The Meatball Macaroni Bake is a delightful and hearty meal that combines the richness of meatballs with the comforting texture of macaroni, all enveloped in a savory tomato sauce and topped with a generous layer of melted cheese. This dish is perfect for a family dinner or a gathering with friends, offering a satisfying blend of flavors and textures.
- 1 lb of extra lean ground beef, ensuring a healthier option without compromising on flavor.
- 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, which help in binding the meatballs together.
- 2 eggs, acting as a binding agent for the meatball mixture.
- 1/2 cup of freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, adding a sharp, salty flavor.
- 3 tablespoons of Italian seasoning, infusing the meatballs with classic Italian herbs.
- 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and fresh ground pepper, to season the mixture.
- 1/2 of a large onion, chopped, providing a sweet and aromatic base.
- 6 cloves of garlic, chopped – adjust according to your preference for a stronger or milder garlic flavor.
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, possibly needing more, for cooking.
- 1 jar (25 ounces) of spaghetti sauce, with a homemade or chunky variety being ideal.
- 2 cups of grated Mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese, for a gooey and stretchy topping.
- 1/4-1/2 cup of grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, adding a sharp and salty crust.
- 1 lb of uncooked large macaroni or rigatoni pasta, forming the hearty base of the bake.
Preparation and Cooking Process:
- Preheating and Meatball Preparation: Start by heating your oven to 350°F. For the meatballs, thoroughly mix the ground beef, breadcrumbs, eggs, grated cheese, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper in a large bowl using your hands. This ensures even distribution of flavors. Shape the mixture into balls, with the size varying according to your preference, though larger meatballs tend to retain more moisture.
- Pasta Cooking: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni or rigatoni and cook it until it’s just shy of al dente. Then, drain the pasta and set it aside.
- Sautéing Onion and Garlic: In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic, cooking them until they’re soft. It’s important to avoid stirring too much; instead, give the skillet an occasional shake.
- Browning the Meatballs: Increase the heat to medium-high and add the meatballs to the skillet. Brown them on all sides, ensuring a savory crust.
- Simmering with Sauce: Pour the spaghetti sauce over the meatballs in the pan. If necessary, add a bit of pasta water to thin out the sauce. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and let the meatballs simmer until they are mostly cooked through.
- Assembling the Bake: In a large casserole or baking dish, place the partially cooked pasta. Pour the meatballs and sauce over the pasta, mixing slightly to ensure everything is coated with sauce. Position the meatballs towards the bottom of the dish for added moisture.
- Cheese Topping and Baking: Sprinkle the grated Mozzarella or Monterey Jack and Parmesan or Pecorino cheese evenly over the top. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly, and the meatballs are fully cooked.
This Meatball Macaroni Bake is best served hot, straight from the oven. It pairs wonderfully with a side of garlic bread or a fresh green salad. The dish is not only a feast for the taste buds but also a visually appealing meal with its golden cheese topping and rich, tomatoey sauce.
Storage and Reheating Tips:
Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. For reheating, simply place the desired portion in the oven until it’s heated through and the cheese is bubbly again. Alternatively, it can be microwaved for a quick warm-up.
The Meatball Macaroni Bake is a testament to the comforting power of classic Italian flavors, melded together in a dish that is sure to please a crowd. With its combination of juicy meatballs, tender pasta, rich tomato sauce, and melted cheese, it’s a recipe that brings warmth and satisfaction to any dining table.