Baked Pasta & Mini Meatballs

DSC_0530-1-710It’s hard to believe October is here! And now that we’re firmly entrenched in the fall season our appetites and meal preferences have changed. We are in the mood for comfort meals. So this week we’re featuring a perfect cold weather, family meal from The Parsley Thief. 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.
It deviates from my traditional meatball recipe, because I have added some ground pork to these. I thought it would keep the meatballs moist, since they are getting fried, simmered & then baked. It worked.
The sauce is a version of the Tomato Sauce with Onions & Butter I made recently, from Marcella Hazan. So good! I’m a seriously hooked on that stuff. 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.
Baked Pasta & Mini Meatballs by The Parsley Thief

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.
Click here for the printable recipe.