CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Mozzarella And Beef Layered Hotdish

What would you call a dish that’s a cross between a casserole and lasagna, two of the ultimate comfort foods? That’s a tough one, for which I haven’t come up with an answer.

But there are three things that I do know: Some of these concoctions can be very nutritious, mighty tasty and pretty easy to make.

The last quality is important for working parents who have kids participating in sports or the arts and who need to get something on the dinner table in a hurry.

And when you have a finicky teenager whose tastes for vegetables don’t go much beyond corn (either whole-kernel or on the cob) and green beans, the first two come into play.

The following recipe, which I’m calling a hotdish for lack of a better moniker, will satisfy all three of the aforementioned requirements as well as answering the “tough” question I posed at the beginning of this blog.

Mozzarella and Beef Layered Hotdish
1 pound ground beef (or bison, venison or elk)
1 28-ounce jar marinara sauce (or homemade sauce, recipe follows)
1 16-ounce package rotini or rotelle pasta
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1 cup cooked winter squash (optional)
Cook pasta 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente in lightly salted water that has been brought to a boil. Brown ground meat in skillet over medium-high heat. Drain excess fat after meat is cooked through. Add marinara sauce and pasta to browned meat. In a 3-quart casserole dish, layer meat mixture followed with the mozzarella and repeat. Bake in oven preheated 350-degree oven for 25 minutes.”
Marinara Sauce
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, chopped finely (optional)
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 28-ounce cans ready-cut peeled tomatoes or 5 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and sliced
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
4 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
10 fresh basil leaves
Grated cheese
In a deep 10-inch frying pan, heat the olive oil and gently saute the garlic. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and sun dried tomatoes.
Put on medium for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Tear basil leaves into small pieces and sprinkle on top after adding to pasta. Add pepper and grated cheese top taste.
Notes: This sauce is great with fish, scallops, shrimp, or boiled chicken, etc. If fresh tomatoes are used, put them in a pot of boiling water for about 10 seconds until the skin can be easily peeled off. Discard skin. Cut tomatoes into pieces and add to frying-pan mixture. Add tomato paste and sun-dried tomatoes.
Yield: Makes about 2 quarts.

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