March 29, 2011

Meatball Pasta Bake

I love to cook and bake.  But I still always look for motivation to get me in the kitchen.   Especially after a long day or even long week at work.  I definitely need to be in that certain mood to make a blog-worthy dinner happen sometimes.   Cooking can be time-consuming and then turn into a chore if you don't have fun or make new recipes regularly.   However,  if I have company over for a small party or just to watch trashy tv shows that definitely helps to get me super excited to whip up something for dinner.   Whether it be a new dish I've wanted to try or a trusty standby that I'm dying to share, you can count on me to put all my effort into it.   This is a perfect dish if you have guests or if you want lunch and dinner for an extra day or two.  

If you make your own pasta sauce, you know it tastes so much better the longer it cooks or has time to mingle with all the ingredients.  If you have the time to prep this a day in advance, it tastes much much better.   If not, don't let that discourage you from trying this recipe out.  It's still tasty either way!   

Meatball Pasta Bake
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 lb pancetta or bacon, chopped
2 - 14oz cans tomatoes, diced (Italian Style) with the liquid
1 tsp oregano or Italian seasoning
1/4 c parsley, chopped
1 lb tube pasta such as penne or rigatoni
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
1 c ricotta
1/3 c parmesan cheese, grated, plus 1/4 c for the top

1 thick slice Italian type bread, crusts removed
1/4 c milk
1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 parmesan cheese, grated
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil

Make the meatballs first, soak the bread in the milk until the milk has been absorbed.  Squeeze the bread dry and crumble into a bowl, together with the sausage, garlic, egg, parmesan and parsley.  Mix well and season with salt and pepper.  Roll into small balls with wet hands.  Heat a oil to a large frying pan over high heat.  Add the meatballs and brown them on all sides, shaking the pan regularly so they brown evenly.  Remove meatballs from pan and set them aside. They won't be completely cooked but that is okay as they will simmer with the sauce and finish cooking.

Combine the oil, garlic and pancetta into the same frying pan and cook over medium-high heat until pancetta or bacon browns, about 5-7 minutes.  Add tomatoes, oregano and parsley.  Bring to a boil, then add meatballs to sauce and simmer over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.   Taste test the sauce.  Add salt and pepper as needed.

At this point you can store the sauce in a sealed container in the fridge overnight until you need.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

Cook the pasta per the directions on the package.  Drain, reserving a 1/4 c of the cooking liquid.  Combine the pasta in a large bowl with the tomato sauce and meatballs, mozzarella, ricotta and 1/4 c of the parmesan.  Add enough of the cooking liquid to moisten everything.

Transfer to a large greased baking dish, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan and bake for 20 minutes until the top is golden and cheeses are bubbly.  Serves 6-8.

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