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Pasta Christmas Present

Surprise your loved ones with a different kind of present this year -- a pasta casserole that looks just like a gift-wrapped box! We use parsley and beets to dye fresh pasta sheets to create the wrapping for a package filled with cheesy, creamy meatball pasta. Complete it with a bow on top.
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  • Level: Advanced
  • Total: 3 hr 15 min (includes resting time)
  • Active: 1 hr 10 min
  • Yield: 6 servings
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Ingredients

1 bunch fresh parsley, large stems removed (2 1/2 to 3 lightly packed cups)

6 large eggs

1 medium red beet (about 6 ounces), peeled and quartered

1 pound 00 flour, plus more for dusting and kneading

Kosher salt

8 ounces ground beef

2 tablespoons breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons milk 

3/4 cup grated Parmesan

3 cloves garlic, grated

Freshly ground black pepper 

1 cup marinara sauce

One 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach

One 8-ounce package shredded mozzarella (about 2 cups)

3 ounces penne pasta (about 1 scant cup)

1/4 cup heavy cream 

Olive oil, for the pasta

Directions

Special equipment:
a pasta maker; a 7-inch square springform pan
  1. Combine the parsley and 2 of the eggs in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to a measuring cup and add enough water to make 3/4 cup puree. Rinse out the blender.
  2. Combine the beets and 3 of the eggs in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth. Set aside.
  3. Put 6 ounces of the flour and a large pinch of salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the parsley puree and, using your fingertips or a fork, start to mix the flour into the puree. Once it is all combined, turn it out onto a flour-dusted work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.
  4. Put the remaining 10 ounces flour and a large pinch of salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the beet puree and, using your fingertips or a fork, start to mix the flour into the puree. Once it is all combined, turn it out onto a flour-dusted work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes (see Cook's Note). Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.
  5. Combine the beef with the breadcrumbs, milk, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, two-thirds of the grated garlic, the remaining egg, 1 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Form the mixture into 12 meatballs. Put the meatballs in a medium saucepan with the marinara sauce and 1 cup water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until the meatballs are cooked and the sauce is reduced by half, about 20 minutes. 
  6. Prepare the spinach according to the package instructions. Mix in the remaining grated garlic, 1 cup of the mozzarella, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. 
  7. Prepare the penne according to the package instructions. Combine the penne with the heavy cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt and remaining mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan in a medium bowl. 
  8. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Bring 2 large stockpots of salted water to a boil and add a generous drizzle of olive oil to each. Prepare 2 bowls of ice water.
  9. Working quickly so the dough doesn't get too dry or discolor, cut the parsley dough in half and roll each half through settings 1 through 4 of a pasta roller, ending on setting 4. 
  10. Cut the beet dough in half, wrapping up half of the dough for another use (see Cook's Note). Cut the remaining beet dough in half again and roll each half through settings 1 through 4 of the pasta roller, ending on setting 4. 
  11. Using a pizza wheel, cut the parsley pasta sheets into three 20-by-1-inch strips and four 5-inch squares. Cut each beet pasta sheet into a 20-by-5-inch piece, so you have 2 pieces total.  
  12. Slowly lower the parsley pasta pieces into one stockpot of boiling water, making sure they don't stick to themselves. Cook until the pasta is just cooked through (it will take on a firm texture), about 30 seconds, then immediately drain the pasta. Submerge the pasta in one of the bowls of ice water until completely cold. Remove from the water, liberally coat with oil and set aside. Repeat with the beet dough in the other stockpot of boiling water and the other bowl of ice water. 
  13. Lay 2 of the long strips of parsley pasta in a 7-inch square springform pan so they cross in the middle on the bottom of the pan like ribbons of a present, letting the ends hang evenly over the sides. Neatly line 1 of the pieces of beet pasta across the center of the springform pan, then lay the second piece of beet pasta in the opposite direction, letting the ends hang evenly over the sides. Evenly spread the penne mixture over the beet pasta and top with 2 of the parsley pasta squares, overlapping the pasta as needed. Evenly spread the spinach mixture on top and top with the remaining parsley pasta squares. Evenly spread the meatballs and sauce on top. Fold the hanging beet pasta strips up and over to enclose the filling. Fold the hanging parsley pasta strips up and over to meet in the middle. Tie a bow with the remaining parsley pasta strip and arrange it on top.
  14. Bake the pasta present until hot throughout and the edges of the bow are light golden, about 30 minutes. Let rest for 15 minutes, then unmold and serve. 

Cook’s Note

Because beets are all different shapes and sizes and have different water content, they might yield different doughs. If your dough is too loose, add more flour a couple tablespoons at a time until it's not sticky. Wrap the unused beet dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days.