Baked Rigatoni with Mini Meatballs

Stephen and I love any kind of pasta dish, so when I came across a version of this recipe over at Smitten Kitchen, I knew we’d love it. Not only is it different from your average tomato-based baked ziti, but it has tiny little meatballs scattered throughout, which made Stephen especially happy. If you’re not into meatballs you can always substitute them for chicken or just scratch the meat all together and toss in some veggies. Anyway you make it, you’ll love it.

Baked Rigatoni with Mini Meatballs
Ingredients
1 lb. rigatoni noodles
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. butter (to coat the pan)
1/4 c. milk

For the Mini Meatballs
1/2 lb ground beef
4 tbsp. Italian bread crumbs
2 tbsp.  milk
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3-4 tbsp. vegetable oil, for frying

For the Sauce
4 1/2 c. milk
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9×13 baking dish, set aside.
2. To make the meatballs, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, milk, garlic, egg, parsley, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl. When all ingredients are incorporated, roll into tiny balls (about the size of a raspberry). Place balls on a plate covered with flour. Roll to coat each ball. When all of the meat has been formed into balls and rolled in flour, place into a pan with hot oil (over medium heat). Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until they become brown and crusty. Remove and transfer to a plate covered with paper towels.
3. For the sauce, in a medium sauce pan, heat butter until it begins to bubble. Add garlic and cook until it begins to turn golden in color. Add flour, whisk for 2 minutes or so, then add milk. Sprinkle in nutmeg, salt and pepper. Let liquid simmer for 10 minutes (making sure it does not come to a rolling boil).
4. While the sauce is simmering, cook the rigatoni in a large pot of salted water. Drain and pour into buttered baking dish. Toss in meatballs and stir gently.
5. When sauce has simmered for 10 minutes, add cheese. Whisk until incorporated. Remove from heat.
6. Pour 1/4 c. milk over pasta and meatballs. Then pour the sauce on top. Cover with remaining 1/2 c. parmesan cheese. Place into oven and bake for 20 minutes or until cheese and noodles begin to brown.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen- Baked Rigatoni with Mini Meatballs | Makes approximately 6-8 servings