Home and cooking...I LOVE IT!
It's been two weeks since I've been home for more than 48 hours and although it's been rough, I am thrilled to be home! My work travel schedule has been crazy and exhausting. I missed my family and sleeping in my own bed. I love you, New York but the quiet of my mid-west neighborhood is the best sleep sound machine ever!
When I do get home and have some time to relax, I always look forward to cooking. Home and cooking - it's the bridge to feeding my soul. And hopefully, my family feels the same way!
So, what's cooking this weekend? Well, it's one of my go-to recipes: Baked Rigatoni. It's honestly not that hard to make, so that's a plus. And it's AH-MAZING, if I do say so myself. My kids are the biggest critics of all and if they love it then that's good enough for me!
Not only am I cooking for my family, but I'm also cooking for some family friends. What is it about food that can comfort the soul? It's immediately my first thought when I want to comfort someone I love. I don't want to share their personal stories, but these two families deserve the world and if I can help ease a little of their burden by offering a meal, I'll jump at the chance.
Ok, I'm off to the kitchen to cook up some deliciousness so, let's get started with the most important part - the SAUCE!
There's nothing better than homemade sauce & I always try to make my own when I can. It begins with an 80/20 mix of fresh ground beef, Italian sausage, onions and garlic...did I mention how much I LOVE garlic and onions. What a wonderfully fragrant smell!
The sauce is a mix of tomato sauce and diced tomatoes, which helps give the sauce a little more texture and flavor. Sometimes I use the version with added spices and sometimes I use it without.
Once the meat mixture has fully cooked, I add in the sauce and diced tomatoes, along with a mixture of spices (oregano, basil, and bay leaf). If I have fresh basil, I add that in for a fresher herb taste. I'm currently working on growing oregano, too and I can't wait to try that fresh homegrown herb in my sauce. ( I've never tried growing this herb before, so this is new and exciting for me!)
I also add salt and pepper to taste. After that, I bring the sauce to a boil and let it simmer. If there's time, Iet the sauce simmer and savor, low and slow, for an hour or two with the lid on, stirring every once in a while. If you're short on time, let the sauce simmer for 15-20 minutes so that the flavors have a chance to combine. Plus, it makes everyone in the house extra hungry and excited for dinner 😉 . While the sauce is simmering, boil the water for the rigatoni noodles and find your biggest baking pan and prepare to combine all of the cheesy, saucy deliciousness that IS this dish.
A little note about the noodles - only boil them for 8-9 minutes so that they're a little undercooked. I do this because they will continue to cook and soften when the whole mixture goes into the oven to bake. Are you getting hungry yet?
The next step is well...cheesy. I love mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese. Pretty much any cheese I can get my hands on. But for this recipe, we'll focus on mozzarella and parmesan. You can add ricotta cheese if you like, but my kiddos tend to cringe when I add that to the dish.
So, locate your biggest baking dish and start layering - noodles, sauce, cheese, noodles, sauce, cheese. Kind of like making lasagna. This is the part that the kids love because they can help. Everyone gets a layering job and then we go to work!
And right before the dish goes in the oven, top the whole thing off with an extra sprinkle of both cheeses. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is amazingly bubbly and gooey! Let cool for a few minutes before serving and ENJOY! See, wasn't that easy?
This is also a really great dish to pack up and take to a party or send to a family that needs a great home-cooked meal (Hello, new moms and dads!). If you try it, let me know! The recipe is below and I'd love to hear how you like it or if you added your own twist.
Home and cooking - a bridge to soothing my travel-weary soul.
BAKED RIGATONI (serves 8-10 generous portions)
2 or 3lbs. of Ground Beef (I prefer 80/20 mix)
2 pkgs. of 16oz rolls of Italian Sausage
2 Sweet Onions
1/4 cup Olive Oil
3 tbs. of minced garlic
2 tbs. of oregano
2 tbs. of basil
2-3 bay leaves (depending on their size)
salt and pepper to taste
2 - 29 oz cans of tomato sauce
1 - 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
(if you have it, I also like to add a tablespoon or two of Tastefully Simple's Dried Tomato & Garlic Pesto Mix)
2 - 16oz boxes of Rigatoni Noodles
3/4 cup of Parmesan Cheese, plus a little more to sprinkle on the top
3 - 8oz. pkgs. of mozzarella cheese
1 - large (13x9) baking dish or 2 - (9x11) disposable foil pans
1.) Slice, dice, and sautée onions and garlic in olive oil, over medium heat in a large dutch oven or pot, until garlic is fragrant and onions are translucent.
2.) Add ground beef and Italian sausage and simmer on medium- high until cooked through. Drain excess grease/oil.
3.) Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and spices.
4.) Bring sauce to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer sauce. I like to simmer the sauce for at least an hour, but if you're short on time, 15-20 minutes will do.
5.) While sauce is simmering, boil water in another large pot for the rigatoni noodles.
6.) Cook noodles for 8-9 minutes and drain well.
7.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
8.) Assemble & layer rigatoni in the large baking dish(es): noodles, sauce, cheese, noodles, sauce, cheese, etc.
9.) Top with a sprinkle of mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
10.) Bake for 10-15 minutes or until cheese bubbles!