Friday, March 5, 2010

A Casual Oscar Night...Baked Rigatoni With Tiny Meatballs...

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When I saw this in Smitten Kitchen's blog last week, I knew I had to try it...soon.  Well tonight I did and both of us gave it two thumbs way up.  I also thought it would be a fitting main dish for Oscar night where dinner would  probably be served on your lap in front of the TV, so as not to miss a single dress or award.  If you are having a few close friends over, no problem, this recipe will easily fit 6, and even 8, if you serve plenty of hors d'oeuvres and a big salad.  

Now these are not you usual rigatoni with a sauce...they are quite special and although easy on the pocketbook, somewhat elegant. I’ve upped the sauce, cheese and seasoning for a baked pasta that is more lush, but surprisingly un-heavy.  I have also added some minced fresh basil to the meatballs (I actually used the one that comes in a tube from the produce department of the grocery store).

Accompany with hearts of romaine with a vinaigrette, those nice thin Italian bread sticks, and a nice Sangiovese.  Try Monte Antico, an inexpensive red from Tuscany which sometimes can be found at Costco and regular grocery stores. It's an inexpensive version of an Italian Super Tuscan and is the one I drink when price is an issue.

This dish can be prepared in the afternoon, covered, placed in the refrigerator, and cooked when ready to serve.  If you want to buy the dessert, I suggest something lemony, like the lemon tart posted a few days ago.

Serves 8


For the meatballs:

1/4 cup milk

1 slice good white bread trimmed of its crust

1 pound ground pork (or beef, or lamb, or a mix of the three)

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 TB fresh chopped basil or 1 tsp basil concentrate (in tube)

1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)

1 egg


Black pepper in a grinder

1 cup flour, spread on a plate

Vegetable oil for frying

For the bèchamel:

4 1/2 cups milk

6 tablespoons butter

5 tablespoons flour

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

To finish:

1 pound rigatoni

3/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup milk


Make the meatballs: Heat the milk, but don’t let it simmer. Tear pieces of the white bread into it and let it soak for 5 minutes, before picking it up with your hand, squeezing it of excess milk and putting it in a large mixing bowl.

Add the pork or beef, garlic, parsley, basil,grated cheese, egg, salt, and pepper. Combine all the ingredients with a fork until they are evenly mixed .

Pinch off a small lump of meat, about the size of a raspberry and roll the lump into a ball in the palm of your hands.  When all the meatballs have been shaped, roll them in the flour, 15 to 20 at a time. Place the floured meatballs in a strainer and shake it smartly to dispose of excess flour.

Put enough vegetable oil in a skillet to rise 1/4-inch up the sides of the pan and turn on the heat to medium high. When the oil is hot, put as many meatballs in the skillet as will fit without overcrowding. Brown them until they form a nice crust all around. When one batch is done, transfer it with a slotted spoon to a platter covered with paper towels to drain and do the next batch until all are done.

Make the bèchamel: Heat the milk over low heat in a saucepan until it forms a ring of pearly bubbles, but do not let it break into a boil (you can also do this in the microwave). In a larger saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, add the flour and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or flat whisk until combined. Add a little of the milk to the flour and butter mixture, stirring steadily and thoroughly, then repeat until all the milk is added.( you can add the milk in 1/2 cup increments, stirring constantly to keep it smooth.) Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir the sauce until it thickens.When you see the first bubble, the sauce is done.

Assemble the dish: Cook the rigatoni in a pot of well salted water. Drain when still al dente, and combine immediately in bowl with two-thirds of the bèchamel, half the grated cheese, and all the meatballs.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heavily butter a 9×13 baking dish. Spread the rigatoni and meatball mixture in the pan, leveling it off with a spatula. Pour the milk over the dish, the spread the rest of bèchamel on top, and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese.

Place in the uppermost level of the preheated oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until a golden brown crust forms on top.

Adapted, from Marcella Hazan and Smitten Kitchen
Photo: Smittenkitchen

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