School is synonymous with fall in my mind. Growing up, I didn’t go back to school until after Labor Day, but now it seems most go back in late August. My daughter is only in preschool, so I suppose they run a different schedule altogether.
I know my schedule gets crazy once school is back in session. And while grabbing take out or opening a can of Chef O’s is easy, it’s not the healthiest. I tend to use my slow cooker more or make one-pot dishes.
As fall comes and progresses into winter, I do find myself making more pasta with everything in them. I know in traditional Italian fare you don’t mix meat and veggies in the same pasta sauce for a singular dish, but when you’re a busy mom and want all the tastes of Italy but all the ease of a complete meal with protein, whole grains, and vegetables, well, they get thrown in one big pot.
This dish was a HUGE hit. I made it for a crowd and the crowd was silent while dinner was served. Even I was quiet, which is unique too! Hope you enjoy this as much as we did.
Note: I cooked the pasta right in the sauce. It takes a bit longer than just boiling the noodles (not by much), but I did not want to deal with a second pan, and I had the time to let all cook together. The flavor of the rich tomatoes penetrates the pasta and really adds to the overall taste of the dish. For the seasonings, if you do not have the fresh or want to deal with them, you can substitute about a teaspoon and a half of dried Italian seasonings or about ½ tsp. of each of dried herbs.
- 1 lb. ground beef (up to two pounds is acceptable)
- 1 cup onion; diced
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup diced zucchini
- 1 cup diced mushrooms
- 3 cloves garlic; minced/grated
- 10 oz. uncooked penne or sturdy pasta
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- 1½ cups water
- 1 tbsp. fresh basil
- 1 tbsp. fresh oregano
- 1 tbsp. fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper; to taste
- 1 ½ cup mozzarella; divided (1 cup and ½ cup) and grated
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese; finely grated
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- In a small bowl, mix the ricotta, Parmesan, black pepper, and ½ cup of mozzarella cheese together and set aside.
- In a large pot or casserole brown the ground beef on medium high.
- Once the beef has been seared/browned, remove any rendered fat and add about a tablespoon of olive oil.
- Add the onions and garlic, and continue cooking the meat for 2 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms and the zucchini and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Add the canned tomatoes, herbs, salt/pepper, tomato sauce, and water and mix it well.
- Reduce heat to medium, and once the sauce begins to simmer, add the penne (or pasta).
- Cover and stir occasionally for 8 minutes.
- Remove lid and for the last 6-8 minutes, stir the pasta frequently.
- As the pasta cooks and absorbs the liquid, it could begin to stick to the bottom of the pan and it will burn.
- Once the pasta is cooked, reduce the heat to low.
- Stir in one cup of mozzarella cheese.
- Then using a kitchen tablespoon, spoon the ricotta mixture over the top.
- Replace the lid and cook on low for about 5 minutes or until the ricotta is “cooked” through and melty. Serve and enjoy.
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