Italian Regional Recipes Primi Piatti: Pasta, Rice, Soups

Rigatoni with Mini-Meatballs & Tomato Sauce

This classic dish of southern Italian tradition is perfect for a special meal, mostly during the Sunday lunch: it takes a bit more effort than your average pasta sauce, but makes up for it with a peculiar, rich, deeply satisfying taste.

Although many thinks this dish should be prepared with spaghetti (spaghetti with meatballs is not an Italian tradition), the perfect match for this sauce are instead Rigatoni or short pasta like Paccheri, Penne Rigate just to name a few.

These kinds of short pasta is thick enough to retain some bite, hollow inside so to gather as much tomato sauce as possible.

Serves: 4 | Preparation time: 40 mins | Cooking time: about 2 h

  • Tomato sauce: 500 g
  • Plum tomatoes: 400
  • Minced meat (veal or beef or pork): 400 g
  • Rigatoni: 350 g
  • Bread: 80 g
  • Parmigiano or Pecorino, grated: 60 g
  • Milk: to taste
  • Eggs: 2
  • Onions, small-sized: 1
  • Garlic clove, 1
  • Fresh Parsley, to chop: 1 sprig
  • Breadcrumbs: as needed
  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) for deep-frying: as needed
  • Basil, fresh: to taste
  • Salt and pepper: to taste


Start by preparing the mini-meatballs:

Finely chop the parsley and put it aside.

Peel the garlic clove and mince it.

Remove the crust from the bread and soak it in the milk for at least 5 minutes, then squeeze it in your hands to get rid of as much liquid as possible. Put in a bowl minced meat, bread, Parmesan or Pecorino, minced parsley, minced garlic, two eggs, a pinch of salt and pepper and use your hands to mix all the ingredients together.

Tip: Add more Parmesan or else some breadcrumbs if the mixture is too soft, or else the mini-meatballs will not hold their shape when cooking. Don’t exaggerate, though!

Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow plate. Use the meat and bread mixture to form small meatballs with a diameter of about 2 cm and roll them in the breadcrumbs until they’re thoroughly coated.

Heat up some Evoo in a pan and deep-fry the meatballs until they take on an even golden colour. Use a skimmer to remove them from the oil and place them on a plate lined with kitchen paper.

Proceed now to preparing the tomato sauce: 

Cut the onion in thin slices and stir-fry it in a pan with some drops of Evoo; when the onion softens, add the tomato sauce, plum tomatoes and some basil leaves. Season it to taste with salt and pepper, let it simmer for about 15 mins, then add the mini-meatballs to the sauce;

Cover with a lid and cook for about 30 minutes over low heat. If the sauce is still very liquid and hasn’t thickened, remove the lid and cook it for some minutes further.

Boil the pasta in salted water and drain it when it’s still al dente (means a cople of mins before the normal cooking time). Mix the sauce and the cooked pasta in a bowl; keep aside some of the sauce to pour over the pasta once served in each individual plate.

Serve topped with a generous handful of grated Parmesan or Pecorino.

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