An Italian feast the whole carnivorous family will love.
Hi again, lovely reader. You really can’t go wrong with meatballs in this house. The family loves them. I have made Curried Meatballs, Cheese-Stuffed Meatballs, Meatball Soup, Meatball Stroganoff… to zero complaints. Meatballs are great for leftovers, especially when heated up and made into meatball subs. I do love a tasty meatball.
“Mama Mia, that’s a spicy meatball.”Jack Somack, Alka-Seltzer commercial, 1969
The meatballs I usually make use only ground beef. I have made them so many times that the recipe is burned into my memory. I am so particular when I make meatballs that I actually weigh each one to make sure they will all cook evenly. I take meatballs very seriously. My meatballs are usually 1oz each (28g) and take about 25 minutes to cook.
“[The] way to a man’s heart is via an amazing meatball. I’m yours, Goddess.”Scott Robins
A WORD ABOUT CHOLULA
Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a big fan of spicy foods. I’m such a big baby when it comes to heat. My eyes water, my nose drips, my face gets red, and my throat burns at even the slightest hint of spice. So it’s become a bit of a running joke about my love of Cholula sauce. I will put this in everything. It’s a perfect replacement for Tabasco for people who need to go easy on the heat.
I recently just bought a new “meatball cooker”, a beautiful new baking sheet with a nice rack. I love having a nice rack. It’s so important to have the right gadgets when you’re the CEO of the household. Since I’m the chef, I need to make sure I have the appropriate gear in my kitchen. This baking sheet and rack won’t be used to make anything other than bacon and meatballs. Or I will break some hands.
But I don’t really like pasta. I rarely order it in restaurants, and I don’t usually cook it for the family since everyone has different preferences: Charley likes just plain pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese; Mady likes pasta with marinara sauce; Steve likes pasta with pesto, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese; I prefer baked pasta dishes that are easy on the tomato sauce and/or that have some kind of meat in them.
I was looking for something different from the Sausage and Swiss Chard Rigatoni that I usually make; that’s a huge, heavy dish and I didn’t really want to eat beans that night. I wanted to make something meaty and delicious but that still had some flair and looked fancy. And then it hit me… stuffed pasta shells. Those always look so lovely in the baking dish. But stuffed with what? Ricotta? Ugh, the plainest cheese in the whole world. I didn’t want a vegetarian meal… Stuffed pasta? Did I dare? I knew Steve would like it because he has tender place in his heart for stuffed pasta…
Before Steve met me, he dated a vegetarian. She loved to cook for him and made a lot of pasta meals with green things and legumes and such. Oh she tried hard to win Steve’s heart with her “tofu this” and “bean that”. Apparently, she once made Steve Ricotta-Stuffed Manicotti, which Steve loved. Well, he didn’t love it enough to stay with her, but the meal made a lasting impression. When he met me, he actually asked me if I could make him the same dish. I thought he wanted to compare my cooking skills with those of his ex-girlfriend, so I found a recipe online and made it to prove to him that I was better than her. Steve said there was no competition, but that was most certainly lies. Or maybe it wasn’t. He still talks about her damn manicotti and never even mentions the dish I made all those years ago.
That was the first and last time I made any stuffed pasta dish.
So I was thinking of Steve’s vegetarian ex-girlfriend on this particular night and I decided that I needed to make a stuffed pasta dish for Steve, but one with meat in it… one that would be a bit of a showstopper in looks and flavour. It was time to erase the memories of the stupid ex-girlfriend manicotti.
I found a recipe for Meatball-Stuffed Shells on the Tasty website and used it for inspiration; I changed it up a bit to suit my own taste, because I already have a meatball recipe I love. And it turned out great!
Not Your Ex-Girlfriend’s Stuffed Pasta
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1/3 cup dehydrated minced onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp Cholula
- 1/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/4 cups Panko breadcrumbs
- 2 Tbsp parsley, dried (I use the Parsley Stir-in-Paste you find in the refrigerator section of the grocery store. It comes in a tube.)
- 2 large eggs
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- Jumbo pasta shells, cooked according to package directions for al dente.
- Jar of your favourite marinara sauce (or your own homemade sauce)
- Extra parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, and fresh chopped parsley for garnish
- 15 oz ricotta cheese (425g)
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped (or some dehydrated basil)
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- A few dashes of Cholula
- Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat your oven to 425°F. Put foil on your baking sheet and set a rack inside it. Grease the rack. Cook your shells, drain them, and let them cool so you can handle them.
2. In a big bowl, add ground beef, ground pork, onion, garlic, thyme, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, Cholula, Parmesan cheese, Panko breadcrumbs, parsley, eggs, and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly to combine.
3. Take a walnut-sized portion of the meat mixture and roll into a ball. Repeat with remaining meat and transfer to prepared rack on baking sheet.
4. Bake the meatballs for 12-15 minutes in the pre-heated 425°F oven, until golden brown. Remove from oven, but leave the oven on.
5. Meanwhile, make the herbed ricotta mixture. In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, chopped basil, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Set aside.
6. Spread the marinara sauce at the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.
7. Spread half of the shredded mozzarella cheese on top of the marinara sauce. Take the cooked pasta shells and spoon in a tablespoon of ricotta cheese into each one. Top with a meatball. Lay them in the baking dish on top of the marinara sauce.
8. Top with extra Parmesan cheese and the rest of the shredded mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper, to taste.
9. Bake for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden and it’s all bubbly.
10. Sprinkle with more Parmesan cheese and garnish with chopped fresh basil. Serve alongside a nice Caesar salad and garlic bread.