Pasta Gina




Here’s a meal that can be made as easy or more complex as you desire.  This is another favorite from my childhood.  It’s tomato sauce, rigatoni, pepperoni, meatballs, and cheese.  Pretty simple.

When I was about 11 years old, my dad started his own cabinet making business.  During the planning for his start up we had about the only family meeting I ever recall.  I only recall the meeting because of the seriousness with which it was called, and the report to us that our meals were going to change so money could be put into the fledgling business.  “What could this mean?” I worried.  I already had a love for food.  Was it the end of a time of plenty?  As it turns out, I really have little memory of what we ate before that meeting.  The reality was that eating different, and typically less expensive, foods was actually more than OK.  We ate quiche, spaghetti carbonara, casseroles, stir fries, soups, tacos, and all sorts of things I never knew existed.  Living in Lancaster, PA with all of its farms, fresh produce was always around.  I ate my fill of corn, beans, eggplant, squash, and tomatoes.  Home baked treats were always around; nothing ever from a box.
Pasta Gina was a common request.  The star of the show is the meatballs.  Try to get an extra meatball, and you might get a fork in the back of your hand.
Venison Meatballs!
 I make this all the time at our house.  I find it’s a good way to quickly use up leftover pizza sauce, and it’s a good excuse to make those yummy meatballs.  These days I use ground venison for the meatballs.  We love venison and it is very lean.  I use Calabrese salami from Virginia’s Olli instead of pepperoni.  It doesn’t need a lot to add the flavor and spice.  I also typically add some other roasted vegetable to the mix.  Today’s version includes grilled eggplant.
Start by making the meatballs.
1 lb. Ground Venison (you can substitute beef or meatloaf mix)
2 slices bread soaked in a bowl of milk and then crumbled up by hand
¾ cup grated Parmagiano Reggiano
½ cup minced fresh parsley
2 eggs
Salt and pepper
Mix the ingredients in a bowl.  Form small meatballs and gently brown in a skillet over medium heat with a small amount of olive oil.  The oil creates a crust on the meatball.  Turn them gently as they are soft and tender.
Cook the pasta in salted water.  I use De Cecco Rigatoni.  I really like De Cecco as my favorite brand of dried pasta.  I cooked 2 lbs for 12 minutes (so we would have plenty leftover).
Grilled eggplant prepared as follows.
Peel and slice 2 Chinese eggplants.  I slice them ¼” thick lengthwise.  Sprinkle the slices with salt and let them rest for a few minutes.  Rinse off the salt and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Grill a few minutes on each side just to soften a bit.  (I grilled my eggplant the night before when I had a grill going for some chicken.)  Remove from the grill.  Season with a little pepper and a few dashes of Balsamic Vinegar. When cool, cut crossways into ¼” strips.
For the sauce, I just hit a jar of home canned San Marzano tomatoes with a stick blender.  Add a few turns of black pepper, a dash of olive oil, 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic, and some minced fresh herbs (today I used thyme and oregano).  I also added about ½ tsp of home smoked crushed red pepper, the magical condiment that helps everything.
Thinly slice about 4 ounces of Calabrese salami.
Put some sauce down in a large casserole dish.  I used a deep oval Le Creuset enameled cast iron braising pot.  Layer pasta, sauce, salami, meatballs, eggplant, sauce.  Next grate some mozzarella and sharp provolone over the top.  I used a total of about a pound of cheese for all layers, so use a little less than a third for the two lower layers. That way you have more cheese for the top to make a crust.  Repeat the layers twice more.  Top with the remaining sauce and cheese.  Bake at 350F for 30-45 minutes.  I use convection for everything, so time varies.
Layering the ingredients
The finished product
 Serve with a nice salad of fresh greens.
Let’s Eat!

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