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BAKED ZITI WITH MEATBALLS AND ITALIAN SAUSAGE
Yash owned Pike Pizza in Arlington, Va. for 20 years, and retired around 1991. That restaurant was our neighborhood watering hole where a bunch of us went to meet and greet almost daily. We never knew Yash's last name. He was from Pakistan but he made the absolutely best Italian meatballs we ever tasted! After wheedling this recipe out of him, I gave up all other meatball recipes!

The casserole following the meatball recipe is just one of dozens of recipes you can use these in. Baked Ziti is one of our favorites.

YASH'S SPECIAL MEATBALLS:
3 pounds ground beef round *
1 medium onion -- finely chopped
3 cloves garlic -- minced
1 cup fresh bread crumbs, more or less as needed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parlsey
3 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
3 eggs
1/4 - 1/3 cup cold water, as needed

* 1/2 pound of ground pork may be substituted for 1/2 pound of the beef if desired.

In a large bowl, put in all ingredients except the water. Using your hands, mix well. Drizzle in just enough of the water to form a smooth consistency. Spray a shallow baking pan with olive oil PAM. Shape mixture into meatballs about 1-1/2 inches in diameter and place on the prepared baking pan about 1/2-inch apart. Cover with wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate 1-2 hours.

Remove the pan from the refrigerator to allow meatballs to come to room temperature, about 12-15 minuites, while you preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and place an oven rack in the middle of the oven.

Remove the cover from the meatballs, place pan into the oven, and bake 35-40 minutes or until cooked through. Cool on the pan 2-3 minutes, then remove to a platter lined with paper towels to absorb any excess fat.

Reserve enough meatballs to prepare the recipe below; then store remaining meatballs in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator up to 3 days, or frozen up to 3 months.

FOR THE BAKED ZITI WITH MEATBALLS AND ITALIAN SAUSAGE TO SERVE 4
ASSEMBLE:
4 cooked meatballs (Yash's preferred) -- halved
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 pound hot or mild Italian sausage (3 links) -- cut in 2" pieces
1 quart spaghetti sauce (homemade preferred)
1/2 pound ziti or other large tubular pasta (8-oz.)
8 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and spray a 3-quart casserole or 13x9x2 baking dish with olive oil PAM.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, add sausage and cook until no longer pink. Drain excess fat.

Meanwhile, cook ziti in salted boiling water until barely tender (do not overcook); drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add meatball halves, the cooked sausage and enough of the sauce to completely coat the mixture. Transfer mixture to the prepared baking dish.

Nestle large tablespoonfuls of ricotta cheese into and around the pasta. Top with the Mozzarella and then the Parmesan cheese.

Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil cover and bake 15 minutes more or until bubbling and the cheese i melted. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

Copyright 2001 Carol Stevens, Shaboom's Kitchen, All Rights Reserved