A huge dish of meatballs, tomato sauce and bubbling cheese is about as welcoming and cheering a dish as I can think of. Making meatballs is a great family activity, but a sausage version is a brilliant timesaver – simply fry up some of your favourite sausages, cut into chunks and stir into the passata. Serves eight to 10.

1 litre passata
60ml red wine
500g dried penne
200g parmesan, grated
3 balls mozzarella, sliced
1 handful basil leaves, roughly torn
A little olive oil
40g butter

For the meatballs
600g minced beef
600g minced pork
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

50g parmesan, freshly grated
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A dash of lemon juice
A few sprigs of oregano, parsley and/or basil, chopped
Olive oil, for frying
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the béchamel sauce
1 litre whole milk
1 bay leaf
100g butter
100g plain flour

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs, and roll into small balls. In a large frying pan, heat a little oil and fry the meatballs in batches until nicely browned all over. As they are ready, transfer to a bowl containing the passata. When all the meatballs are browned, deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up any bits, and tip into the bowl.To make the béchamel, warm the milk with the bay leaf until barely simmering, then set aside and keep warm. In a separate pan, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook gently, stirring, for a couple of minutes, then slowly whisk in the warm milk. Simmer gently for five minutes, stirring, until thickened, and season to taste.Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling, salted water, and drain when still nicely al dente. Mix thoroughly with the béchamel.Grease a large casserole dish with olive oil. Spread a third of the pasta mixture over the bottom, sprinkle over a quarter of the parmesan, then ladle over a layer of meatballs and tomato sauce. Make a layer of mozzarella slices (one whole cheese's worth), top with some basil, season with black pepper and trickle on some olive oil. Repeat the layers twice more. Dot the final layer of mozzarella with a little butter and sprinkle on the last quarter of the parmesan. Cover tightly with foil.Bake for 30 minutes, remove the foil and cook for another 15–20 minutes, until the top is crusty and golden brown.


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