What is it about pasta and meat­balls baked with gooey cheese that can make any win­ter day seem less frigid and make the en­tire fam­ily happy? In this ver­sion, ricotta keeps the meat­balls moist and ten­der and a sim­ple sauce lets the tra­di­tional flavours shine through—and did we men­tion gooey, melty cheese? A crisp Cae­sar salad or green salad with a bal­samic vinai­grette com­pletes the tradition.


2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped 4 cloves gar­lic, minced

2 tsp (10 mL) dried basil

1½ tsp (7 mL) dried oregano Salt and freshly ground pep­per 2 cans (each 796 mL) to­ma­toes, prefer­ably San Marzano Gran­u­lated sugar (op­tional)


2 eggs

½ cup (125 mL) dry bread crumbs 1 tsp (5 mL) salt

½ tsp (2 mL) freshly ground pep­per 1 cup (250 mL) ricotta cheese 1 clove gar­lic, minced

2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh basil, or 1½ tsp (7 mL) dried 1½ lbs (750 g) lean ground beef or veal, or a mix­ture

1 lb (500 g) rigatoni pasta

2 cups (500 mL) shred­ded pro­volone or moz­zarella cheese, about 8 oz (250 g), di­vided ⅓ cup (80 mL) freshly grated Parme­san cheese

1 For the tomato sauce, heat oil over medium heat in a deep pot. Add onion and cook, stir­ring, for about 5 min­utes or un­til soft­ened but not browned. Add gar­lic, basil, oregano and ½ tsp (2 mL) each salt and pep­per; cook, stir­ring, for 3 min­utes un­til fra­grant.

2 Add to­ma­toes and bring to a boil, break­ing up with a spoon. Re­duce heat and boil gen­tly, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, for about 20 min­utes or un­til sauce is thick­ened and flavours are blended. Sea­son to taste with salt, pep­per and sugar (if de­sired).

3 Mean­while, pre­heat oven to 450°F (230°C). Line a large rimmed bak­ing sheet with foil.

4 For the meat­balls, whisk eggs in a large bowl un­til blended. Stir in bread crumbs, salt, pep­per, ricotta cheese, gar­lic and basil. Add beef, and us­ing a fork, com­bine with egg mix­ture, just un­til evenly dis­trib­uted but with­out over­work­ing the meat. Us­ing a scant ¼ cup (60 mL) of meat mix­ture for each meatball, shape into 2-inch (5-cm) meat­balls and place on pre­pared bak­ing sheet, spac­ing apart.

5 Bake for about 20 min­utes or un­til no longer pink in­side. Let cool on sheet for 5 min­utes. Re­duce oven tem­per­a­ture to 375°F (190°C).

6 Mean­while, in a large pot of boil­ing salted wa­ter, cook rigatoni ac­cord­ing to pack­age di­rec­tions just un­til al­most al dente (you want it a lit­tle un­der-done). Drain and re­turn to pot.

7 Re­serve 1 cup (250 mL) of the tomato sauce. Add re­main­ing sauce to pasta with 1 cup (250 mL) of the pro­volone and the Parme­san cheese. Toss to evenly com­bine.

8 Spread pasta mix­ture into a 12- to 16-cup (3- to 4-L) shal­low bak­ing dish. Nes­tle meat­balls into pasta and spoon re­served sauce on top of meat­balls. Sprin­kle with re­main­ing pro­volone.

9 Bake for about 20 min­utes or un­til bub­bling, cheese is melted and meat­balls are browned.

Serves 6 to 8 WHAT TO SERVE

Monte An­tico VIN­TAGES ES­SEN­TIALS 69377, $15.95 Fazi Battaglia Verdic­chio dei Castelli di Jesi LCBO 24422, $12.00

To make ahead, see TIP on page 84

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