penne rigate with meat sauce & ricotta

Growing up, we always referred to it as "ziti & meat sauce," even though the actual macaroni my mom always bought wasn't technically ziti. It's probably the most nostalgic dinner my mom ever made. The diagonally-shaped pasta with ridges that perfectly held the subtlety spicy sauce is something that I will always associate with comfort, good memories, and favorite food. When I had birthday parties, my mom would switch it up a bit and use mini shells instead of penne, which were just as delicious. I use to brag to my friends about how my mom made the best sauce in the world, and once they tried it they were hooked too. Parties, big get-togethers, holidays, my friends coming over to spend to the night... You name the occasion, ziti and meat sauce always made it's appearance. And thank goodness too, because I get to look back on pictures like these and see how a family tradition can really impact you as a young kid to a growing adult cooking it in your own kitchen.

it's hard to see because of the glare, but under "favorite food" I wrote "ziti & sauce"

I remember having family dinners as a kid, before my parents were divorced, and at least once a week we had ziti and meat sauce. I specifically recall that ricotta was always on the table, mainly because I thought it was so disgusting! Truthfully, I really don't know how I survived without eating cheese as a youngin', but that's another story. Back to the ricotta, which was usually was placed right near my dads plate, because he loved it. And still does. His special request was that I make him ziti and sauce for Father's Day dinner, and made sure he told me that he wanted "rigawta" (that's how us Centola's pronounce it) ;)

My dad deserves everything he has ever wanted. He is a very hard worker and has provided so much for his children. There aren't enough things in the world I could do to thank him. I can, however, cook him anything his huge heart desires.

I decided to choose this dish for Father's Day Idea #3 because it is inspired by him and his love for "rigawta" with his sauce. Fitting with the theme of new takes on old comforts, this is a sauce that is unlike any other red meat sauces you have had before. There's no secrets to it, and it's not difficult, but it is so flavorful and perfect. My great grandmother made it, my grandpa makes it, my mom makes it, and now I make it. Our methods may be a bit different; my mom's may be a little spicier than my grandpa's (that woman loves black pepper), but somehow they all end up evoking that same feeling of comfort, family, and nostalgia.

Penne Rigate with Meat Sauce & "Rigawta," Father's Day Idea #3

Yield: at least 4-6 servings

  • two 15oz cans of Hunt's tomato sauce (or 1 big can)
  • one 10.75 oz can of Hunt's tomato puree
  • ~1 lb of 93/7 lean ground beef (can be more or less depending on your preference of the amount of meat. It doesn't have to be lean either, but it's the least fattening so that's the one I like)
  • 1/2 of a yellow or white onion, finely chopped
  • ~6 cloves of garlic, minced (~2 tbsp)
  • ~3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (or enough to coat the bottom of your pot)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese (like the kind in the plastic bottles. I don't ever use true parmesan cheese and grate it myself in this recipe)
  • Penne pasta, whole wheat or regular (make as much as you want)
  • a couple pinches of salt
  • ~1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 can of water (I'll explain what that means in the directions)
  • fresh basil leaves for garnish (optional, but so yummy)
As you can see, many of the ingredients are approximated. I tried to measure while I was making it, but in all honesty, I never measure anything when I'm making sauce. I think by now I've mastered just eye-balling it. My mom and grandpa don't measure either. Basically, the amount of basil or oregano does not have to be exactly what I wrote above. A garlic clove less or more is perfectly okay, and you can certainly add as much parmesan cheese to your hearts desire.


In a large skillet, cook the ground beef. Drain the fat once meat is done.

While the meat is cooking, heat a large sauce pot on low-medium heat and add the olive oil. (Choose a pot that you have a lid for). Either chop the onion by hand, or use a food processor. I like using the food processor because I can get the onion to be very small. Add the onion to the olive oil and let is start to get soft. Add a generous pinch of salt to the onions & olive oil to help them sweat. Make sure it isn't sticking to the bottom and that you have enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot. While the onions are cooking for about 3 minutes, chop the garlic. I also like to use the food processor for this. Add the garlic to the onions and let both of them cook together for about 10 minutes.

*Warning: your kitchen will be smelling AMAZING at this point. Sometimes I wonder if there is any food that smells better than the scent of onions and garlic sauteeing with olive oil. So YUM!

Add 1/2 tsp dried oregano and 1/2 tsp dried basil to the onions and garlic, let the flavors blend for 2 minutes.

Add the ground beef to the pot and stir it together with onions, garlic, and herbs. Season with another pinch of salt and pepper. Add a 1/4 cup of water and let cook for 5 minutes.

Add in the two cans of the sauce and the puree and stir it all together. Because the sauce reduces a little bit as it cooks, you want to add some water. I don't like my sauce too thin, so I add about 1/2 a can of water to the pot. Just use one of the 15 oz cans from the sauce and eyeball it.

Stir in the grated cheese and add a generous pinch of black pepper. Add the other teaspoon of dried basil.

Turn heat up to medium until you see the sauce start to bubble, then turn heat back down to low-medium. You don't want the sauce to boil, but I like to turn it up to medium for a minute or two to help get it going. Put the lid 3/4 of the way on the pot. You want to leave some space for the steam to escape, but you don't want the sauce to splatter either. Let it cook for about 15 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, boil another pot of water for the pasta. Once the water is boiling, add a pinch of salt to season the water and add in your pasta. Cook according to the package directions.

Rinse and pat dry fresh basil leaves. To chiffonade them, stack the leaves on top one another and tightly roll them long ways (like a straw-shape). Using a sharp knife, make thin slices, slicing the opposite direction in which you rolled it. Just as if you were slicing a scallion. This will make thin ribbons of basil that you can garnish with.

Once pasta is al dente, drain and plate pasta. Ladle some sauce over the top, add a dollop of ricotta, and garnish with fresh basil.

"Mangiare, Mangiare!"

P.S.- I had to take most of the photos at night, and the artificial lighting in my kitchen is absolutely terrible. Therefore the quality may not be too great, but I wanted to include as many step-by-step photos as I could. Apologies in advance for yellowish tints and dark photos!

onions and garlic sauteeing in olive oil

lean ground beef cooking a separate pan

oregano, basil, garlic, onion, EVOO

add the meat to the pot and let the flavors blend


ricotta and sauce mixed together. delicious!!

I've been to countless Italian restaurants in my (almost) 21 years of living, and I have never had a meat sauce or tomato sauce as tasty and flavorful as this one. It's an absolute favorite!!!


I also want to say Happy Father's Day to my wonderful dad. There has never been a time when he wasn't there for me. All the decisions I've had to face, all of the times where I felt like I wanted to give up, he always showed support and love. He would do anything for his children, and is such a generous and caring person. I love you, Dad. You are truly an inspiration, a role model, and simply the best.


  1. hands down the best pasta and sauce I have ever tasted! I remember growing up always looking forward to dinner at your house :) To this day I rave about the Centola's "ziti & meat sauce"

  2. I loved seeing all the pics :) Great trip down memory lane! Im sure your dad enjoyed his delicious dinner! They were fun times had with Alysha when you girls would go back and forth between houses all day long :)


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