RIGATONI & RICOTTA MEATBALL BAKE
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)
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
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To make ahead, see TIP on page 84