Pizza Pasta Bake

baked pasta

I love making meals from scratch but, lets be honest, sometimes….it just isn’t going to happen. We’ve had a really busy few weeks here in Chez Piehole and we needed some comfort food, stat.

I originally had this dish at a restaurant in the mall I used to frequent with a friend of mine in my angsty-mall-shopping teenage years. Between the trips to Bath and Bodyworks and the bookstore, my friend Katy and I always stopped at the American Cafe (creatively named, no?) and had this pasta dish. The restaurant is long gone but I still make this at home occasionally when we need something easy that will give us some leftovers.

pasta

Undercook a little bit of pasta (by 45 seconds or so), mix with a jar of pasta sauce of your choice in a 9×13 baking dish. If you are feeling FANCEE, you can add some herbs to the mix. I used oregano, thyme, and basil from the garden.

pepperoni

Cover that with a layer of pepperoni. Try to make a pretty solid sheet so your cheese doesn’t melt into your sauce. You want a nice melty cheesey layer like you have on lasagna.

cheese

Cover with some mozzarella cheese. Ok, a lot of mozzarella cheese. This isn’t even healthy to start with, so you might as well make even more enjoyable.

Now, you can get creative. What do you like on pizza? Olives? Peppers? Put it here. I usually do artichoke hearts and green peppers but I was going for ease and speed last night.

Bake! 400ish for….20 minutes? Until it looks like this:

finished

Oh yes. Baked pasta. Let it cool for about five minutes and serve it up like you would lasagna. Cut into squares and then serve up as nicely as you can. Bonus points for adding some additional fresh basil on top.

Spicy Meatballs

Meatballs.

Meatballs

MEATBALLS.

Meatballs are something I only really came around to later in life when I married Mr. Piehole. I was a seriously picky eater and since I didn’t really know what was in them, I just opted out. Plain spaghetti with red sauce for me.

Meatballs are now often one of the first things I can make from ingredients from the garden. Before any of the other vegetables are ready, I can steal enough herbs from the small plants to make up a batch.

Herbs

I don’t always use the same herbs since it depends on how my plants are doing. Its always some kind of basil, lots of oregano (I used two kinds here–greek and italian), thyme, and a new “globe basil” I am trying for the first time this year.

I follow a pretty classic meatball method: breadcrumbs, egg, seasonings, and a little milk.

bowl

Mix all of this up first so you don’t have to overwork the meat. I use a 90% or so beef for mine. Sometimes I use ground pork or veal mixed in. I had ground beef to use up, so today it was 100% beef.

Raw Balls

Shape them into balls–either small or large–your preference. These are about golf ball sized.

Browning

Brown ’em up! Nothing beats cast iron here. NOTHING. You just can’t convince me that your oven browned meatballs are better. Brown them in a skillet. It’s worth the time and extra dirty pan. Singing “On Top of Spaghetti” is optional but encouraged.

If I make small meatballs, I usually don’t put them in the oven since the browning stage cooks them through but the big guys go in the oven for a few minutes until they reach about 155 degrees.

In sauce

Time for a swim! I nestle mine in the sauce while my pasta is cooking.

finished

Dive in! I’m not a purist when it comes to pasta shape, clearly. If you must have spaghetti, then go for it. I usually opt for ziti or penne.

Spicy Meatballs
Makes about 18-20 large meatballs

2 pounds of ground meat. All beef or a mix of your choice.
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
A mix of herbs. I end up with maybe 1/3-1/2 of a cup chopped
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
salt and pepper
(coconut oil for the pan)

Preheat oven to 350-400.

Mix everything except the meat together in a large bowl. Add the meat and combine, taking care to not overwork the meatballs.

Shape into golfball sized meatballs and brown over medium-high heat. I like to use coconut oil here since it has a high smoke point but vegetable oil or bacon fat would also work. You’ll need to do a few batches to give the meatballs room in the pan. Don’t futz with the meatballs at this point or they will stick a little. Once they brown, they will release from the pan. Do your best to brown on as many sides as possible.

Stick them on a sheet pan (if you line it with parchment, it will be super easy to clean up!) and put them in the oven until the internal temperature reaches 155-160. They will still be slightly pink in the middle.

Either add them to the sauce or put them directly onto the pasta and top with sauce.