This wonderful casserole has fantastic flavors all throughout - the fennel adds the perfect touch. ~Enjoy! Diane
Penne & Meatball Bake with Fennel
3/4 lbs (12-oz.) cooked Penne pasta
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 medium-size fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 (24-oz.) jar marinara sauce *I use Aiello's or *my own homemade sauce (click here)
1/4 cup orange juice
1 (12-oz.) packages frozen 1/2oz" Italian meatballs, thawed *or make mine (click here)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
2 cups fresh shredded mozzarella
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare Penne pasta according to package directions. Once cooked & drained, add a bit of butter to prevent noodles from sticking. Transfer to a lightly greased/buttered 13- x 9-inch baking dish. (the baking dish I used was a 12 x 8 oval) If you are making my meatballs, make into 1/2 oz rounds for this recipe. If you are using frozen meatballs from the store, make sure to thaw and use the smaller 1/2 oz meatballs if possible or even the minis - if preferred. Once thawed, place meatballs in and around pasta in baking dish.
2. Sauté onion and fennel bulb in hot oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and fennel seeds, and saute 1 minute. Stir in marinara sauce and the orange juice, bring to medium heat then lower and simmer covered: 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from heat, and stir in basil, and salt to taste. Transfer to baking dish, stirring into cooked pasta & meatballs, top with cheese and bake uncovered.
3. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Broil the final 3-4 minutes to brown the cheese on top if preferred.
Recipe & Photos by: Diane Baker for Canning and Cooking at Home