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Author Notes: Meet porchetta meatballs. They’re seasoned with fennel seed, orange zest, garlic, rosemary, and parmesan, then broiled on a sheet pan until golden and crispy--so basically all of the flavors of porchetta in a fraction of the time. They are delicious served any which way, but here I nestle them up with pasta, Marcella sauce, and lots of cheese and bake them until the cheese is melty and the pasta is a little browned. Marcella sauce is absolutely perfect as is, but for this dish, I like to swap the onion with fennel to reinforce the fennel flavor in the meatballs. The recipe can easily be halved to serve 3 to 4 people, but I highly recommend making the full dish so you can enjoy leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. None of it will go to waste, trust me. —EmilyC
Serves 6 to 8
For the porchetta meatballs
- 2 pounds ground pork
- 1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (from 1 large or 2 small oranges)
- 2 teaspoons fennel seed, lightly crushed or chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
- 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing pan
- In a large bowl, combine pork, ricotta, garlic, orange zest, rosemary, parsley, Parmesan, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Mix together with your hands until well combined.
- Line a large sheet pan with foil and, using your hands, rub olive oil over the entire surface.
- Heat broiler and place top oven rack below heat source.
- Shape pork mixture into small meatballs, about 2 tablespoons each or 1 1/2-inches wide, and place them on the foil-lined sheet pan. It’s fine if they’re close together or touching. Drizzle the meatballs with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Broil meatballs about 8 to 10 minutes, flipping them once, until they’re browned on both sides and cooked through. Remove from oven; cover with foil to keep warm.
For rest of dish
- 2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes
- 8 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced lengthwise into six to eight pieces
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 pound pasta, such as penne or medium shells
- 1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta
- 1 1/2 cups cubed or shredded mozzarella
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
- Put whole tomatoes in a saucepan (tip: use kitchen shears to cut the tomatoes into small pieces once they’re in the pan) and add the butter, fennel, and a few pinches of salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it is thickened to your liking, stirring from time and time.
- Taste and correct for salt. Before using, either remove the fennel and save for another use, or remove, finely chop it, and return it to the sauce.
- Meanwhile, heat oven to 400F. Cook pasta until al dente (according to package directions) in a large pot of salted water. Drain (do not rinse) and add the pasta to the sauce, mixing well to combine. Gently fold in meatballs and mozzarella.
- Transfer pasta and meatballs to a baking dish; distribute in an even layer. Add spoonfuls of the ricotta evenly over the pasta, pressing the mounds down into the sauce a bit. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and the pasta is lightly browned on top.