This is the time of year when my household shifts into high gear and my calendar overflows with sports and related activities and end-of-the-year school commitments. And with the majority of those obligations taking place between five and eight, getting a proper meal on the table can be a challenge. So what I typically do during these hectic months is make one or two “Big Easy” meals early in the week and serve the leftovers again later in the week. Red Beans and Rice certainly fits within my Big Easy plan. So too does this Baked Rigatoni. I know many people associate this type of hearty dish with cold weather cooking, but in our house this tasty and satisfying pasta bake is welcome anytime.
My recipe calls for four pounds of meat: two pounds of ground beef and two pounds of Italian sausage (one sweet and one hot). That’s going to leave you with more meat sauce than you really need for one pound of pasta. If you like a super-saucy pasta, use it all. If not, do what I do and freeze two cups of the sauce for another time. I also find it helpful to assemble the Baked Rigatoni in two separate baking dishes so when you revisit it at the end of the week, the cheese will be freshly melted. If something comes up at the end of the week that prevents you from making the second batch, simply cover the baking dish with a layer of plastic wrap and a layer of foil and stick it in the freezer for another time. Just make sure your baking dish is freezer-safe.
Baked Rigatoni Recipe
1 16-ounce package rigatoni pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds ground chuck
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
3 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Salt and pepper
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions; drain and set aside. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add ground chuck and sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a potato masher or the side of a spoon, until browned, 5-7 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce, tomato paste, bay leaves, basil and allspice. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To assemble, spread half the cooked pasta in the bottom of a large baking dish. Spoon half the meat sauce over the pasta and top with half the cheeses. Repeat with remaining pasta, sauce to taste (there may be extra sauce which can be frozen for another use) and cheeses. Top with butter pieces. Bake, uncovered, until golden brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Makes 8-10 servings.