Easy Meatball Pasta Bake
I am trying to keep it pretty simple this week and this Easy Meatball Pasta Bake fits the bill. There are a couple of steps to it, but essentially they are very simple steps and it makes a huge tray. Around here that means left overs and that is important, as long as the left overs are pasta.
Pasta is the most important food for lots of people that I know. It’s not always something I crave but when I was away recently, a pasta dish was one of the most memorable meals I had. It’s possible that legend and surroundings may have played just as big a part as the actual pasta, but still pasta was involved.
I went to a restaurant in New York, quite by accident. I’d read an article in the New York Times about the owner, Emilio Vitolo and the fact that the restaurant served such good food, but it flew under the radar as the owner had no wish to fit into the New York restaurant scene. The restaurant Emilio’s Ballato is kind of mysterious, and I never really expected to find it but when I looked up and noticed that I was standing outside on the exact strip of East Houston Road in Nolita, I had read about, it seemed an obvious sign, something was willing me to go in. It was around 6.30 pm and as I pushed the door open it was like entering a private club. The interior was the kind of shabby sheikh that is popular in restaurants, with thoughtfully peeling walls, big mirrors, and chandeliers. The white clothed tables looked sophisticated but only a couple of these were yet occupied. There was no music, although the walls were covered in movie posters, autographs and frames filled with the smiling faces of singers and actors. I looked up and saw a man standing where a hosts desk would be, and I asked for a table.
He offered me a bemused smile, before pointing at a large man sitting at the first table on the right. “You should ask him” he said before leaving. And there he was, Mr Vitolo.
I was staring when I noticed he was gesturing for a waiter to seat us, so on the way past I gave him a nod and a smile. He raised a meaty finger from his coffee in reply. A plate of hand made fettuccine with sweet San Mazano tomato sauce, smoked bacon and Pecorino was delivered to the table. Next a dish of pan fried Portobello mushrooms with no adornment. The pasta was silky smooth with a toothsome bite and the mushrooms black as coal and seasoned with sea salt a olive oil were the richest silkiest black pillows…..aw, I was happy. A generous serve of house baked rosemary focaccia, with oil for dipping was provided at no charge. I felt like I was having a special experience.
The room filled with people and Mr Vitolo personally greeted some with a slap on the back or by planting his large lips on either cheek before taking them out past the kitchen to his more private dining room. This is also where a lot of celebrities come to dine, again and again. He is said to be discreet and very honourable. If you are in New York, try your luck, and let me know what you think.
You must also try my Easy Meatball Pasta Bake. Make a tomato sauce. Throw in some chicken meatballs (quicker than beef). Now mix some boiled pasta in, cover with cheese and bake. Simple.
Watch the video. you’ll see!
- Heat the oven 180C / 350 F, a 35 cm x 23 cm dish ( 14inx 10 in) approximately
- 250 gm (1/2 pkt - 8 oz) Pasta. I like to use tubes or penne but you can use spaghetti
- 3 x 400gm / 14oz cans tomatoes chopped or crushed tomatoes
- 250 ml ( 1 cup / 8.5 fl oz) chicken stock
- 1 onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic , crushed
- 3 tablespoons Olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped Parsley ( optional)
- 500 gm ( 1.1 lb) chicken mince ( or ground Turkey)
- ½ teaspoon ground oregano
- 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 40 gm (1.5 oz or ½ cup) panko crumbs
- 1 egg
- 1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup / 100 gm grated cheddar cheese
- ½ cup extra shredded Mozzarella or Parmesan cheese ( or both!)
- ½ cup / 40 gm panko crumbs
- Put a large pot of salted water on the stove and cook the pasta, drain and set aside
- Put a medium pot that can hold the sauce ingredients on to heat. Add the olive oil, onion and garlic and cook till fragrant and starting to soften without browning. Add the 3 cans of tomato and the stock. leave to simmer on low but do not reduce more than a ¼. ( You need all the sauce to make your pasta nice and moist)
- Make the meatballs by putting the chicken, oregano, salt, cheese, crumbs, tomato paste into a bowl and mix very well. Hands are the best way to mix.
- Roll a walnut sized piece into a ball and continue till all of the chicken s used up. Smaller meatballs are nicer than big fat ones.
- Pop all of the meatballs into the sauce. Don't stir until the sauce boils a little and the meatballs cook on one side. Then give them a bit of a stir. Put a lid on the pot and let it simmer rapidly for 5 minutes. The meatballs cook very fast ( you can test one)
- Pour the sauce and pasta into a baking dish ( I used a large one 35 cm x 24 cm (14 x 10 in)
- Mix it together and then sprinkle over the cheese finishing with the bread crumbs
- Bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and golden