Spaghetti and meatballs has been a lifelong favorite meal of mine and, judging by the way my son tears into a bowl of meatballs, he’ll be carrying on the family tradition.
This morning I pulled some ground beef out of the freezer with plans to make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. But when 5pm rolled around and it was time to make dinner, I suddenly wanted something different…yet not. I was craving the flavor of traditional meatballs and red sauce over pasta, but I felt like trying something new. That’s how I came up with this.
This dish has all the flavor of spaghetti and meatballs and all the comfort-food appeal of baked ziti. But unlike traditional baked ziti, which is usually loaded with fat thanks to handful upon handful of cheese, this is a light and healthy casserole. And thanks to a super quick and easy tomato sauce, your family will end up downing veggies without ever knowing it.
1 lb. whole-grain rigatoni, broken spaghetti or pasta shape of your choice
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1.3 lbs. lean ground beef
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1 tbsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al-dente, then drain. Do not overcook the pasta; it will cook in the oven for 30 minutes, so don’t let it get too soft at this stage.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the crushed tomatoes and Italian seasoning, and reduce heat to a simmer.
In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, Parmesan cheese, egg, breadcrumbs, sage, basil, Kosher salt, garlic salt and black pepper. Using clean hands, mix together the ingredients as though you were making a meatball mixture, but don’t actually form the balls. When well-combined, brown the beef mixture in a large nonstick skillet.
Taste the pasta sauce and add salt, if needed. Spread the bottom of a greased 9×13-inch casserole dish with a thin layer of sauce. Then add the pasta and beef mixture and toss to combine. Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the pasta and beef, sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses on top and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.