Yesterday, when I was on Martha Stewart Radio with my buddy Sandy Gluck, the subject of meatball lasagna came up. What makes Christmas meatball different is that the ground meat not simply added to the sauce, but rolled into small meatballs first. I hadn't made it since testing for I LOVE MEATBALLS, and my mouth started to water as I described the recipe. Now, I have already planned my Christmas dinner (roast pork of some kind), but I will find room for this delectable pasta on the table sometime during the holiday week.
Christmas Meatball Lasagna
from I LOVE MEATBALLS by Rick Rodgers
Makes 10 to 12 servings
This is one of the recipes that introduced me to the “when a meatball is more than a meatball” concept. My friends of Italian heritage always serve lasagna at Christmas, but not the commonplace version with ground meat Bolognese, but one with tiny meatballs lovingly rolled and simmered in the sauce. This sends the clear message that the guests at the table were loved and well worth any extra effort. Here’s the dish that I make when the occasion calls for a very special lasagna.
Note that the meatballs are not browned before adding them to the sauce. This makes deliciously tender meatballs. If you wish, you can saute them in batches in a large skillet with a little olive oil until lightly browned, or bake them in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes. I do prefer the "simmer" method for this recipe, but I am not going to argue with how your grandmother taught you how to make meatballs!
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry red wine
1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes with added thick puree
2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
1 (7-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes
1 pound ground round (85% lean)
8 ounces ground pork
8 ounces ground veal
3/4 cup dried Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound lasagna noodles
1 (32-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds (6 cups) shredded mozzarella
1. To make the sauce, heat the oil in a Dutch oven or flameproof casserole over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Stir in the tomatoes with their puree, 1 cup water, tomato paste, tomato sauce, basil, oregano, and hot pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 1 hour.
2. Combine the ground round, ground pork, ground veal, bread crumbs, eggs, salt, and pepper. Roll into about 32 small meatballs. Place on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet.
3. A few at a time, gently stir the meatballs into the simmering sauce. Return to the simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and the meatballs show no sign of pink when pierced in the center, about 20 minutes. Set the sauce aside. (The sauce and be prepared up to 2 days ahead, cooled, covered and refrigerated, or frozen in airtight containers for up to 1 month.)
4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the lasagna noodles and cook, stirring occasionally to be sure the noodles don’t stick to each other, just until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water. (The noodles can be prepared up to 2 hours ahead, tossed with 1 tablespoon olive oil and stored at room temperature.)
5. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375° F. Lightly oil a 15 x 10-inch baking dish.
6. Mix the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the eggs, basil, salt, and pepper together in a medium bowl.
7. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a bowl. Spread about 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce in the baking dish. Arrange 5 lasagna noodles (4 horizontally, and 1 vertically), slightly overlapping and cut to fit, in the dish. Spread half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, then sprinkle with 3 cups of mozzarella. Scatter half of the meatballs over the cheese, then top with one-third of the tomato sauce. Arrange another 5 noodles in the dish. Cover with the remaining ricotta filling, 3 cups of the remaining mozzarella, the remaining meatballs, then half of the remaining sauce. Top with the remaining noodles, and spread with the remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Cover with aluminum foil. (The lasagna can be prepared up to 1 day ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated.)
8. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until bubbling throughout, about 30 minutes more. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.