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Pair meatballs with rigatoni for a quick meal

Would you like to make an easy casserole that is comforting any time of the year but especially in the winter time? This pasta bake is a nice change from spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna or baked ziti.

Fresh homemade miniature meatballs are a pleasant surprise in this baked rigatoni recipe.

You can use store-bought pasta sauce or make your own quickly. The evening prior to serving this dish, you can make your sauce, roll the meatballs and keep them refrigerated and even prep your pasta.

Making sauce the day before or on the weekend makes this recipe very user-friendly for a busy weeknight meal.

Served with a green vegetable side or garden salad, some dinner rolls or your favorite crusty bread and butter and you have a complete meal.

Baked Rigatoni with Mini Meatballs is a family-friendly dinner.

Baked Rigatoni with Mini Meatballs

Meatball Ingredients

1 pound 80/20 ground beef

1 large egg at room temperature

¼ cup breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

In a medium sized bowl, mix all of your meatball ingredients together. Roll your meatballs into penny-sized rounds. Place them onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

When your sauce has cooked for 30 minutes, drop your meatballs into the sauce. Stir the pot very gently to submerge the meatballs. Cook them for 10-15 minutes covered. Set aside until ready to use.

Tomato Sauce

1 28-ounce can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes (crushed by hand)

1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 large sweet white onion, finely diced

4 cloves of garlic finely chopped

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

½ teaspoon dried oregano

1-2 springs fresh basil, torn by hand

Pinch of chili flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. To a large pot and over medium heat, add your olive oil, onions, and garlic. Cook until the onion and garlic are softened. Add in your tomato paste, oregano and chili flakes. Saute for 2-3 minutes.

Carefully pour in your hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes and your other crushed tomatoes. Stir to combine. Add in your sugar, salt, pepper and the torn basil. Stir the pot well to combine.

Once the sauce starts to bubble, turn the heat down to low. Lightly simmer the sauce until slightly thickened about 30 minutes.

Ricotta cheese mixture

24 ounces of fresh ricotta cheese

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup of Parmesan cheese, grated

8 ounces of mozzarella cheese, grated

Salt and pepper to taste

In another medium bowl, mix all of your ricotta mixture ingredients together. You can now make your meatball ziti.

Casserole Ingredients

1 pound of cooked rigatoni pasta, cooked to al dente and room temperature

8 ounces of mozzarella cheese, small cubes

¼ cup of Parmesan cheese, grated

Fresh parsley, garnish

Add 2 cups of your tomato sauce to your cooked room temperature pasta and set aside.

In the bottom of a large 9-by-13-inch baking dish, place 2 cups of your meatball tomato sauce. Next add 1/3 of your pasta and 1/3 of your tomato sauce. Add half of your ricotta cheese mixture and repeat all of the remaining ingredients.

Once you have added the last of your sauce, add the remaining cheese. Put your rigatoni casserole onto a foil-lined sheet pan and place it into the oven for 35-45 minutes.

When the ziti is bubbling around the sides and the top is golden brown, it is done baking. Allow your baked casserole to set for 15 minutes before serving.

Sarah Schweitzer is dual-certified in Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry from the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. She is a former line cook for Chef Robert Irvine at “Fresh Kitchen by Robert Irvine” which was located at the Downtown Allentown Market. Sarah is currently working as a Sous-Chef at Ateira’s on First and has her own blog simplysarah.online. She can be reached at sarah.schweitzer18@gmail.com.

Baked rigatoni with mini meatballs