Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Baked Rigatoni with Tiny Meatballs

March, April and May are my absolutely nuts months, with the end of April/beginning of May being the absolute nuttiest.  There's a lot of juggling practice and game schedules with the usual piano lessons and school work.  This is the fifth year of daily swim practices right smack in the middle of supper making time, so thankfully, I know the key to not eating junk for the entire month of May--planning ahead.

This time of the year, there's lots of meals in the crockpot, meals made in the middle of the day, and meals pulled out of the freezer (that I made ahead of time).  When I choose new dishes to try, they have to be able to be either made ahead or incredibly quick.  Plus, thanks to swim practice they need to pack an energy punch, with the ability to replace the many, many calories the kids are expending during swimming in a nutricious-like fashion.

These was one find.  My picky meat eater even found the meatballs acceptable.  Next time, I want to increase the amount of seasonings in the meatballs, but other than that, it great.

Serves 6 - 8.

Baked Rigatoni with not so tiny Meatballs
adapted slightly from Deb at Smitten Kitchen who got it from Marcella Hazan

The Meatballs
1/4 c milk
1 slice good white or wheat bread, torn into small pieces
1 lb ground beef (or pork)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T parsley, chopped
1 t basil
1 t oregano
1/2 t salt
1/3 c freshly grated Parmesan
1 egg
1 c flour

The Bechamel
4 1/2 c milk
6 T butter
5 T flour
1/8 t nutmeg
1/2 t salt
1/4 t black pepper

The Assembly
1 lb rigatoni, cooked to al dente
3/4 c freshly grated Parmesan
1 T butter
1/4 c milk

Heat the milk (but don't let it simmer).  Add the torn bread and let it soak for 5 minutes.  If possible, squeeze excess milk from soaked bread after 5 minutes (it's ok if this is close to impossible to do, like it was for me).  Place in large bowl.  Add beef, garlic, parsley, 1/3 c grated Parmesan, egg, salt, and pepper.  Stir with a fork until evenly mixed.  Pinch off a small lump of meat, about the size of a raspberry to a large grape (mine were on the larger size of course because raspberries seemed too tedious!), and roll into a ball.  Once you have made all your (not so) tiny meatballs, roll them in the flour.  Over medium high heat, heat enough vegetable oil in a skillet to rise 1/4 inch up the sides of the pan.  When the oil is hot, put as many meatballs as will fit into the pan without overcrowding.  Brown them until they form a nice crust all around.  Transfer to paper towels to drain and continue with remaining meatballs until all have been fried.  Set aside

To make the béchamel:  Heat the milk over medium low heat in a saucepan until it forms a ring of pearly bubbles (but don't bring to a boil)  *You can also do this in the microwave in a microwave proof measuring cup if you are challenged in the area of large saucepans.  In a larger saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, add the flour, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until it is combined.  Add 2 T of milk at a time to the flour and butter mixture, stirring steadily and thoroughly through 8 additions (1 c worth of milk).  After this, add milk in 1/2 c increments, stirring constantly to keep it smooth.  Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg and stir the sauce until it thickens.

To assemble:  Combine cooked rigatoni with 2/3 of the béchamel sauce, half the grated cheese, and the meatballs in a large 9x13" pan.  Spread with a rubber spatula so it is smooth.  Pour the 1/4 c milk over top and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese.

Bake on the top rack of a preheated 400 degrees oven for 15 - 20 minutes or until a golden brown crust forms on top.

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