I know it’s Valentines’ Day and this Baked Rigatoni with Lamb Meatballs & Roasted Red Pepper Arrabbiata is not remotely heart-shaped. I figure with most of the Internet turning pink today, you could use a meatball break. However, if it is hearts you’re after, please refer to my ultra cutesy previous post. If you’re down with pasta al forno, stay with me. If you’re torn, might I suggest making this for Valentines’ Day dinner? I think it has potential; I always find carbs romantic. The garlic may thwart your chances of getting lucky, though. But if that is the case your date is WAY too high maintenance, and really, no one should come between you and your garlic… That took a strange turn. I’m just going to start now.
We are in the dead of winter here in Canada, and contrary to popular belief, some of us are not remotely adjusted to this season. I’m one of them. I despise February with all of my being. December is nice because Holidays and nog and all that noise. In January, the winter still has a certain novelty factor. Snow is still romantic, the sting of rosy cheeks is still something to write bad poetry about, and these days, egg nog season goes on and on. Then, February hits and my breaking point is not far behind. Despite being the shortest month, it feels the longest. The only joy I can salvage from this desolate time of the year is the casserole.
This Baked Rigatoni with Lamb Meatballs & Roasted Red Pepper Arrabbiata is an example of what happens when you forget to eat before hitting the grocery store in the middle of winter. You enter into a sort of fugue state and when you wake up, next to a rack of tabloids and impulse items, you find your grocery cart lined with various ground meats, carbs and cheeses. Again, maybe that’s just me, but it feels like a biological response.
When I made it home from the grocery store, I confronted my questionable grocery decisions, tore open a bag of chips I never would’ve bought had I fed myself breakfast, and set about making the coziest casserole my brain could muster. It had to have spice, of course, and while meatballs are always the right choice, lamb meatballs are better. Bocconcini was definitely in, as was rigatoni – the heartiest pasta to ever come out of Italy. Perhaps, I went overboard. Perhaps, this casserole is an affront to all things sensible. Perhaps, its title is WAY too long. But when I pulled that bubbling beauty from the oven, I knew if this Baked Rigatoni with Lamb Meatballs & Roasted Red Pepper Arrabbiata was wrong, I in no way wanted to be right. So I served it, comfortable in my wrongness, and we ate it with marginal regrets. Marginal because we ate too much of it in one sitting.
Will this Baked Rigatoni cure the world of its ills? Mend fences? Build bridges? No, it’s pasta. But it will make you feel less disgusted with the salt stains on your leather boots, your perpetual hat hair, and your never not soaked socks. It has that power and you know what? When you’re trapped in the most detestable month of the year maybe that’s the best you can do. So, crack open a bottle of wine, grumble your way through this dish and remember as long as carbs and cheese exist, there are at least two very good reasons to carry on.
From my snowy, dark corner of the world to yours, here’s some Baked Rigatoni with Lamb Meatballs & Roasted Red Pepper Arrabbiata. It’s pasta, it will make things better.
- 1 Vidalia onion, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, drained
- 1 teaspoon demerara sugar
- 1/8 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
- 500 g (17.5 oz) lean ground lamb
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonade
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- Zest of 1 orange
- 500 g (17.5 oz) dried rigatoni
- 1 batch lamb meatballs
- 1 batch roasted red pepper arrabbiata
- 200 g (7 oz) mini bocconcini
- 1 cup Parmesan, grated
- Heat a quarter-sized amount of olive oil in a large deep skillet. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano and sauté until fragrant. About 3 minutes.
- Deglaze the pan with white wine and stir in the tomatoes and roasted red peppers. Add the sugar and bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20-25 minutes.
- Take the sauce off of the heat and, using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until you reach your desired consistency. I left mine slightly chunky.
- Stir in the basil and season with salt to taste. Set aside until ready to use.
- Place all of the meatball ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Using a clean hand, mix the ingredients until everything is incorporated.
- Form the meatball mixture into mini 1/2-inch-sized meatballs.
- Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium-sized skillet. Fry the meatballs in batches until they are well-browned. Place them on a plate lined with paper towel until ready to use.
- Preheat the oven to 425F.
- Cook the rigatoni according to package directions. Drain the pasta and place it in a large mixing bowl.
- Toss the pasta in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Next add the sauce, meatballs, and bocconcini. Stir to combine.
- Pour the pasta into a greased 3-quart casserole dish. Top with Parmesan cheese and cover.
- Bake the pasta for 25 minutes, then remove the top and bake for an additional 15.
- Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
- Serve with additional Parmesan cheese.