Make Ahead

Baked Pasta & Porchetta Meatballs

February 14, 2018
4 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Serves 6 to 8
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 Hazan's Tomato 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 whole dish can be assembled in advance, popped in the oven when you’re ready, and brought straight to the table for an unforgettable meal. —EmilyC

What You'll Need
  • 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
  • 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
  1. For the porchetta meatballs
  2. In a large bowl, combine pork, ricotta, garlic, orange zest, fennel seed, rosemary, parsley, Parmesan, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Mix together with your hands until well combined.
  3. Line a large sheet pan with foil and, using your hands, rub olive oil over the entire surface.
  4. Heat broiler and place top oven rack below heat source.
  5. 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.
  1. For rest of dish
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Meanwhile, heat oven to 400° F. 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.
  5. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sabine Gagnon
    Sabine Gagnon
  • Amy Kaufman
    Amy Kaufman
  • Mag Bednarczyk
    Mag Bednarczyk
  • EmilyC

Recipe by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.

16 Reviews

KEITH T. November 19, 2019
I made this last night and it was AMAZING! I usually love my own sauce but thought I would give this one a try. Who would have thought these few ingredients would have made something so delicious. I doubled the recipe to feed a large group and very little was leftover. I did use my emulsion blender to smooth out the sauce a bit, I think it made it taste rich and velvety. Definitely a make again.
EmilyC November 21, 2019
So glad that was a hit, Keith! Thanks so much for trying it!
Sabine G. October 16, 2019
The flavors of this dish are SERIOUSLY good. The meatballs are to die for. Orange zest and fennel are such a perfect pairing. The sauce is just quality ingredients shining through. The step about removing the fennel or taking it out and dicing it up--I just cut the fennel thinner to begin with and it was great. I'm lazy like that. I also noticed in step one- the addition of fennel seed was left out so don't forget that step! It's in the ingredient list but not in the steps. Will definitely be making this again. Perfect meal to prepare ahead and just pop in the oven when ready to eat!
EmilyC November 9, 2019
So glad you made and liked these, Sabine! And thanks for the note about the fennel seed—I added it to the instructions!
Amy K. December 1, 2018
Family loves meatballs. I had also forgotten how delicious Hazan's tomato sauce is. We blended it up with the fennel. Too messy to separate to dice. i didn't season it enough however but still delicious and feeds a crowd nicely.
EmilyC December 1, 2018
Wonderful! So glad you tried and liked this, Amy! Thanks for your note!
Morgan K. March 4, 2018
Could this be made ahead and frozen or reheated? Thanks!
EmilyC March 5, 2018
Hi Morgan: I haven’t tried reheating from frozen but I think it’d work just fine! With this and other baked pastas, I often assemble the whole pan, refrigerate, then bake off for dinner, which works well. Please circle back if you go any of these routes!
Connie C. February 28, 2018
How much ricotta do you add to meatball mix. You put some on top also.
EmilyC February 28, 2018
Hi Connie -- the meatballs call for 1 1/2 cups of ricotta. The recipe is divided into two parts: meatballs + rest of dish, so the ingredients and instructions for the porchetta meatballs are at the top!
Connie C. February 28, 2018
Thanks for getting back. Must not have read through correctly! Making for dinner party in two days..
EmilyC March 1, 2018
Great!! Hope you and your guests enjoy this!
Helena February 28, 2018
Oh, I really like pasta with mushrooms. Thanks for the great recipe!
EmilyC February 28, 2018
No mushrooms here--maybe your computer auto-corrected meatballs to mushrooms! : ) Hope you enjoy the dish!
Mag B. February 26, 2018
Any ideas to replace fennel? My husband is allergic and swells up like a poisoned pup...otherwise I love The recipe!
EmilyC February 26, 2018
Hi Mag: you could try a small amount (maybe a teaspoon) of crushed coriander seed. One of my favorite porchetta recipes (Luciana's Porchetta on this site) uses coriander, so I think it'd work nicely in the meatballs. For the Marcella sauce, you can use onion, per the original recipe. Hope you try and like it, and please report back if you try the recipe without the fennel!