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Why This Recipe Works

An entirely hands-off dinner of spaghetti and meatballs sounds like a dream: no long wait for the water to boil, no tedious browning of the meatballs, no sink full of dirty dishes to clean. We kept this dish supersimple, paring it down to the basics to deliver the nostalgic, satisfying meal of our childhoods. An easy combination of ground beef, store-bought pesto, and panko bread crumbs yielded meatballs with tons of flavor. We wanted the pasta to cook right in the sauce, so we spread spaghetti in a casserole dish and covered it with jarred marinara sauce. Thinning the sauce with a bit of water ensured there would be enough moisture to properly cook the strands. We then nestled the meatballs into the sauce and let everything cook covered in a very hot oven for 30 minutes. These conditions simulated boiling on the stovetop, enabling our pasta to cook in the sauce and absorb the flavors surrounding it. Once our pasta was al dente, we uncovered it, gave it a stir, and let the meatballs brown and the sauce thicken for the last few minutes of baking. A simple sprinkling of Parmesan and basil completed our dish.

Serves 4
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Our favorite jarred marinara sauce is Victoria Marinara Sauce.

12 ounces spaghetti, broken in half
1 (24-ounce) jar marinara sauce
2 cups water, plus extra hot water as needed
1 pound 90 percent lean ground beef
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
⅓ cup prepared basil pesto
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Grated Parmesan cheese

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Spray 13 by 9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Spread pasta into prepared dish. Pour marinara sauce and water over pasta and toss gently with tongs to coat.

2. Using hands, combine beef, panko, pesto, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in bowl until well combined. Pinch off and roll mixture into 1-inch meatballs (about 15 meatballs). Place meatballs on top of pasta in dish. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

3. Remove dish from oven and stir pasta thoroughly, scraping sides and bottom of dish. Return uncovered dish to oven and continue to bake until pasta is tender and sauce is thickened, 5 to 8 minutes.

4. Remove dish from oven. Toss to coat pasta and meatballs with sauce, adjusting sauce consistency with extra hot water as needed. Let cool for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with basil, and serve with Parmesan.

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