Meatball Pasta Bake with Spinach and Mozzarella
225g (8oz) lean minced beef
225g (8oz) minced pork
8 cream crackers, crushed into fine crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp olive oil, extra for drizzling
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
500ml (18fl oz) passata (Italian sieved tomatoes)
2 tbsp tomato purée
small handful of fresh basil leaves, extra to garnish
350g (12oz) penne pasta
knob of butter
225g (8oz) baby spinach leaves
100g (4oz) mozzarella, cut into cubes
25g (1oz) freshly grated Parmesan
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
lightly dressed mixed salad, to serve
Place the minced beef and pork in a bowl with the crushed cream crackers, egg and parsley.
Season with salt and pepper and using your hands, give everything a good mix. Using slightly
wetted hands, make about 20 even-sized balls. Arrange on a flat baking sheet, drizzle over a
little olive oil to lightly coat and chill for 1 hour to firm up if time allows.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat and sauté the onion and celery for about 5 minutes, until lightly golden. Add in the garlic and cook for 1 minute more, stirring. Add the passata and tomato purée and season to taste. Simmer gently for 8–10 minutes, until the sauce has nicely reduced and thickened. Stir in the basil leaves and remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/gas mark 6). Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.Plunge the penne into the boiling salted water and simmer for 6–8 minutes, until almost tender but not quite cooked through. Drain the penne well and return to the pan.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a deep-sided frying pan over a medium heat and sauté the meatballs for 6–8 minutes, until almost cooked through and nicely browned.
Heat the butter in a separate pan. Add one fistful of spinach at a time, adding another as one
wilts down. Cook for 1 minute, then tip into a colander to drain. Season to taste.
Stir the tomato sauce into the drained penne to coat and then transfer to a 30cm x 20cm (12in
x 8in) 5cm (2in) deep ovenproof baking dish. Nestle in small mounds of spinach and arrange
the meatballs on top. Scatter over the mozzarella and Parmesan. Place in the oven and bake for 15–20 minutes, until bubbling.
To serve, put the pasta bake straight on the table garnished with the basil leaves. Have a
separate big bowl of salad and allow everyone to help themselves.