Having been raised outside of St. Louis, I had never heard of, much less tasted, Mostaccioli. Having first experienced Mostaccioli in St. Louis, I thought it was something someone made up because it was quick and cheap and assumed it was totally unrelated to any real Italian recipe or product. Since then, Al Gore invented the internet and Wikipedia can now educate me that Mostaccioli is simply penne pasta. However, in St. Louis, Mostaccioli is anything but that.
Mostaccioli is simply a St. Louis staple at any wedding, barbeque, big family dinner, graduation party, birthday party or any other occasion where a fairly large group assembles and someone (or some persons) is expected to feed them. As such, my original guess that it is something quick and cheap to make in large quantities, has a lot of truth to it. Quick and cheap have some negative connotations that go along with the words which extend, in general, to taste and quality.
The traditional St. Louis Mostaccioli served at any of these larger gatherings tends to be the pasta, cooked hamburger, some diced tomatoes, onion and celery, mixed with a watery tomato sauce devoid of any hint of spices. This was reason enough to pass the Mostaccioli on the buffet line for many years until I attended one birthday party where baked Mostaccioli was served. That delightful experience established the fact that it wasn’t the poor pasta to blame, it was the poor recipes that caused Mostaccioli to have the bad reputation in my mind. I know I’ll be hated locally for this, but here’s a tastier recipe for the St. Louis tradition.
The thing, to me, that’s sets Mostaccioli (St. Louis style) apart from other pasta dishes is the chunkiness of the ingredients. So when you cut up your ingredients (and there really isn’t a whole lot of cutting), make them chunky.
This is a double batch of sauce that is good for about a pound of pre-cooked pasta. I actually only used half of the sauce with a half pound of pasta when I tested the recipe.
1 29 oz. can tomato sauce
1 12 oz can tomato paste
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes (chunkiness)
about 4 stalks of celery, chopped (chunkiness)
about 1 large onion, chopped (chunkiness)
about 1 head of garlic, minced (strictly flavor)
about 3/4 to 1 lb. pound cooked chunkily ground beef
about 2 tablespoons basil
about 2 tablespoons parsley
about 1 tablespoon oregano
about 2 teaspoons milled pepper
about 1 tablespoon sugar
about 2 tablespoons olive oil
Cook the ground beef separately in a skillet. Add all the above and the cooked ground beef in a 4 quart sauce pan, stir, heat, stir for about 20-30 minutes on a slow simmer. Use a cover to minimize your stove clean up. Or not.
Cook the pasta according to package directions, but for about 2 minutes less than directed. Drain the pasta.
Add the cooked pasta to a microwave safe casserole dish. A 2 quart dish did it for 1/2 pound of pasta and half the sauce. Stir in half the sauce from above. Stir well to get all the pasta coated with sauce. Put about 8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese on top. Cover the casserole. Cook in the microwave about 2 to 3 minutes on high to melt the cheese. Let stand for about 5 minutes to help firm up the pasta and sauce mix. Dish out and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
Traditionally, in St. Louis, the Mostaccioli is not covered in mozzarella cheese and baked. The usual recipe ends with the mixing of the sauce with the pasta (remember quick and cheap?). If you’d like to try the traditional style, read below.
Where I differ from tradition (and the differences seem to work well for baked Mostaccioli) is; the sauce is thicker, the sauce is less chunky, the sauce is not as sweet. To modify the sauce for the traditional variety, use diced or crushed tomatoes instead of the tomato sauce, put a little water in the sauce if it seems too thick, add more sugar to make the sauce sweeter and use less spices.