Quick-Baked Pasta with Ground Beef and Mozzarella

Quick-Baked Pasta with Ground Beef and Mozzarella

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I seem to be on a roll these days, with the comfort food.  Aaarrgghh!

Oh, well, somehow I’ll get over it.  I’ll make up for this dish by serving it with a nice, big spinach salad with a lemon vinaigrette.

Ok, I just lied.  My spinach started getting soggy, so it’s iceberg on the menu tonight (my husband is addicted to iceberg.  Go figure). I threw in some chopped almonds, craisins, and a Fuji apple from our tree, as well as a chopped avocado.  It’ll have to do because I am way too tired to go to the garage and grab some romaine that will require washing and spinning.

This is an old recipe that I dug up from the back pages of my recipe binder.  I’ll bet it’s 35 years old.

I have some leftover ground beef with onion that I didn’t use the other night for my enchiladas, and I don’t think it freezes that well, so I’m using it up.

That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.

I’ve got to tweak it a bit, though, because it calls for canned brown gravy.  Really?  Thinking not.

We’ll try my updated version.

Quick-Baked Pasta with Ground Beef and Mozzarella

Serves 6

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

One small sweet onion, chopped

3 cloves chopped garlic (about 2 teaspoons, chopped, from the jar)

1 to 1 1/2 pounds 7% ground beef

Two cups red marinara or spaghetti sauce* mixed with ¼ cup grated fresh Parmesan (read below for herbs to add if your marinara is on the bland side).

½ cup half and half (or maybe some ricotta with some milk, if you don’t have any!  Improvise!)  I’m trying to add some creaminess to the tomato sauce, which can be kind of hard on the old stomach.

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2-3 cups shredded Mozzarella or Italian cheese blend or Provolone

1 pound Penne or Mostaccioli (Macaroni would do, in a pinch, and so would Farfalle)

Preheat your oven to 350°.  This won’t take very long, so get someone to set the table while you slave away in the kitchen.  Seriously, there is little “slaving” with this.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and toss in a teaspoon of kosher salt.  Add your Penne or Mostaccioli and cook according to package directions.  Drain but don’t rinse. You want to stop cooking while the pasta is still “al dente,” because it will absorb the marinara and get a little softer when in the oven. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water before draining, in case you want to loosen your sauce.

Baked Penne in skilletMeanwhile, heat a large skillet to medium high.  If possible, find a skillet large enough to handle the ground beef/marinara mixture, as well as the pasta.  That’ll save you an extra dish to wash.

Add 2 Tablespoons olive oil to the pan, and add your ground beef.  Cook through.

Turn down heat to medium and add your chopped onions and chopped garlic.  Stir often.

When the onions are soft, remove the skillet from the heat.  Add marinara, half and half and taste for salt and pepper.  Add more, if needed.  Then add cooked pasta.  If your skillet isn’t large enough for everything, remove ground beef mixture to a large bowl, then add marinara and pasta to that.  If your sauce is too thick, mix in a bit of pasta water, until it’s the consistency you like.

Spray a casserole pan with either canola or olive oil.  You could also line your casserole dish with non-stick foil, to help your clean-up.  Make sure the non-stick side is up, against the pasta.  Just trying to save you some work, here!  I tried this last night and it worked like a charm.  The casserole dish was completely clean, after cooking.

Baked Penne in FoilSpoon half of the ground beef/pasta mixture into your casserole. Sprinkle with half of the Mozzarella (or Italian blend).  Now add the second half of the pasta mixture and layer over the first.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese.

Place in your hot oven and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes or until it is bubbling hot.

*I never stock canned or jarred marinara. If you don’t, either, just combine:

2 cups tomato sauce (1 15 ounce can)

1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed with your fingers

1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed with your fingers or chopped

1 teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Stir well and voilà!  You’ve got some marinara!

If you don’t have tomato sauce, shame on you.  Just kidding.  Do you have diced tomatoes?  You can open a 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes and throw them in the blender or food processor, and whir away.  It’ll do.

I’ll bet you dimes to dollars your kids will like this.  Get them to enjoy herbs while they’re young!  It will help them develop their palates and they’ll get the health benefits, too.

Enjoy!  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!



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