If you know anything about me, you know I’m a pasta freak. I never tire of eating noodles, especially when meat and cheese are involved. And I can say with confidence that I have my family to blame.
Growing up, there were dishes that my parents would make that always brought a smile to my face. And to this day, I associate these meals with a time in my life where my involvement with food was primarily centered around eating more so than prepping it. There’s no wonder why I still get giddy when I step into my kitchen with the intention of making this family staple.
My Patterson Family Baked Penne is a dish I ate time and again with unconditional love. It is a meal that feeds an army and is simple to put together while packing a flavor punch riddled with freshness. It’s something that can be prepared ahead of time and only tastes better with age. And while this dish features ground beef as the main protein, the options for customizing this dish to meet a variety of dietary needs are ENDLESS!
So when you are thinking about what to make when feeding your family or a house full of friends, or if you want something you can munch on throughout the week, give this recipe a whirl and enjoy this delicious taste of my childhood!
Patterson Family Baked Penne
(recipe serving size: at least 8 people)
For the meat sauce:
1 1/2 – 2lbs ground beef (85% lean)
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 large can whole peeled tomatoes, broken by hand
1 large red bell pepper
1 large green bell pepper
2 cubanelle peppers
1 medium white onion
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped (reserve the stems)
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp kosher salt plus additional 1 tb of kosher salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 to 2 tb olive oil
1 tb butter
Chop the onion and peppers into large pieces. Sauté in the butter and olive oil and season with 1 tsp kosher salt and 1 tsp cracked black pepper over medium to medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and parsley. Sauté for another minute.
Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the ground beef and fold into the peppers and onion until fully incorporated. Brown the meat mixture for 2-3 minutes or until cooked 3/4 of the way.
Add the cans of crushed and whole peeled tomatoes, the additional kosher salt and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir until incorporated. Simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes.
For the ricotta:
16 oz ricotta cheese
Kosher salt to taste
Cracked black pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped (reserve the stems)
Mix the ingredients in a bowl and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
For the pasta:
1 box rigatoni, penne or your favorite ridged pasta
Kosher salt for water (2-3 tb depending on the amount of water)
1 – 2 tb olive oil
Reserved parsley stems, tied in a bundle
Season a large pot of water liberally with the kosher salt and olive oil. Add the reserved parsley stems and bring the water to a boil. Following the instructions on the box, cook the pasta until al dente.
Bringing it all together:
1 lb of your favorite Italian cheese, shredded
Seasoned ricotta cheese
Cracked black pepper for garnish
Fresh parsley for garnish
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the cooked pasta with the meat sauce in an oven-safe dish. Dollop the seasoned ricotta throughout the pasta, making sure to nestle it into the noodles. Top the pasta with your favorite shredded Italian cheese. Cover and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the edges are bubbling (may take longer if you are using a deep baking dish).
Remove the cover, turn the oven to broil and cook for 1-2 more minutes or until the cheese has browned slightly.
Allow the pasta to rest for 5-10 minutes. Scoop a healthy amount onto a plate. Sprinkle the cracked black pepper and chopped parsley onto the plate and enjoy while warm!
So when I said the options for customizing this dish are endless, I meant it!
- For vegetarian diets: omit the meat. Bump up the peppers used and add additional sautéed veggies (i.e. mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant).
- For vegan diets: omit the meat and the cheese. Sauté your veggies in only olive oil and explore vegan-friendly options like using tofu instead of ricotta and non-dairy cheese.
- For those unfortunate lactose intolerant diets: as much as I love cheese, leave it out. This may be the only time I will EVER say this, but I did not have cheese cravings when I tasted this pasta before adding it, and neither will you!
- For a leaner diet: swap out the ground beef for lean ground turkey. Utilize low fat/fat free ricotta and shredded cheese.
- For an “I eat all the things” diet: get CRAZY! Use a beef/veal/pork mixture or add spicy or sweet Italian sausage to your ground beef. Be sure to adjust the amount of salt added to the sauce to taste as the Italian sausage will already carry a healthy amount of sodium with it.