I wanted to make a baked pasta dish and add my homemade meatballs, so I came up with this very easy recipe. I was thrilled when my daughter told me how much she loved the dish. I decided to omit ricotta cheese from the dish, and I was glad. I thought it came out perfect without it.
1 lb. penne or ziti, whole wheat or not
1 lb. or a little more of grated mozzarella (I used Whole Foods part skim)
about 1/2 cup grated parmesan
about 1 qt. marinara sauce (I used jarred)
about 1 teaspoon fresh thyme if you happen to have it
a sprinkling of crushed red pepper flakes, if you like the heat
for the meatballs:
1 lb. grass fed or organic ground beef, 85% fat
about 1/3 cup ketchup
1 large egg
abut 1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs or white ones
kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder
make the meatballs:
In a mixing bowl, gently mix the ground beef, ketchup, 1 egg, about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, about 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and the bread crumbs. I use my hands to mix gently. Then form little meatballs- a little less than 1 inch in diameter. Put about 2 tablespoons light olive oil or canola oil in nonstick saute pan and heat. Gently place meatballs in pan and brown only very lightly on all sides. Pour marinara sauce in a saucepan, and gently place drained meatballs in sauce. Add the thyme if using as well as red pepper flakes, and simmer covered over low flame about 10 or 15 min. Turn heat off.
for the assembly:
Cook pasta in boiling salted water till al dente. Drain in colander. In 9 by 13 rectangular or oval baking dish, spoon a little sauce in pan to coat bottom. Put a nice layer of noodles to cover bottom of pan. Spoon about 1/3 of sauce and meatballs over the noodles. Sprinkle with parmesan and about 1/3 of grated mozzarella. Put another 1/3 of noodles on top, 1/3 of sauce and meatballs, parmesan, and 1/3 of mozzarella. Spread last 1/3 of noodles, the rest of the sauce and meatballs, parmesan, and rest of mozzarella.
Either put in fridge to bake later, or bake right away. From the fridge, it will take about 1 hour at 375 degrees. If you are baking it immediately, it might only take 30 minutes for it to get nice and bubbly.