May 21, 2012

Meatball Macaroni with Chipotle

This dish brings together two things I adore: meatballs, and pasta. I did not grow up with spaghetti and meatballs, although I was aware of the dish as a matter of cultural immersion. Our spaghetti was always a baked affair, made in a deep pot (using soy noodles, although I didn't learn that was abnormal until I was older), and slabbed with cheese for the last few minutes in the oven. That dish is one of the first things that I learned how to cook, in fact, and I still have the laboriously written out recipe card from noting down each step as I watched my mother in the kitchen. There was plenty of beef in the recipe, but no meatballs.

Most of the pasta dishes I make these days are not baked (although there are certainly some exceptions). My macaroni and cheese is strictly stovetop, and I'm a big fan of vegetable-strewn fresh pasta using raw (or barely cooked) ingredients as an ad hoc sauce. Meatballs, on the other hand, are almost always baked. It frees you up to do other things (make a salad, drink some wine, whatever you want to do) and it guarantees beautifully round shape to the finished meatballs. So, if I am going to have meatballs with my pasta, I suppose it was a no-brainer to combine cooking methods, eventually.

Essentially, it's a two stage process. Mix up the meatballs of your choice, such as the always-popular-at-our-house Pork & Turkey Meatballs (also used to make meatloaf) and space them out in a larger-than necessary casserole dish to bake. While the meatballs are baking, mix up the pasta. In this case, I went with a Chipotle Macaroni Casserole dish that I hadn't made in a while, although I've tinkered with the settings thusly:

Chipotle Macaroni

Serves 4-6 (with meatballs)
Total Prep & Cooking time: 60 minutes

1 onion, finely minced
2 roasted red peppers
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1-2 tablespoons unbleached flour
2 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano leaves
398 mL canned diced tomatoes
1 cup milk (1% is fine)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
3 cups grated tasty cheese
2 cups uncooked macaroni, small shells, ditali, or similarly sized pasta

Sautee an onion with a couple of roasted red peppers (rinsed, seeded, and diced), until the onion is softened slightly. Sprinkle with chipotle powder and a little flour (about a tablespoon or two) and stir in some minced garlic, and minced or pureed chipotle in adobo sauce, along with some cumin and oregano.

When the mixture starts to stick, add a 398 ml / 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes with their juice, and stir well until thick and bubbly. Add a little water if it's sticking, to loosen it up. Next, combine a cup of milk with a cup of ricotta mixed well with a beaten egg, and beat until smooth. Add to the tomato mixture and stir well. Add the tomato paste and stir again. Reduce heat to low and continue to stir until everything is well integrated. Mix in a couple of handfuls of cheese - Pepper Jack and edam went in here - and turn off heat. Taste the sauce and adjust for salt and pepper, and hot sauce (chipotle or ancho are best here).

Stir in hot, cooked pasta - approximately 4 cups of cooked macaroni or its equivalent, such as the ditali shown here. Spoon the pasta over the cooked meatballs in the casserole dish. Top with a little more cheese and bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes to half an hour, or until bubbling and browned.

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