Let’s send 2016 out on a high note, shall we?
This is the last recipe I’ll be posting this year, and I have to say, I’ve saved a good one for last. This time of year makes me want to eat comfort food almost exclusively. Well, comfort food and copious amounts of salad. Allow me to explain.
After Christmas comes and goes, I’m left tired and sluggish from all the holiday hubbabaloo and overindulgences. All the white cranberry sangria and potato gratin and cinnamon rolls do me in. Oh, and let’s not forget the cookies. Good Lord, the cookies!
That’s where the salad comes in. I seriously CRAVE green smoothies and light salads all day long. I guess my body is trying to tell me something, huh? When dinnertime rolls around, though, I find myself needing and wanting comfort.
One dish that is always in our rotation come December is Jessica’s chicken and dumplings. That recipe is flawless, people. We adore it and eat it at least twice a month in the winter. I also have some nostalgia associated with it. Jessica and I had babies somewhat close together, and a lot of our posts from around that time talk about the incredible (but tiring!) newborn experience. Eating the chicken and dumplings transports me to that super special time of around-the-clock nursing and snuggling and teensy baby fingers and toes (cue all the tears). Plus, it’s delicious! It just makes you feel good after long, hard days when the sun rises too late and sets too early. Ya know, food for the soul.
When Christmas is over, I’m always sad about it. But relieved too! And hopeful for the impending new year! It’s a fun mix of emotions. A mix that calls out for comfort food on those cold, dark winter evenings where I’m clinging to the last of our Christmas spirit, willing the fresh tree to last at least another week.
Enter this meatball pasta bake. Is there anything more comforting than baked pasta?! No. No, there isn’t.
Unless you are adding in the cutest, most delicious mini meatballs. Then, you’ve taken things over the top in all the best ways. See all that cheese? YES. ‘Tis the season, right?
This pasta bake is not only delicious and comforting but fairly easy to put together too. It has all the heft and warmth of a lasagna but with a fraction of the work. Sure, you have to make the meatballs, but frankly, I don’t find that part difficult at all. It just takes a bit of planning and thinking ahead to get a recipe like this on the table in record time.
You don’t even have to boil the pasta first! It cooks up perfectly in the oven. LOVE that. Especially when you’re tired and feeling worn down, like I have been this week (scratch that: MONTH). I love when I can put something together that will feed us for a few nights, too, and this pasta definitely does that. It makes A TON. I think we ate this for three different meals (two adults and a toddler each time), and not only did we never get sick of it, but we felt completely full and comforted afterward. The best of all worlds! Cook once, eat thrice. That’s my kind of meal.
All it needs is a nice side salad.
Ya know, to balance it all out.
For the Meatballs:
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed or grated
- 1 small onion, grated or finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
- ½ cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 egg
- 1 lb ground beef/veal/pork mix (or meat of choice)
- Olive oil, for drizzling
- 3 cups jarred marinara sauce (or homemade!)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup water
- The cooked meatballs
- 1 lb uncooked penne or rotini pasta
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ cup freshly grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
For the Meatballs:
- Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet with tin foil.
- Combine the grated garlic, onion, ketchup, herbs, cheese, and breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Mix well to combine and then season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
- Whisk in the egg and finally the meat, mixing until everything is just combined.
- Form ½-inch round meatballs and place on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with a little olive oil and then bake for 15 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through and browned. Set aside.
- In the bottom of a large baking dish, whisk together the marinara, milk, and water. Stir in the uncooked pasta and cooked meatballs. You want everything evenly combined before adding the cheeses.
- Top with the cheeses and then cover the dish with tin foil. Bake for 30 minutes, uncover, and then bake for another 10 minutes. The top should be golden and bubbly.
- Allow to cool slightly before serving.