Its all about the gravy...or red sauce as the Italians back east call it. What ever you call it Rigatoni gets its name from the ridges on the big noodle. They come in the all sizes, the smallest are nearly impossible to stuff, so get the big ones, the ones just about the size of a mans thumb before they are cooked is perfect.
I blogged a few years back a recipe for Italian style braised short ribs where the braising liquid is the perfect sauce or "gravy" to use on stuffed rigatoni. Then I never gave you the recipe for the stuffed rigatoni that you could use. Talk about a tease!
The original recipe was handwritten with no quantities. We were living in the UP of Michigan when my Mom got the recipe from a fobby Italian lady who had served it at a pot luck. They are really marvy, but in order to duplicate one does need to work from a recipe. The original was combine ground beef and ground pork, brown. Add Milk and Parmesan and stuff cooked rigatoni noodles. Layer with short rib gravy and bake until hot. Could it be anymore vague? Fortunately I had watched my Mom make enough growing up I was able to guesstimate and wrote down actual quantities until I got it right.
The one thing that isn't talked about is seasoning and salt in that original recipe from my childhood. You do use salt and pepper. On the former you do need to be a little light at the start as the Parmesan will add a lot salt on its own. Better to start light and taste at the end and add more if needed as once in you can't take it away.
Stuffing those things is a real bugger, I've tried everything, and it comes down to take your time and allot a good 30 minutes to stuffing the rigatoni. This makes a full casserole and there just isn't an easy fast way to stuff the little buggers. The secret to stuffing is twofold. Large noodles to start is a must, sauce cool enough and sticky enough is the second part that you gotta have right. Too cool and its crumbly and hard to get to stay in the noodle, too hot and you are burning your fingers. The easiest way is to take the noodle and open it up with the bottom plugged with an in-turned finger. Spoon in the filling and tap lightly to pack, but not so firm as to bust out the side.
The filling itself is creamy and mild tasting. The flavor it gets is from how intense your gravy or red sauce is. I have used the braise from the Italian short ribs or tossed together a quick red sauce with some chili flake added to liven it up. Regardless, this little step is where the flavor comes from so use a good sauce.
- 2-3 c "gravy" or your favorite red sauce
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1/2 t salt
- 1/2 t ground black pepper
- 1 c whole milk
- 1 c shredded Parmesan
- 2 lb rigatoni noodles
Cook rigatoni noodles according to package directions in well salted water. I use about 1 T salt per gallon of water. Drain noodles and dunk in ice water to cool them to handle. Drain well in colander.
Brown ground beef and ground pork in a heavy skillet, season with salt and pepper. Break up and stir often over medium-high heat so you have small pieces that are well browned. Reduce heat when browned and add milk, simmer and reduce liquid to half. Add Parmesan cheese and stir until melted and creamy. Test for salt and add more if needed. Cover and cool until just warm to the touch.
Take a noodle and with a spoon insert enough filling to just fill the noodle. Add a scant 1/4 cup of sauce to bottom of a greased casserole dish. Stuff enough noodles to make one layer in the dish. Spoon some sauce of the noodles. Make additional layers of noodles with sauce spooned over until casserole dish is full. Bake in 350F oven until hot.
(Any remaining stuffing mixture can be frozen or refrigerated and used for spaghetti another night).