My neuroses surrounding events and parties and all they entail may officially be getting out of control.
This is why. All this, plus 40 different lists of things to buy/do/bake/cook, is party central. Am I hosting a dinner party? My parents' anniversary? Not quite...it's Alyssa's 9th birthday in a couple of weeks, and judging by everyone's surprise that there will be 1) a theme, 2) homemade paper goods and cake, and 3) a massive spread of party foods, I may have gone a little mental.
But you know what I say? I love the kid. I love her like she was my own. You love your kids too, I know this. But perhaps you didn't get your degree in Event Management, then after being unable to find a job in said field, rely on the occasional kid's party, work luncheon and Christmas dinner to fill up that cavernous space inside you that can only come from not doing for a living what you truly, truly want to do.
I'll tell you...that space hurts a little. So Alyssa's party is not only for her, and for the family and friends that will be joining us, but yes, it's for me too. Just tell me to shut up when I complain that I've run out of room in the fridge to house my spread the night before the party.
What that has to do with baked ziti, I don't know. It was a quick weekend meal when the party planning had gotten into full swing and I was looking forward to starting my paper crafts for the party (I made her banner myself).
You will need:
1 pound dried pasta shapes, your choice
28 ounces prepared Marinara sauce, homemade (recipe follows) or store-bought
1 pound shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 14-ounce container of Ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 cloves minced garlic
Small handful fresh basil, chopped
Small handful fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 pounds mini meatballs (recipe follows)
Boil pasta according to package directions. Drain, and pour into a casserole dish. Immediately pour Marinara sauce and stir to coat each noodle.
Combine Ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, minced garlic, basil and parsley in a bowl with salt and pepper. Dot over the top of the pasta and meatballs, and swirl into the sauce with a spoon.
Nestle prepared meatballs throughout the casserole. Sometimes I do neat rows, other times I just toss them in. You just want to make sure that every spoonful will have a few meatballs when the dish is served.
Top with shredded Mozzarella cheese and bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbly. Serves 8-10...or 3, with plenty of freezable leftovers.
Homemade Marinara Sauce
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1 medium onion, diced
1 large can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes
Chopped fresh basil
Chopped fresh Italian parsley
Salt, pepper and sugar to taste
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Once oil starts to shimmer, add chopped onion and stir. Cook until the onions are translucent, then add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Pour in the crushed and diced tomatoes. Fill up the 14-ounce tomato can with water and add to the pot. Stir to combine, cover, and allow sauce to heat to bubbling. Once it has started to bubble, reduce heat and add basil, parsley and oregano. Season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar.
Occasionally I'll add about 4 ounces of red wine at this point, but it's completely optional. Cover the sauce and cook over medium heat for a minimum of 30 minutes - but cook it over very low heat all day if you can!
Olive or vegetable oil for browning
2 lbs ground meat (I like a combination of 80/20 beef and ground turkey)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 cloves garlic, smashed
Small handful fresh parsley, chopped
Small handful fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Note: start with the given measurements – you can always add more later. Once your mixture is combined and your oil is hot, make a tester meatball and adjust the seasonings to your taste (I usually add more cheese and salt).
In a large bowl, combine ground meats, egg, cheese, herbs and salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the smashed garlic cloves and heat gently, both to brown the garlic and infuse the oil slightly. Once the garlic cloves are browned, remove from oil and chop to add to ground beef. Combine well – it helps to use your hands instead of a spoon. Get them dirty!
Start rolling your meatballs. Of course you can make them whatever size you like, but for this recipe I like them to be about the size of a large gumball – which would equal about a tablespoon of the meat mixture. Roll them into balls and place them on a plate until you’re ready to fry. When you’re ready to go, raise the heat to medium-high and add them to the pan. If you think of your skillet as a clock, I like to start at the 6:00 position and work my way around clockwise so I always know which meatball I started with, and thus needs to be turned first. Keep them about an inch apart so they brown evenly. Do not disturbe them and in about 2 minutes, they will be browned and ready to flip with tongs (they may not be cooked all the way through, which is fine - they'll finish cooking in the oven). Work your way around the pan the same way you put them in - first in, first out.
Drain on paper towels, add to ziti and sauce, top with cheese and bake.