Mini meatballs are cooked gently in a rich tomato sauce, then combined with penne and cheese and baked until warm and bubbly. Kids will especially love this dish, but it's an all-round family pleaser for sure. Perfect to prepare up to 24 hours in advance, then bake when ready. Cut leftovers in portions and freeze for the week!
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped carrots
1 tablespoon finely chopped celery
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 small stale bread roll (about 150g), soaked in milk
250g pork mince
250g beef mince
100g grated Parmesan cheese
1 (15g) bunch fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
800g penne pasta
200g fresh mozzarella, cubed
150g mortadella or ham, cubed
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
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In a large saucepan over low heat, cook carrot, celery and onions in oil for a few minutes, until just soft. Add passata, stir and bring to a simmer. Cover.
Squeeze off the milk from the stale bread and crumble it in a large bowl. Add mince, eggs, 100g Parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix well, first with a wooden spoon, then with your hands.
Dampen your hands with a little water, take a small quantity of the mix, a little smaller than a walnut, and roll between the palms of your hands to form a very small meatball. Drop in the saucepan and continue in the same way until the meatball mixture is finished. Decrease heat to low, cover the pan and cook the meatballs in the sauce for 90 minutes. Towards the end of cooking time, taste the sauce and adjust seasoning if needed.
Cook penne in plenty of salted water for half the time indicated on the packet. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Toss with half of the meatball sauce and 2 tablespoons of the grated Parmesan cheese.
Preheat oven 180 degrees C.
Pour a ladleful of meatball sauce over the bottom of a large (22x33cm) baking dish. Top with 1/3 of the pasta and then 1/3 of mozzarella, 1/2 mortadella, 1/3 of the grated cheese and 1/3 of meatball sauce. Continue layers, making three layers in all and finishing with meatball sauce, mozzarella and grated cheese.
Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, grilling the last 5 minutes or so to brown the top. Remove from oven, cover with aluminium foil and let stand 20 minutes before serving.
The pasta is half cooked, so will need plenty of sauce to finish cooking in the oven. If your sauce becomes too thick, cover the baking dish with aluminium foil from the start and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 10 minutes.