CLASSIC ROCK BANDS RECIPE #12
MEATY ZITI, BIG & BOUNCY
This great title, provided to us by one of Rock’s greatest bands of all time, The Who, gives us the opportunity to cook a classic Italian American dish, baked ziti with meatballs. The actual title, Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, is really a greatest hits album of all the best tunes from the sixties in The Who’s early years. The pun works perfectly for us even though the “rough boys” from England are about as far removed from Italian American food as you can get. Nevertheless, this is still one of the all-time favorite pasta dishes and one of the legends of Classic Rock N Roll.
The Who’s body of work span so many decades and combine so many musical archetypes it’s hard to really categorize them other than superstars. From great early hits like My Generation and Substitute, to the rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia, and the great classic ballads like Won’t Get Fooled Again The Who have delivered some of Rock’s greatest works. I have found myself gravitating back and forth with them over so many years. I was in the south of France on a fantastic culinary tour with my wife when we learned of legendary bassist John Entwhistle’s death. I remember taking the news very hard especially when I learned Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend were going to continue their tour as The Who as planned. Today I find myself often listening to a different Who album every now and then and hearing something different after all these years each time. The Who will always be one of my favorite bands of all time.
With baked ziti and meatballs, you get to immerse yourself in many areas of food preparation in Italian American cooking. I will repeat my recipe for marinara sauce that is necessary for this dish, show you how to make meatballs the way I do it, and bake the pasta which is very similar to preparing lasagna. This is great comfort food and a great way to entertain a large crowd especially family or a great Sunday meal that you can keep eating all week. You can also break up these instructions to use for simple spaghetti and meatballs or just plain baked ziti. It’s a lot of time and work but very easy to assemble and perfect for this time of year. Keep coming back to it though no matter what season it may be and keep coming back to all those great Who records you listened to in your youth.
For the Marinara Sauce:
35 oz. can peeled Italian style Plum Tomatoes
3 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ cup roughly chopped Yellow Onion
4 Garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
Coarse Salt (Kosher or Sea) to taste
Red Pepper Flakes to taste
16 Basil leaves torn in half
For the Meatballs:
1 lb. Ground Beef
1/3 cup plain Breadcrumbs
1 Egg lightly beaten
1 TBSP Olive Oil
¼ cup Dry White Wine or Vermouth
4 TSP Italian Parsley finely chopped
½ cup Yellow Onion very finely chopped
1 Garlic clove very finely chopped
½ TSP Ground Thyme
½ TSP Dried Marjoram or Oregano
Salt, to taste
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste
1/3 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Vegetable or Canola Oil for frying
For the Baked Ziti:
1 lb. Ziti
15 oz. container Ricotta Cheese
8 oz. shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese or Parmesan cheese
- First make the Marinara Sauce. Empty the contents of the Tomato can into a large bowl and with clean hands gently crush the Tomatoes.
- Heat a 3-qt. sauce pan over medium heat and warm the Olive Oil
- Add the Onion and fry till soft (about 5 minutes). Do not let the Onion brown.
- Add the Garlic and fry another minute.
- Add the bowl of Tomatoes avoid any splattering. Increase the heat to medium high.
- Heat to a boil then lower heat to a lively simmer. Add Salt and Red Pepper flakes then partially cover pot and let simmer 15 minutes.
- Add the Basil leaves and simmer another 3 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and let rest 30 minutes until partially cooled.
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F
- While the sauce cools make the Meatballs. In another large bowl add all the ingredients for the Meatballs and mix together.
- With your clean hands roll the meat mixture into small balls no bigger than a golf ball and set aside on a plate. (This dish works best with smaller Meatballs)
- Meanwhile in an 8-qt. stock pot add 6 quarts of salted water and heat on high
- After the sauce has cooled empty the contents of the sauce pan into a food processor and pulse several times until the sauce has a smooth consistency. Return the sauce to the sauce pan.
- In a large frying pan add a thin layer of Oil and turn the burner on to medium.
- When the Oil is hot enough add the Meatballs in a single layer and fry until browned on all sides
- While the Meatballs cook in a large baking dish or lasagna tray grease all sides with cooking spray and add a thin layer of Marinara Sauce
- When the Meatballs are done begin removing them with a splotted spoon and add them individually to the sauce pan
- Meanwhile to the pot of boiling water add the Ziti and cook for 8 minutes or a minute less than al dente. Drain in a colander.
- Add half of the cooked Ziti to the baking pan and cover with half of the Meatballs and Sauce. Top with half of the Ricotta Cheese and half the Mozzarella and Romano cheese.
- Repeat the last step adding the remaining Ziti, Meatballs and Sauce, Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Romano cheeses. Make level and cover all surface area with a rubber spatula.
- Place in oven and bake uncovered for about 35 minutes or until cheese is fully melted and a bit brown and crispy. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.
WINE PAIRING: One simple word, Sangiovese. That is the standard for Italian or Italian American pasta dishes with meat, tomato sauce and cheese. This is the grape of choice and it needs to come from Tuscany. Imitations just won’t do. There is a plethora of producers and styles from Chianti, Chianti Classico, Tuscan Red, Super Tuscan, etc.to satisfy any taste and any budget. Tuscan reds are available in abundance. Find your favorites and enjoy some great pasta with one of the world’s most fun wines to drink with food.