Submitted by Ishamael
A pasta, sauce and cheese casserole with mini-meatballs, perfect for an Italian meal or with your favorite mafia-related movie or TV show
So it’s Sopranos time again, and that means that we have an Italian-food party every Sunday with some friends. A short time ago I made baked ziti, one of my Italian favorites, based off my mom and grandma’s recipes, with some of my own stuff thrown in.
You may notice that the kitchen changes in the middle, that’s because the first time I tried to document my ziti-making my camera died, so I finished up the next time I made it, which was at my mother-in-law’s house.
Anyhow, this recipe has three parts:
- Marinara sauce – This is a simplified version of my “Sunday Gravy” sauce, which is the same except it has a lot of other meats in it, and cooks for hours and hours. This version only cooks about 45 mins.
- Homemade meatballs – These are my wife’s favorite part of my Italian cooking, so I included mini-meatballs in the ziti, which has ended up being AWESOME.
- Ziti assembly – Here, you put it all together along with a ton of cheese to make an awesome baked casserole.
Preheat your oven to 350.
- 1 lb. ground beef (preferably 80% lean or less, for better cohesion)
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ½ cup Italian-style bread crumbs
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 eggs
- MARINARA SAUCE:
- 2 big cans of whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 small can tomato paste
- ½ onion (yellow or white)
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- a splash of whatever red wine you are serving with dinner
- a pinch of sugar
If we were doing a whole Sunday gravy, I would also add 4 hot Italian sausages, browned, and maybe some veal chops or, if I was feeling really productive, bracciole (garlic-and-cheese stuffed steak rolls).
- ZITI ASSEMBLY:
- 1 ½ boxes of ziti pasta
- 1 big container Ricotta cheese
- 1 ½ packages shredded mozzarella
- shredded or grated Romano
- grated parmesan
- 6 slices of provolone cheese
Here’s the ingredients:
Oops, I forgot some:
And can’t forget the spices:
let’s start with the...
Chop up your parsley
In a big mixing bowl, add parmesan cheese
And bread crumbs
And the ground beef and 2 eggs.
Get your hands in there and mix them all together, working the dry ingredients in as best you can. .
I make half the meatballs into normal sized meatballs, for eating during the week, like this:
And half into mini-meatballs, for the ziti. No bonus points if you have that lame dessert in the background that we tried, because it sucked.
Roll em all up, if your hands are sticking too much, wet them a little under the sink to aid in ball-rolling. Man, it’s hard not to make ball jokes during this meatball section. Especially considering Vito’s latest storyline on the Sopranos.
Then you want to brown them up in a skillet with a dash of olive oil, and set them aside on a plate covered with a paper towel, to soak up the grease. Try to get them brown on all sides if you can, but if not that’s OK. With the mini ones, you can kinda shake the pan to turn them, rather than doing it by hand like with the big ones.
OK, we’re done with meatballs for now. Keep those aside, we’ll need them soon.
Let’s move on to the
First, chop up your onion.
Then, your four cloves of garlic. Remember, a clove is just a section of the bulb. Don’t do what my buddy did, and cut up four BULBS of garlic for this recipe. Good lord that was garlic-y!
Meanwhile, blend your cans of whole tomatoes separately in the blender, just until they’re sauce. If you like a really smooth sauce, you can blend them more. With one of the cans, add the tomato paste before you blend.
Saute your onions and garlic with a little olive oil in your sauce pot over medium heat, stirring ocassionally.
Once the onions turn translucent, add the blended tomatoes. I got a little lax with my picture taking for the next bit, so here’s a general description.
Heat the tomatoes-onion-garlic mixture over low to medium heat, stirring ocassionally. Add the oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary to taste. Note: it will take more of these spices than you expect.
Then, I take whatever wine we’re drinking that night and add a decent splash into the pot. Throw a pinch of sugar into the pot at this point as well, and stir well. Here’s a blurry picture of some pinot noir to make you all happy.
Add the meatballs to the pot, and partially cover. Cook for around 30-35 minutes over low heat, stirring ocassionally. It should lightly bubble and simmer during this time.
OK, on to the
First, boil your water and add 1 & one-half boxes of ziti pasta. If you can’t find ziti for some reason, you can use penne or any other tube pasta.
Drain your pasta
And mix in most of the ricotta and about half a package of shredded mozarella cheese with the hot pasta until you have a mixture that looks kinda like this
OK, it’s time for assembly!
Grease your pan with some shortening or a non-stick spray, and then arrange in this order:
1.) Sauce and meatballs
2.) Ziti and cheese
3.) sliced provolone
4.) sauce and meatballs 5.) ziti and cheese
6.) sauce and meatballs
7.) Cover the top with the rest of the shredded mozzarella, and then sprinkle over that with Romano and parmesan cheese.
Put it in the oven at 350 for 30 minutes, and voila!
You think you can make better ziti than Nucci? Don't be a jerk, my friend!