Hello and Welcome! On Tuesday’s Djalali Cooks Too, Alex mentioned I had something in mind for the leftover chuck and sirloin he ground for his burgers. It only took me a few seconds to think of making a hearty tomato sauce, but what pasta to make with it…? I settled on a Tortellini Bake, because it’s been a dark and stormy few days here in Athens, and a meaty, cheesy pasta bake sounded just right. So let’s jump in!
The Meat Sauce
I am a real fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl when it comes to making a red sauce. For a meat sauce, I usually favor using sausage over ground beef, but this home-ground chuck and sirloin is a different story. Grinding beef at home yields a different texture and fat distribution than store bought ground beef. Plus you can combine whatever cuts of beef you like for superior flavor. If you want to check out how Alex ground the beef I am using for this recipe, check out his Burger Post.
Start by heating a drizzle of olive oil in a large pan or pot over medium heat and sauté your diced onion until the onion pieces are golden and translucent. Give the onions a pinch of Kosher salt. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
I have about 1.5-2 pounds of ground beef. Add that right to the onions in the pan. We will season everything as we go, so give the ground beef a few hefty pinches of Kosher salt. Stir occasionally until the beef is mostly browned.
I have one 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes and their juice, plus a half cup of tomato puree and about 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Add these to the meat and onions, along with about 4 cloves of minced or pressed garlic. Additionally, a bunch of fresh herbs: I have sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme and oregano. Tie these sprigs in a bundle and stir into the sauce. Season again with another few big pinches of Kosher salt and about 2 teaspoons of fresh cracked black pepper.
Let this sauce simmer and bubble for about 30 minutes. Taste the sauce as it simmers and add more Kosher salt and pepper as needed. The sauce will reduce and thicken. When you get there, add a splash of Worcestershire sauce and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Give the sauce a stir and cook for another 10 minutes. Fish out the herb bundle and remove the sauce from the heat. Give the sauce one more taste and adjust seasoning.
Building the Tortellini Bake
In a 9 x 13 deep-sided baking dish or lasagne pan, ladle in enough sauce to fully cover the bottom of the pan. Use your favorite fresh tortellini; I have a mix of cheese and spinach tortellini. On top of the sauce, layer in the fresh tortellini. Using fresh tortellini means we don’t have to bother with pre-cooking the pasta to al dente.
Cover the tortellini layer with fresh mozzarella cheese. I like a mix of the fresh mozz and the lower-moisture mozz, which I will just tear off the block in large chunks, like string cheese.
On top of that cheese layer, add another layer of sauce, then more tortellini, topped with another (final) layer of cheese.
Time to Bake!
Cover the baking dish and place the whole thing on a sheet tray to minimize bubbling over messes and pop it in the oven for 20 minutes. At the 20-minute mark, check the Tortellini Bake. We are looking for bubbling sauce around the edges. If it’s not bubbling, let it bake covered for another 5 minutes. Then remove the cover and bake for 20 more minutes, uncovered, until the cheese is melted, bubbly and golden.
After 20 minutes, uncovered, my Tortellini Bake needed a bit more browning in the center, so I switched the oven to broil. Leave the pasta bake on the center rack and broil until the top has even browning on the cheese. Then pull it out of the oven and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes.
If you want to go for broke, leave the oven on broil and while the Tortellini bake is resting, whip up some garlic bread. I have about 3 tablespoons of very soft salted butter that I have mixed with about 5 cloves of pressed garlic to make a compound butter. Slice a baguette in half lengthwise and spread the garlic butter evenly on each half. Sprinkle with dried oregano and fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Place the two halves on a sheet tray and place on the center rack of the oven.
Broil the bread from the center rack for a few minutes, until the tops get golden, then switch off the oven and let the bread warm through in the hot oven while you portion out the helpings of the Tortellini Bake. Then pull the bread and slice it up!
Top each portion with more grated Parmesan and serve!
Thanks so much for spending some of your Thursday with me and this comforting recipe for Tortellini Bake with a Hearty Meat Sauce. This recipe has all the flavors you expect; a hearty, deeply flavored meat sauce with ooey-gooey, crispy-topped chewy, mozzarella cheese; and perfectly cooked little tortellini dumplings. The fresh tortellini makes this whole thing come together without any fussing over al dente noodles.
I took half of this Tortellini Bake up to our neighbors and they texted back after dinner with a thumbs up, so I think that’s a vote for this recipe being a winner! Give it a try and let me know what you think. Reach out here in the comments, or hop over to Instagram and let me know! Take care and be well, everyone! xo Kelly
A hearty, deeply flavored meat sauce with ooey-gooey, crispy-topped mozzarella cheese, and perfectly cooked little tortellini dumplings.
- Hearty Meat Sauce
- 1 medium to large Yellow Onion, diced
- Drizzle of Olive Oil
- 1.5-2 lbs Ground Beef
- Kosher Salt, to taste
- 1 28-oz. Can of diced Tomatoes and their juice
- 1/2 cup Tomato Puree
- 1 tbsp. Tomato Paste
- Black Pepper, to taste
- 4-6 Garlic Cloves, minced or pressed
- Several Sprigs Fresh Herbs (like Rosemary, thyme and Oregano)
- Splash of Worcestershire Sauce
- Splash of Balsamic Vinegar
- Tortellini Bake
- ~30 oz. (3 10-oz. packages) Fresh Tortellini, such as Rana or Buitoni
- 16 oz. Fresh Mozzarella, sliced and torn into smaller pieces
- 3-4 oz. Low Moisture Mozzarella, grated or torn into chunks
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Hearty Meat Sauce
Start by heating a drizzle of olive oil in a large pan or pot over medium heat and sauté your diced onion until the onion pieces are golden and translucent. Give the onions a pinch of Kosher salt.
Add the ground beef to the onions in the pan. Give the ground beef a few hefty pinches of Kosher salt. Stir occasionally until the beef is mostly browned.
Add the diced tomatoes and their juice, tomato puree and tomato paste to the meat and onions, along with minced garlic.
Tie the herb sprigs into a bundle and stir the bundle into the sauce.
Season again with another few big pinches of Kosher salt and about 2 teaspoons of fresh cracked black pepper.
Let the sauce simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste the sauce as it simmers and add more Kosher salt and pepper as needed.
After 30 minutes and the sauce is thickened, add a splash of Worcestershire sauce and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Give the sauce a stir and cook for another 10 minutes.
Fish out the herb bundle and remove the sauce from the heat. Give the sauce one more taste and adjust seasoning.
In a 9x13 baking dish, ladle in enough of the meat sauce to cover the bottom of the baking dish. Top the sauce with half of the fresh tortellini.
Top the the tortellini with half of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat the layers, finishing with mozzarella cheese. Cover the baking dish and place the covered dish on a sheet tray and place in the oven.
Bake for 20 minutes. Then check to see if the sauce is bubbling; if it is, remove the cover and bake uncovered for 20 more minutes, until the cheese is melted and browning.
Remove from oven and let rest for 15-20 minutes.