Friday, July 29, 2011

Pasta and Meatball Bake

For a quick meal or when company comes, try this casserole with a pocket of goodness hidden inside that is easy on the budget and easy to make. Substitutes are possible if you don't like my combo, but for those nights when you're looking for quick -- this meal can be made in less than a half hour!

16 meatballs (homemade - pull out ones you froze from this recipe the day before so they are thawed)
1 1/2 jars (36-40 oz) favorite marinara sauce (I used this Classico sauce but any will do)
2 small zucchini, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
16-oz box of mini-penne pasta (or your favorite pasta noodle)
1/2 cup to 1 cup small curd cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
12 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Extra spices like red pepper flakes, Italian spices, granulated garlic to taste
Freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to boiling and add the dry pasta. The pasta mentioned only takes 7 minutes to cook. Drain and add the marinara sauce to keep pasta from sticking.

While the pasta is cooking, fry zucchini and and garlic in a small amount of olive oil or butter until tender and slightly browned.

Add meatballs to pasta-marinara mixture and heat until completely warmed up. Add black pepper, red pepper flakes and any other spices you like. Stir in about half the mozzarella cheese and mix until slightly melted.

Pour a 1/4 c. of marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch pan to coat the bottom. Add half the pasta-marinara-meatball mixture. Put the zucchini on top, then dot the top of the zucchini with cottage or ricotta cheese. Top with the remaining pasta-marinara-meatball mixture. Cover the top with the remainder of the mozzarella cheese.

Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes or until pasta is hot and cheese is slightly browned. Allow to rest for a few minutes.

Serve with freshly-baked bread and a tossed salad. This is enough to serve 8 hungry people. Feel free to cut the recipe in half or keep the rest for leftovers the next day. It just gets better!

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