Baked Rigatoni with Grilled Vegetables and Turkey Pesto Meatballs

by Kelly on October 7, 2009

I hesitate to post this pasta recipe, not because it wasn’t good, but because it was a lot of trouble. Considering the 2 hours it took me to peel the tomatoes, grill the vegetables, peel the peppers, simmer the sauce, boil the pasta, then bake dish, I expected a masterpiece, something as good as one of Rick Bayless’s moles, for example, which are worth every minute of work. We did enjoy the baked rigatoni, especially the leftovers, but it wasn’t the masterpiece I had hoped for. It’s a good recipe if you need to use up a lot of produce and you have an afternoon to spend hanging around the house, cooking and drinking the rest of the bottle of wine that you’ll need to open for the sauce.

Although the pasta was a bit disappointing, we loved the meatballs. I think they might be my best pesto concoction to date. Unlike the rigatoni dish, these couldn’t be easier or quicker to make.

Baked Rigatoni with Grilled Vegetables
from The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas

Serves 8 to 10

1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 lb/680 g)
2 large bell peppers
olive oil for grilling
2 large onions (red and/or white), peeled and sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups tomatoes (about 900 g), peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1/2 cup (120 ml) dry red wine
1 lb (450 g) rigatoni
8 oz (225 g) mozzarella, grated

Slice the eggplants lengthwise, 1/2‑inch thick. Salt the slices lightly on both sides and let them sit in a colander to drain for 30 to 45 minutes. Pat dry. Cut the peppers in quarters lengthwise and remove the seeds and stems. Brush the vegetables with olive oil.

Grill the eggplant until tender. Grill the peppers (skin side down) until charred. Put the peppers in a paper bag for a few minutes to sweat, then slip off their skins. Cut the vegetables into wide strips and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil, then saute the onion and garlic until golden. Add about three-quarters of the tomatoes, the herbs, salt and pepper, and the wine. Simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and oil a gratin dish or 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Cook the rigatoni in boiling salted water until just al dente. Drain and mix the pasta gently but thoroughly with the tomato sauce and grilled vegetables. Pour into the gratin dish and sprinkle with the remaining tomatoes and then the grated mozzarella.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until very hot and the cheese is beginning to color. If you like a brown, bubbly gratin topping, place under the broiler for 1 minute. Serve at once.

***

Turkey Pesto Meatballs

Makes about 18 meatballs

2 slices good-quality white bread, torn into smallish pieces
1 lb (450 g) ground turkey
3 tablespoons pesto
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Make breadcrumbs by pulsing the torn bread in a food processor until crumbs form, usually about 20 short pulses.

Mix the breadcrumbs with the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Form the mixture into 1‑inch meatballs. Place the meatballs on a wire rack resting on top of a baking sheet (there should be space between the rack and sheet). Let the meatballs rest in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes. Bake at 375°F (190°C) for 15 to 20 minutes, until cooked through, turning the meatballs over once, halfway through cooking.

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