley {divided}
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
1 pound pasta
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, cubed
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper

For the Sauce: Add the onions, garlic & butter to a medium saucepan & cook over moderate heat, until the onions are softened lightly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes & season with some kosher salt & freshly ground pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low & cook for 45 minutes.
When finished, run the sauce through a food mill & transfer back to the saucepan.
For the Meatballs: While the sauce is cooking, prepare the meatballs. Add the pork, beef, 1/2 cup of Parmesan, breadcrumbs, milk, 1/4 cup parsley & egg to a mixing bowl. Add a generous sprinkle of kosher salt & freshly ground pepper. Gently mix until all the ingredients are just incorporated. Do not over mix. Roll out into small meatballs {each meatball is approximately 2 tablespoons}.
Heat the olive oil in a medium, non-stick skillet. Add as many of the meatballs as possible, without over-crowding the pan. Cook, flipping the meatballs around frequently, until golden brown {they don’t have to be cooked through}. Continue with another batch, if necessary, until all the meatballs are browned.
Add the meatballs to the sauce. Cover the pot & keep the sauce on low. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until the meatballs are completely cooked.
To Assemble: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Into a mixing bowl, add the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, 1/4 cup parsley & the nutmeg. Stir to combine. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until barely al dente. Drain & transfer back to the pot. Add the ricotta mixture, fresh mozzarella, meatballs & most of the sauce. Stir to combine & transfer to a large, greased, oven-safe casserole dish. Cover with foil & bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil & sprinkle a bit of grated Parmesan over the top. Return to the oven & bake for another 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Serve with some of the remaining sauce on the side.
 
 

 

 

 

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