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MARIO - Baked Spaghetti and Meatballs with Mushroom Sauce

Updated: Jul 19, 2021


Complexity: ★★☆☆☆


We are starting this project in a very simple place, but sometimes simplicity is exactly what you need – a mantra best exemplified by Mr. Video Game Himself, Mario. What better character to kick off this culinary odyssey? This dish is simple and beginner-friendly; accessible to cooks of all skill levels. Anything else and it wouldn’t be true to the spirit of Mario! Mario games are some of the most wholesome and heartwarming in the world – they can always put a smile on your face and are fun for the whole family. Translating the essence of Mario into a recipe guarantees that you will be making comfort food. Plus, it has to be an Italian dish to fit with Mario's roots! A family-style pasta dish felt like the truest way to represent the iconic Italian plumber. Delicious spaghetti with marinara sauce as vibrantly red as Mario's hat, homemade meatballs, and of course – this dish is loaded with mushrooms (though they probably won't double your size or give you an extra life)!


Maybe we could call it mario-nara sauce?

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 16 oz. spaghetti

  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 yellow onion, diced

  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed

  • 1 tbsp dried Italian seasoning mix

  • 1 can (28 oz.) plum tomatoes

  • 1 can (28 oz.) tomato puree

  • 3 cups assorted mushrooms, sliced and chopped (use any varieties you like, I used half white and half cremini!)

  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 2 tsp white sugar

  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese

  • 1 cup cheddar cheese

  • 1 cup parmesan cheese

  • 1 lb ground beef

  • 1 lb ground pork

  • ½ cup chopped prosciutto

  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten

  • 1 cup breadcrumbs

  • 1 tbsp oregano

  • 1 tsp garlic powder

  • 1 tsp onion powder

  • ½ tsp paprika

  • ⅔ cup milk

  • Salt and pepper



PREPARATION

  1. Preheat oven to 400°.

  2. Cook spaghetti according to package directions until al dente, drain and set aside. Reserve ¼ - ½ cup of pasta cooking water.

  3. Grate all three cheeses. Set half of the parmesan aside and mix the remaining three cheeses into a bowl.

It wouldn't be a Mario-themed dish if it didn't contain the ubiquitous mushroom. (image credit: mariowiki.com)

For tomato sauce:

  1. Heat olive oil in a medium-sized casserole dish. Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Stir the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, or about another minute. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning.

  2. Roughly chop and/or mash plum tomatoes, add to saucepan. Pour in tomato puree and season with salt and pepper. Add chopped mushrooms to sauce.

  3. Stir in basil, sugar, lemon juice, ¼ cup of the reserved parmesan cheese, and the bay leaf. Simmer to let reduce and thicken, meanwhile begin prepping the meatballs.

For meatballs:

  1. Mix beef, pork, and prosciutto in a bowl with the beaten egg, milk, breadcrumbs, ¼ cup of the parmesan cheese, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika. Season with salt and pepper.

  2. Shape meat mixture into small or medium-sized meatballs. Drop the meatballs into the simmering pasta sauce (remove the bay leaf first). Cook for 30 minutes, without stirring to avoid breaking the meatballs.

Assembly:

  1. Check internal temperature of meatballs to ensure they are thoroughly cooked (thermometer should register 165°). Remove meatballs from sauce with slotted spoon and set aside.

  2. Add cooked spaghetti into casserole dish with the sauce. If the sauce seems too thick, stir in some of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen it up. Stir until pasta is fully coated.

  3. Evenly place the cooked meatballs on top of the spaghetti. Top with grated cheese mixture.

  4. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbling. Add additional basil leaves if desired.



TOP TIER TIPS

  • Don’t eat meat? No problem! This dish will be just as delicious without the meatballs!

  • Adding a splash of lemon juice to a tomato sauce is a great way to enhance the flavours - it brings out the natural acidity of the tomatoes and generally brightens up the sauce.

  • Sugar is another secret weapon when it comes to tomato sauce, a pinch can round out the flavours and result in a more balanced taste!

  • The final stages of assembly are your opportunity to experiment and customize! Once the spaghetti is added to the sauce and the meatballs are evenly distributed on top, you have a chance to enhance and augment the flavour of this dish: maybe put on a few spoonfuls of basil pesto, or dollop on some mascarpone cheese.

  • Power up to the Fire Mario version of this dish if you're a fan of spicy food! Sprinkle red pepper flakes into the simmering sauce. Chop an Italian hot pepper and add to the meatball mix.

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