Rigatoni with Little Herbed Meatballs

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

The Mediterranean Kitchen

By Joyce Goldstein

Published 1998

  • About

Italian-Americans rightly embarrassed by the cliché of spaghetti and meatballs claim no one in Italy eats such stuff. But there is a meatball tradition in the Abruzzi, Apulia, and south Italy, where polpette appear in broth, layered in lasagne, and with pasta. What you don’t find are those tennis-ball-sized meatballs sitting on a bed of overcooked spaghetti dressed with tomato sauce. Anyone would be embarrassed by that mess. But wonderfully seasoned little meatballs combined with ricotta and a good tomato sauce makes a very satisfying pasta indeed.


  • ¾ pound ground beef
  • 1 medium yellow onion, grated or pureed in a food processor
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as oregano, thyme, sage, and parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup mild olive oil
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 3 cups Tomato Sauce
  • cups fresh ricotta cheese (see Note)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 6 tablespoons (or more to taste) freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Mix the ground beef, onions, garlic, mixed herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Shape into tiny meatballs, about 1 inch in diameter. Allow about 8 per person.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add as many meatballs as will fit without crowding and sauté until browned but still a bit rare in the center. Drain on paper towels and repeat with the remaining meatballs.

Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat the tomato sauce in a large saucepan. Add the meatballs and keep warm over very low heat.

Drain the pasta and transfer to a pasta bowl. Ladle the tomato sauce with meatballs over the top and add the ricotta in dollops. Quickly toss to combine and sprinkle with the parsley and Parmesan. Serve hot.