Simple Cast Iron Skillet Wonders / Baked Penne with Meatballs

By Michael Harris-Arzon, The Simplistic Professional

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Comfort foods are what we all truly crave.  Those Umami moments that make us sit back, close our eyes and savior the flavors.  That experience of utter contentment that takes us back to a time we don’t want to forget.  Whether its grandma’s kitchen or Family Thanksgivings, each of us has these moments.  And just because, as busy professionals, we tend to let life get in the way, doesn’t mean we can’t stop and savior the little things that comfort us.

Ingredients

  • 1 Box Penne Pasta
  • 2 Chicken Bullion Cubes
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Jar Spaghetti Sauce, your choice Tip:  Combine Fresh and prepared ingredients to make things a bit easier on yourself.
  • 1 Large Red Onion, Chopped Medium
  • 1 Cup Chopped Mushrooms
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Chopped Fine
  • 1 Can Carrots
  • 3 Tbs. Basil (dried is fine)
  • 1 Tbs. Thyme (dried is fine)
  • 1 Lb. Ground Pork
  • 1/2 Large Red Onion, Chopped Fine
  • 1 Tbs. Basil
  • 2 Tbs. Smokey Mesquite Seasoning
  • 1/2 Shredded Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/4 Cup Seasoned Panko Bread Crumbs
  • Non – Stick Cooking Spray
  • 3-4 Slices Smoked Provolone Cheese
  • 5-7 leaves Fresh Basil

Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a medium pot, add your diced 1 onion, mushrooms and 1/2 cup olive oil. Sweat over Medium High heat until onions are translucent.  Add chopped garlic.
  3. Add your spaghetti sauce, canned carrots (that have been drained), 3 Tbs. Basil, 1 Tbs. Thyme.
  4. Lower heat to low simmer and cover.
  5. In a large bowl add your Ground Pork, Parmesan Cheese, diced 1/2 Onion, 1 Tbs. Basil, Mesquite Seasoning, Eggs, and Panko Bread Crumbs.  Mix together with your hands just until combined.  Tip: Be careful to no over work the meat mixture or your meatballs will be dense.
  6. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick baking spray and thin roll meat balls between palms of your hands until the shape you desire.  Tip: I always try for a larger meat ball, but it is up to you.  Just remember that smaller meat balls will cook faster.
  7. Bake in your preheated oven for 7-11 minutes, just until almost done.  Since they will be going back in take them out a couple of minutes before done in the center.  Tip:  I always have an extra tester meatball that I split open to check about 6 minutes in.
  8. While meatballs are baking in the oven, fill a stockpot halfway with water and add your 2 bullion cubes.  Tip:  I try to avoid salt when ever I can and so to flavor the noodles use a sodium free bullion cube.  Bring to a rolling boil.  Add a splash of Olive Oil and your Penne Pasta.  Cook until al dente, which means it should have a little bite to it when you test it and not be soft.
  9. Drain your pasta and set aside for a moment.
  10. The meat balls should already be out of the oven and resting.  Take about 1/4 of the sauce and spoon over the meat balls.  Just to coat.
  11. While your pasta is draining, spray your cast iron skillet with non-stick cooking spray and place in the over for about 3 minutes.  This is to heat it up so you get that crunchy edge.
  12. While the skillet is heating up, combine your pasta and remaining sauce in the same stock pot used to boil the pasta.
  13. Remove the skillet from the oven.  Pour your pasta into the skillet.  With a pair of tongs, arrange your meatballs on top. Take your slices of Smoked Provolone cheese and tearing pieces and spread across the top of your dish.
  14. Place back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.  Remove and finally shred your Fresh Basil leaves across the top and serve.
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