Baked macaroni growing up was one of my favorite meals. This baked rigatoni recipe with the addition of mini meatballs takes it to the next level.  The pasta and mini meatballs are baked with marinara, creamy ricotta, mozzarella and Pecorino and the result will have you drooling.  Serve for a big Sunday dinner along with some eggplant and salad, and the whole family will love it.  

Baked Rigatoni with Mini Meatballs

(serves 10)

Tomato Sauce

2/3 cup Olive Oil

12 Garlic Cloves

⅛ tsp Red Pepper Flakes

4 Tomato Cans- use whole tomatoes 

15 Basil Leaves

2 Tsp. Salt

1 Tsp. Pepper

1 Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano End (Optional)

2 Pounds of Rigatoni

Meatballs

½ lb. Ground Pork

¼ lb. Ground Beef

½ Cup Grated Pecorino Romano

⅛ Cup Plain Bread Crumbs

¾  tsp. Salt

1/2 tsp. Pepper

Olive Oil to fry- not extra virgin

For the Baked Rigatoni

2 1/2 Cups of Grated Pecorino Romano

2 2/3 Cups of Ricotta

16 oz. of Mozzarella – Cubed

First make the sauce. Put the olive oil in a sauce pot with the garlic and red pepper flakes. Slowly sauté on a low flame until the garlic is fork tender.  Add the chopped basil to the oil and saute for about 2 minutes, Puree three tomato cans, and crush 1 can with your hands. Raise the heat to medium and add the tomatoes immediately.  Add salt, pepper and the Parmigiano Reggiano/Pecorino end to the sauce.  Let the sauce simmer and make the meatballs.

Heat olive oil in a small pot to fry the meatballs in (about 2 cups).  In a small bowl combine the plain bread crumbs with 2 tbsp. of the tomato sauce.  In a separate bowl put the pork, beef, salt, pepper, grated Pecorino and add in the bread crumb mixture.  Combine well with your hands.  Roll mini meatballs (about 1 tsp each ball).  Then fry the meatballs in batches.  Drain on paper towels to remove any excess oil. Set aside.

Now it is time to assemble the baked rigatoni. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Boil your pasta.  Cook until al dente. Drain the pasta. In a bowl put the ricotta, 2 cups of Pecorino, mozzarella and 4 cups of sauce. Mix well. Add in your pasta and meatballs.  Combine well.  Lightly coat an oven safe dish with olive oil. I use a 10 x 15 Pyrex.  Add the pasta to the dish.  Drizzle the top with additional sauce.  Top with the remaining grated Pecorino.  Cover with aluminum foil.  Put in the oven for about 35 minutes and then uncover and cook until the top gets crispy edges.  Serve.

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