Easy Peasy Meatball Ziti and My Blog Intervention

Something interesting happened to me after I joined this wonderful world of food blogging. Something I'm not particularly proud of. Something that I didn't even notice until it was pointed out to me by the people I'm supposed to be cooking for - my family. It appears that in my quest to create jaw-dropping content and eye-popping photos in my posts, I stopped cooking regular, well-rounded meals for them. No more grilled steaks and baked potatoes. No more simple roasted chickens. Not even a lousy bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. Nope. Uh uh! I stopped making the basic, comfortable foods that they had grown to love, because I thought they were too boring; not exciting enough to elicit the awestruck reactions that I was dreaming of. And not only that. I barely let them touch the things that I did make - at least not until after I had plated, propped and staged each dish for its photo shoot to glory.
As I looked deeply into their sad and hungry eyes, I felt like dirt! I vowed to them that I would put my thirst for fame and adulation aside, at least a little bit, and FEED THEM SOME REAL FOOD! I mean, here I was making pies and cookies and doughnuts for a guy that doesn't even eat sweets! And my poor, sweet, calorie-conscious teenager was walking around in a butter-induced stupor terrified that she was gaining weight by osmosis!
The first order of business was to decide what to make for dinner the next night. I put it to a vote and everyone agreed on a pasta dish. They were even kind enough to let me decide which one. I chose my baked ziti because it has a little of each of their favorite foods in it. Pasta, tomato sauce, three different kinds of cheese and my famous (at least around here) meatballs make up this dish. It is a hearty, homey and delicious Italian comfort food, and it's not difficult to make.
The first thing you need to do to make this dish is prepare and bake a batch of meatballs. I've also included my meatball recipe below. You can do this ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator or freezer until you need them. You will also need some marinara sauce, either homemade or a good quality one from a jar. The sauce is not the star of this dish, so you can get away with a good jar sauce. This will save you a significant amount of time.
It warmed my heart to see how much my family enjoyed this meal. I didn't even make them wait to eat it. I baked a separate batch of it for pictures, which then went straight into the freezer for another day.
Now, I want to ask you this: Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever fallen into this trap of cooking for the blog instead of your nearest and dearest? Were you ever the subject of a "blog intervention"? Are you a "blogoholic"? I'd love to hear from you!

Easy Peasy Meatball Ziti
1 batch meatballs (recipe below)
1 pound ziti
6 cups fresh marinara sauce or 2 jars good quality tomato sauce
1 2 lb tub whole milk ricotta
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated Romano cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced into thin pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Bring a large pot, filled with water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. You want the pasta to be a little firm because you will be baking it later. Drain pasta and set aside.
Break up the meatballs into bite sized pieces and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the tomato sauce, ricotta and 1/2 of each of the cheeses and mix well. Add the cooked ziti and meatballs and toss it all together.
In a large greased baking dish, pour in pasta mixture. Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella, Parmesan, and Romano cheeses all over the top. Dot with the butter. Place baking dish on top of baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake until top is golden brown and bubbly, about 30 to 40 minutes.
My Almost-Famous Meatballs
Makes about 15 meatballs
1 lb. ground chuck
1 lb. ground veal
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium sweet onion, coarsely grated
1/2 c. flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 c. bread crumbs
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl until combined. Do not overhandle or the meatballs will be tough. The mixture should be moist, but hold together. If the mixture appears too wet, add more bread crumbs, a little at a time. If it is too dry, add a little more milk.
Form into balls, about 2 inches in diameter. You should get about 15 meatballs out of this recipe.
Place meatballs in a shallow baking sheet, lined with foil, and bake until they start to get browned, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside until ready to add to the ziti.

Here's what some other bloggers are doing with baked pasta:

Baked Pasta with Tons of Vegetables from The Foodie Fashionista

Fontina and Mascarpone Baked Pasta from Tales from a Veggie Kitchen

Jamie Oliver's Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella from More Than Burnt Toast

Pastitsio, Deconstructed from Kalofagas

Talerine Beef Casserole from Simply Recipes


I take pictures of my food but I don't stage it....I don't have this particular problem that you have. I take pics in its raw form. But cooking is my creative outlet so we are always having something different and amazing every night and my family would be happy with sloppy joes most nights....I do have that problem. j
Thistlemoon said…
That is too funny! I know how it gets once you start blogging and you know there are tons of people looking at your meals! But there is nothing as good as comfort food!

Welcome to The Foodie Blogroll!
Thank you very much for the link Sticky :D We need our comfort foods as well don't we? I often bake for the blog and blogging events. I try and avoid sweets and yet I belong to the Daring Bakers and enter other events. My friends love me, but, my waistline doesn't...I have no self discipline at all :D
Peter M said…
That baked ziti looks fab! Thanks for visiting my blog, the link to the Pastitsio and for writing in a frank way.
Dori said…
thanks for the link! your photos put mine to shame! ;)
Jason said…
Haha, my wife is totally like that! She is obsessed with taking pictures of EVERYTHING we eat, so I have to wait until she takes the picture of my food before I am allowed to eat it! Fortunately, she takes a picture of my dish first and doesn't mind if I eat before she's done with her's.
Sharona May said…
I think all foodies have a weird addiction to getting that perfect photo of the food they made but in the meantime the food is getting cold.

Your meatballs look great!!!

Sharona May
michelle said…
Mmmm... there's really not much in the world that's beeter than pasta, meatballs, and cheese! Looks fabulous!
Cara said…
I love meatball ziti! I just made meatballs tonight, and this will be a great way to use my leftover meatballs and sauce.
Anonymous said…
heh... i always make brian's dish, which is the non-photographed one, so he can start eating while i fuss over my plage (and it's not like my photos are such hot shit).

food-wise, i blog about everything from the fancy-schmany to the grilled cheese sandwich i just ate, so that's less of an issue. i'm like a peeping foodie, i like learning about what people are eating day to day as well as the all-out meals they make.

i think we all have these problems to varying degrees!
Susan @ SGCC said…
Obsessive- I guess my point is that I was worrying more about preparing food that would look good to the readers, instead of things that my family would enjoy. I didn't actualy stop cooking for them. That part was tongue in cheek. ;)

Jenn- Thanks! It does get a bit intimidating. You want everything to be just perfect.

Valli- It was my pleasure. I know what you mean about the waistline! Although, since I've been baking more than I ever have before, I tend not to eat as much of the sweet stuff. I give a lot away. I am very popular in my neighborhood! ;)

Peter- Thank you so much! I really enjoyed your blog. I will be back often. I subscribed to your feed.

Dori- My pleasure. I really liked your recipe. Your photos were lovely.

Jason- I'm glad I'm not alone! I have to say, my husband is pretty supportive about the whole blogging thing. He just gets a little grumpy when he's hungry. ;)

Sharona May- Glad you like the meatballs! It is funny how crazy we get over the "perfect shot". I have had to microwave my share of plates.

Michelle- Thank you! I agree. Pasta and meatballs rule!
Manggy said…
Susan, I have to say this looks just as picturesque as (if not more than) any of the pow! zing! kaboom! food photos out there. Comfort food is nonfailingly (that a word?) good food.
I love my blog, yes, but my love for food always precedes it :) One thing my blog has done to me, though, is discourage me to repeat meals-- except for the evening, when I can't take a photograph anyway ;)
Cakelaw said…
Hi Susan, I too am a blogaholic! I rarely make the same thing twice because I can't post about it again once it's up there, and because my natural affinity is for everything sweet, I often find myself drowning in cakes, biscuits, pies, tarts and puddings which get relegated to the freezer, passed onto friends or taken into work. However, I don't think I'd want it any other way now. Love your pasta recipt - looks delish!
Meatballs and ziti-- you're my kind of mom. As for blogging, I do a lot more baking now, but we only taste it (otherwise, what's the point of going to the gym everyday?). But I try to post a lot of savory dishes (that hubby and I can actually eat). They usually need to be microwaved, however, since they're cold by the time I'm done shooting them.
Cakespy said…
It can be hard not to be compulsive about documenting your cooking and food for a site. Thank you for finding a lovely medium--this looks hearty and lovely!
Susan @ SGCC said…
Manggy- Thank you! That's very sweet. I agree with you about repeating recipes. I also avoid making the same thing twice, even when it is requested. Also, I find that there are so many wonderful recipes from fellow bloggers that I want to try. Sometimes, I hesitate because I don't want to be a copycat poster. Sometimes, I just make the recipe anyway and don't post about it. So if you don't hear from me for a few days, that is probably why.

Cakelaw- Lol. You crack me up. I have been swimming in a sea of chocolate, caramel and Nutella for 2 weeks now. Even I'M getting sick of it! Glad you liked the ziti.

Susan- Thought you'd like this one. I'll bet you had your share of this stuff growing up in RI. My mom didn't make it with meatballs - just cheese - but, my caveman husband has to have his meat!

The gym every day? That is discipline. I'm a mean tennis player, but I must confess, I don't get on the courts as much since I started this crazy food blog thing. ;)
I guess I am so not a perfectionist. I just blog for myself and it is the food that I like and am making at that time (great bonus that other people like it too!!!). I have 2 very busy young girls so everything has to be done quick!

Love the pasta dish...might try that next week!
Deborah said…
I'm lucky that I married a man that puts up with my adventurous nature in the kitchen. He's pretty easy to satisfy, so that's good! But sometimes he does request things that I've made before and haven't for some time. Sometimes the basics are the best!
Josie said…
Holy cow this post made me laugh out loud. I find myself making mini plates - it is easier for me to plate on a smaller scale, and the viewer can never tell I am using a tiny plate with tiny portions. Then my food is usually still hot on the stove waiting for my big plate. Neurotic? Not me. Nuh uh, not at all.

Your blog is beautiful, I am happy I found it!
Amanda said…
I guess I'm a wierd foodblogger, because this doesn't happen to me at all. Nope. Nuh-uh.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Susan @ SGCC said…
Judy- I guess I am a sort of a perfectionist. My daughter calls me a "fusser". I drive her crazy! ;)

Deborah- I have to say, my husband is pretty easygoing too, and he puts up with a lot of my craziness. Our poor husbands should start a support group! ;)

Josie- Thanks! I'm happy you found me too. I do the mini plates too. A lot of times, I'll just put some food aside and take my pictures after everyone goes to bed or the next morning.

I think we all must be a lttle nuts to go through all of this, lol!

Mrs. W- Lol! Okay. I hear ya!
Anonymous said…
You're so correct and funny on how blogging has affected your family. They are so lucky to have you creating the dishes that you do instead of the old standards. Hope they tell you how awesome you are, every day!
Susan @ SGCC said…
WoRCouple- Stop! You're making me blush. Thank you very much!
Darron said…
I've noticed since I started my blog that my cooking takes a little longer (because I'm painstakingly photographing each step). I realized pretty early on that my wife and daughter did not really want to wait for me to take pictures of their food before they could eat it, so now I serve them and take pictures of mine before I sit down. They don't mind starting without me as I attempt (usually in vain) to get a perfect shot in the poor (at least for photos) light of my kitchen. Like somebody else said, it's hard not to be obsessive about your blog sometimes.

BTW, I think your site is great!

The Teacher Learns to Cook
Susan @ SGCC said…
Darron- I know what you mean. By the time I've taken a few decent shots, my husband and daughter are finishing up dinner. Then I'm hurrying to catch up. Lol, I've actually lost wight since I started this food blog!

I'm glad you like my little corner of the web!
The dish looks delicious and I know what you mean about the blogaholism thing. There are places where I might have cut corners in cooking before, but now, I'll stop and think "what will the readers think?" and try to be more "pure" about whatever I'm cooking. I've tried to not tailor my entire menu around the blog, but I'm definitely more wary of cooking a "repeat" dish without sufficient extra posts ready to go
Patsyk said…
Yep, my oldest recently said all I do is cook and it's no fun because you have to wait for it to finish in the oven... and, now I am always taking pictures of food and they don't quite "get it".

I had to offset our dinner last night with some "tried and true" plain old chicken with plain pasta and corn... not exiting enough for a picture but they were thrilled. I have to remember to plan a couple of meals a week around their preferences. Needless to say, you are not alone!
Susan @ SGCC said…
Mike- It's like cooking in a fish bowl sometimes, isn't it? I also shy away from repeats for the same reason.

Patsyk- Our families are real troopers, aren't they? Whenever I can, I put some food aside and take pictures later- sometime even the next morning.
Anonymous said…
Hi Susan

I was wondering did you use fresh breadcrumbs or dried breadcrumbs in your recipe. Also could I use the Basic Tomato Sauce by Mario Batali that you have posted on your site for the Marinara sauce. It only makes 4 cups,so I guess I'll have to make two batches. Thank You
Susan @ SGCC said…
Anonymous- I have always used dried bread crumbs for my meatballs, unless I happen to have fresh. Recently, I've been using panko crumbs a lot. I find that they're a nice compromise between fresh & dried. My meatballs seem to turn out lighter with the panko.

Mario's marinara sauce is one of my old standbys. I use it in this dish and many others. When I make it, I almost always double or triple the recipe and keep the extra in the freezer. If you don't want to do that, you can always make one batch and supplement it with a good jar sauce. I like Amore and Mom's brands.

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