It’s Spring, yes, but it’s still chilly enough to need something hearty for dinner, so here it is: Baked Ziti with Mini Meatballs.
I love this recipe because you can use shortcuts (pasta sauce from a jar, frozen meatballs), or take your time and make the sauce from scratch and hand-shape your own meatballs. Either way, you’ll come up with something hot, cheesy and delicious.
I made my meatballs from scratch using ground beef, veal and pork… but you can use any combination (turkey? chicken? lamb?). Remember a little bit of fat in your mixture means more flavor in your meatballs.
If you do make your meatballs from scratch, here’s a great idea: double the recipe, make extra meatballs and freeze them. Then all you’ll have to do is thaw them for a quick dinner (Meatball Sandwiches, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Meatball Appetizers) when you’re in a hurry!
Baked Ziti with Mini Meatballs
prep: 30 minutes
bake: 55 minutes
for the meatballs you’ll need…
⅓ pound ground beef
⅓ pound ground veal
⅓ pound ground pork
½ cup breadcrumbs
3 cloves garlic, minced or pushed through a garlic press
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon red chile flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
for the ziti you’ll need…
1 pound ziti pasta
5 cups pasta sauce or homemade tomato sauce
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces ricotta
8 ounces mozzarella, diced
let’s get to it…
Combine the meats, breadcrumbs, eggs, garlic, Parmesan cheese, parsley, red chile flakes (if using), salt and ground pepper in a large bowl. Mix together (I like to use my hands to mix). Shape the meatballs into tiny balls, about the size of a grape (or any size you want).
Heat the olive oil on medium high in a large skillet. Add the meatballs in batches and brown on all sides. Remove from skillet; set aside. (They will not be cooked through but will finish cooking when you bake the ziti.)
Place oven rack is in the middle of the oven. Heat oven to 350°F. Coat a 3½-quart baking dish with cooking spray; set aside. (You can also make these in individual serving dishes like I did in the images.)
Prepare ziti according to package directions until al dente. Drain. Return ziti to the cooking pot and toss with 3 cups of the pasta sauce and the meatballs.
Pour half of the ziti and meatballs into the sprayed baking dish. Spoon and spread the ricotta on top of the ziti. Sprinkle on half of the diced mozzarella, another cup of the pasta sauce and half the Parmesan cheese.
Add remaining ziti and meatballs to the baking dish. Top with remaining mozzarella, pasta sauce and grated cheese; cover with foil.
Bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer or until center is hot, cheese is melted and sauce bubbles around the inside of the baking dish. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.