Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Comfort Food Italian Style

Here in the United States, there are many forms of comfort food.  It's a common household phrase that's known across the country.  But what if we lived somewhere else?  Do they have comfort food in other countries? (I'd love to hear what yours is, especially if you live in a different country than me!)

If I were Italian, I think I'd pick Baked Ziti with Meatballs as my comfort food.  It's pretty easy to put together, and very satisfying.  The key to this dish is twofold.  First, I truly believe that a homemade marinara sauce is important.  It is so much better than what you can find in a jar.  I know there are some great jarred sauces out there, but there is something abundantly satisfying about creating your own sauce.  When you taste it, it's instant gratification.  And it's not as hard as you would think.  There is a little chopping to do, then opening of some canned tomatoes, and then you let it sit on the stove.  Easy.  If you use my Basic Marinara sauce recipe, you'll find that an hour or two on the stove brings you around eight meal's worth of sauce.

The second key to this dish is homemade meatballs.  Again, I know there are some good frozen ones out there, but things are just so much better homemade.  I use ground pork for my meatballs because I like the flavor better.  But you can surely substitute ground beef or even Italian sausage for the meat.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I am a fan of shortcut cooks because you are at least cooking.  So, if you're not into doing it all from scratch, do it your way.  I'm really good with that. And, that way, you could mix it up with different flavors or marinara.  You could even add some alfredo sauce to it if you want.  It's your dinner.  Enjoy it.


3 onions, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
6 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes (San Marzano is preferable)
10-12 cloves of garlic (a whole bulb), minced
1 T beef bouillon
1 C red wine (any kind you like)
1/4 C fresh basil, chopped
1/4 C fresh Italian parsley, chopped
6 bay leaves
Red chili pepper flake, to taste
Salt & pepper
Olive oil

1 lb ground pork
1/4 C ricotta cheese
1/4 C Parmesan cheese
1/4 C parsley
1/2 C Italian bread crumbs
Olive oil

1 onion, chopped
Olive oil
2-3 C Marinara sauce
1 C ricotta cheese
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 T fresh basil, chopped
1 lb ziti or penne pasta
2 C shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 C Parmesan cheese

For the marinara, heat a really big stock pot over medium heat.  Drizzle olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot.  Add in the onions, carrots, and celery.  Cook about 10 minutes or until tender.  Add in remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally, over medium low heat for at least an hour, longer if desired.  Remove all the bay leaves and blend.  I use an immersion blender, but you can blend it in batches in a blender.  Transfer with a ladle to plastic containers (I use the rectangle ones that lunchmeat comes in) and freeze the marinara.  I got 8 3-4 cup containers of sauce.

For the meatballs, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all of the ingredients except the olive oil together.  Roll them into about 20 meatballs, about 1 inch each.  Put the meatballs in a glass 9 x 13 casserole dish.  Drizzle some olive oil over the meatballs.  Bake them uncovered for about 30 minutes or until they are well browned and cooked through.

Cook the pasta according to directions and drain.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, cook the onions until tender. Add in the marinara, the ricotta cheese and the garlic. Reduce heat to medium low and cook and simmer.  Remove from heat and add in the basil.  Mix in the cooked meatballs. (You can add a little more marinara here if the sauce doesn't cover the meatballs.)

To assemble the ziti, stir the sauce into the pasta.  Pour this into a 9 x 13 glass casserole dish.  Sprinkle on the mozzarella and parmesan cheese and bake about 15 minutes or until the cheese on top is melted and browned.


  1. Have you ever tried to freeze your meatballs after baking them? If your freezing leftover sauce, you could make a meal quicker if the meatballs where precooked. I do this with my Swedish meatballs on occassion. Can't wait to try this one.

    1. Kathryn, I have never tried that, but I'm sure it would work great. Thank you for the suggestion! I hope you like this recipe!