On Tuesday evenings, I take a writing class at the local community college. This means that I have to prep dinner ahead of time during the day, so we can just heat it up and eat right away when I get home.
Yesterday, I was feeling under the weather, so I wanted something warm and comforting with minimal effort. I came up with this pasta, beef and ricotta cheese casserole. It took under 30 minutes to assemble, and before I left for class, I stuck it in the refrigerator with instructions for my boyfriend to pull it out of the fridge and bake it while I was out. It was ready as soon as I got home. Nothing like coming home to a delicious meal!
Cheesy Beef & Pasta Bake
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef
1 tsp (approx.) dried oregano
1 sprig rosemary, stem removed, finely chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
1 14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes, crushed
3 heaping Tbsp tomato paste
Pinch of nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
1 15 oz tub ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1/2 lb macaroni or small pasta of your choice (such as shells or penne)
Preheat the oven to 400F (unless you are going to refrigerate the dish and bake it later)
1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Cook it one minute less than the time listed for “Al Dente” on the package. You want it to be slightly firm so that it will not be mushy. Once cooked, drain (do not rinse) and reserve in the pot you cooked it in
2. Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium to medium-high heat, and add the minced garlic. Cook for 30 seconds to a minute, stirring, until garlic is fragrant but not browned
3. Add the beef and stir to break up. Season with oregano, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is browned and mostly cooked through
4. Add the crushed stewed tomatoes and tomato paste, stirring to combine. Add the nutmeg. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes
5. Add the the beef & tomato mixture to the pasta and stir to combine. Add the ricotta and 1/4 cup Parmesan, and stir again until everything is evenly distributed. Taste for seasoning and adjust with more salt and pepper if desired
6. Transfer the pasta to a casserole dish. Sprinkle the extra Parmesan cheese over the top. If you’re going to refrigerate the dish and bake it later, cool it to room temperature and then refrigerate; pull it out of the fridge about 15 minutes before you bake it so that it can come back to room temperature
7. Bake in the 400F oven for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese on top is melted and bubbly, and the edges are slightly crispy
Serve with a simple green salad. Sit down, relax, and enjoy. It’s not the most glamorous-looking dish, but believe me, no one will care once they taste it. Happy-making food!