We could ‘fancy-up’ the name of this dish by calling it Pasta al Forno.
It still wouldn’t alter the fact that this might well be called Cheeseburger Pasta. Ooey gooey, cheesy, meaty. This is Andrew and my idea of comfort food times three. Baked Ziti conjures up hearth and home. The taste of the warm noodles, lots and lots of cheese, and lovely bites of beef are made for a cold day. And then there’s the slightly guilty pleasure of eating something so resolutely simple and easy to make.
Pasta al Forno has a long history of pleasing diners from one end of Italy to the other.
Oven-baked Pasta dates back to the late Middle Ages. During the Renaissance, it was served to the nobility at palace banquets. The dish was and still is, a chance for chefs to show off their versatility and resourcefulness. It’s also highly adaptable to whatever is in season or in the pantry. In southern Italian towns, it is still one of the most popular things to serve. Sicily and Campania—home to Naples, Amalfi, and Salerno—prepare the dish with lots of vegetables, specifically eggplant and peppers paired with meats cured in the region—soppressata, prosciutto, and sausages. The colder climate of the north of Italy means it’s heartier. Butter and meaty ragùs predominate. Like this one which, with its ground beef, is undoubtedly pure Italian American.
In Italy, it’s called a ‘Piatto Unico’. Roughly translated, that’s a one-dish wonder.
One serving is a complete meal: Protein, Carbohydrates, Vegetable, and Dairy. Here are some tips for cooking it perfectly. You can be flexible with your choice of pasta, up to a point. Forget making the dish with any long pasta—spaghetti or fettuccine. This calls for short pasta with a hollow center to catch as much sauce as it can. Do not overcook the pasta. Make it super al dente going under the allotted time on your pasta package. Make sure there’s plenty of sauce. I highly recommend any one of several varieties of Rao’s which is as good as it gets. Use your broiler to get that inimitable crust. Whatever you do, let it sit for a good ten minutes before serving. You can resist and will be rewarded for your patience. Here’s the recipe and after it some other pasta recipes we love.
Cheesy Ground Beef Skillet Dinner
Comfort Food times 3: Ooey gooey, cheesy, meaty.
- 8 ounces (1/2 a box) medium pasta, such as ziti, shells, or penne
- 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef, preferably grass-fed
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 1- 28-ounce jar Rao's pasta sauce
- 8 ounces (about 2 cups) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- Step 1 Heat the oven to 400˚F.
- Step 2 Cook the pasta per the instructions on the box in a large pot of boiling salted water until just al dente
- Step 3 Drain.
- Step 4 While the pasta cooks heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the ground beef and season with garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes, and some salt and pepper, and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon until the beef is cooked for 5 to 7 minutes.
- Step 5 Add the pasta sauce and simmer, reducing the heat as needed, for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
- Step 6 Add the cooked pasta along with one-quarter (about 1/2 cup) of the cheese to the sauce and stir to combine. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake in the oven until the cheese has melted and the sauce is gently bubbling about 15 minutes. Let cool for a full ten minutes. Serve with a side salad and crusty bread.