One-Pot Wonders

Baked Meatballs with Orzo in Roasted Pepper Sauce

November  4, 2020
4.4
10 Ratings
Photo by Anna Chwistek | Serving Dumplings
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

These could probably be the best meatballs & pasta you’ll ever make. There’re so many hidden layers of flavors in this dish. The meatballs are tender but firm, made with ground beef and ricotta. Then drenched in a rich eggplant & roasted bell pepper tomato sauce together with the orzo. Good news! You only need one pan to cook the entire dish.
To nail this dish, we add ricotta and softened bread crumbs to the meat. This way the meatballs will never come out dry and you’ll get a softer, but still toothsome meatball. We mix them with our hands, but be sure you don’t over mix. The shorter you mix and form the balls, the lighter they will be. If you overwork the meatballs, they’ll get tough.
When all the meatballs are formed, we brown them in olive oil, then transfer to a plate and throw the chopped shallot and garlic into the pan. Let them sweat a bit, then add the eggplant. It will add a nice texture and flavor to the sauce without dominating it too much.
Now we also add orzo, and pour in the tomato sauce mixed with roasted bell peppers, some tomato paste and chicken broth. The roasted bell peppers are a must. I used a jar, so no effort, but this is what makes the sauce taste so delicious. It adds a subtle sweetness you can’t get with any other ingredient. The tomato paste gives the sauce a perfect concentrated flavor together with the crushed tomatoes so you’ll have a rich and a pretty smooth sauce. The depth of flavor it adds is almost like you’ve been letting it cook for hours.

We cook the orzo in that flavorful sauce, then transfer the meatballs back into the pan. As finishing touch, we add mozzarella and bake everything a couple of minutes in the oven. And there you have it…the best meatballs ever. Yep, and only one pan. —Anna Chwistek | Serving Dumplings

Ingredients
  • Meatballs
  • 3 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1.1 pounds ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon each: smoked paprika, dried oregano, cumin
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or grated
  • 3 tablespoons ricotta
  • Orzo and sauce
  • 1 can (14 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 jar (10 oz) roasted bell peppers, drained
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small eggplant, diced
  • 7 ounces dry orzo
  • salt + black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon each: smoked paprika, dried oregano, dried thyme, dried basil, chili flakes
  • 5 ounces grated mozzarella
  • fresh thyme, for sprinkling
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. In a high speed blender add crushed tomatoes, broth, roasted peppers and tomato paste. Blend until smooth.
  2. For the meatballs, place the breadcrumbs and milk in a large bowl and mix well to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, cut the eggplant, slice the shallot and mince the garlic.
  4. Add the beef, egg, garlic, ricotta, seasoning, salt and pepper to the breadcrumbs. Mix just until combined, using your hands. Roll the meat into balls.
  5. In a large oven-proof skillet, heat 3 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Brown meatballs on all sides, remove from skillet.
  6. In the same skillet, add shallot and garlic, cook for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add 3 tbsp olive oil, then the eggplant cubes. Cook for 5 minutes, and add in orzo. Stir and cook for 1 minute.
  7. Stir in prepared tomato sauce, salt, pepper, paprika, oregano, thyme, basil and chili flakes. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on very low heat for 8 minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly. Stir from time to time with a wooden spoon. If needed, add a little bit of water.
  8. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 400°F.
  9. Add meatballs to the sauce, simmer for 5 minutes or until the orzo is al dente. Sprinkle with mozzarella and fresh thyme. Place in the oven until the mozzarella is melted and golden, about 10 minutes. Serve!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • McKenzieMRoss
    McKenzieMRoss
  • AmandaQ
    AmandaQ
  • Emily Adamson
    Emily Adamson
  • Sierra Scott-Anderson
    Sierra Scott-Anderson
  • Anna Chwistek | Serving Dumplings
    Anna Chwistek | Serving Dumplings

15 Reviews

McKenzieMRoss November 13, 2022
I made this tonight and it was delicious—a wonderful cold-weather meal! The sauce has a complexity and depth of flavor that reads more Mediterranean than strictly Italian to me, which I loved—a fresh riff on spaghetti and meatballs. I saw that another reviewer used lamb in place of beef, and I imagine it must have been delicious with that twist!

I agree with other reviewers that the recipe could be MUCH more clearly written. There’s no discernible sequence to the ingredient list and it lacks some key details. Exactly how big is a “small jar” of roasted peppers, pray tell? Should I drain the liquid from them?

Other minor gripes:
1. I feel hoodwinked that this recipe tempted me with the allure a one-pot meal, yet required me to drag out my blender. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that’s a breach of the sacred one-pot contract.
2. To avoid the string of obscenities I threw in as extra seasoning, do yourself a favor and start this recipe in a Dutch oven, deep sauté pan, low-sided stock pot, or similar—rather than a skillet. The average “large skillet” is 10 to 12 inches in diameter, and mine is the latter, yet it was nowhere near large enough to accommodate the volume at play here. You’ll want at least three inches of depth on whatever pan you choose, and higher sides certainly won’t hurt you as long as you maintain a wide base to get a good sauté on the eggplant and accommodate the meatballs when they’re added. I transferred into my Le Creuset before the eggplant was even finished cooking. (The eggplant was a fairly good sized specimen, but certainly not gigantic; a measurement for the overall quantity required there would be helpful addition.) After that, it was smooth sailing!
3. I’m not sure if others are seeing the same thing, but when I view the recipe, there are strange, small, graphical ads that are interspersed here and there among the ingredients on the list, making it (even more) challenging to parse exactly what items belong in which section. This isn’t something I’ve noticed on Food52 before, and I dearly hope it’s not going to become the standard! It hampers the cooking process and mars the look of otherwise stylish, user-friendly web pages.

All in all: Give this recipe a shot—but give it a very thorough read first!
 
meowmix November 10, 2022
Amazing! I subbed ground lamb and it was so delicious. We loved every bite! 100% will make this again!
 
AmandaQ October 19, 2022
The idea behind this is great! As a professional recipe developer, I reworked this so I could actually follow/cook. Here's my version below (omitted orzo), hopefully it's easier to follow:

Meatballs:
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
2 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons ricotta
1 # ground beef
1 egg
1 teaspoon each: smoked paprika, dried oregano, cumin
1 garlic clove, minced or grated

Sauce:
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock
12 oz jar roasted bell peppers, drained
14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes
Pinch salt

Assembly:
olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large eggplant, peeled + diced into ½” cubest
salt + black pepper
5 oz grated mozzarella
fresh thyme, for sprinkling


1. Place the breadcrumbs and milk in a large bowl and mix well to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes.
2. Add the beef, egg, garlic, ricotta, cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, salt and pepper to the breadcrumbs. Mix just until combined, using your hands. Roll the meat into 2-tbsp size balls.
3. In a large oven-proof skillet, heat 3 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Brown meatballs on all sides, remove from skillet. This may need to be done in batches as to not crowd the pan.
4. While the meatballs sear, in a high speed blender add crushed tomatoes, stock, roasted peppers and tomato paste. Blend until smooth and set aside.
5. In the same skillet, add shallot and garlic, cook for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add 3 tbsp olive oil, then the eggplant cubes. Cook for 10 minutes.
6. Whisk in tomato sauce, salt, pepper. Nestle the meatballs in. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on very low heat for 8 minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly. Test meatballs for doneness.
7. Once meatballs are cooked through, sprinkle with cheese and fresh thyme. Turn on the broiler. Place in the oven until the mozzarella is melted and golden, about 1-2 minutes.
 
Brenda October 30, 2022
Thanks Amanda! Certainly much easier to follow but you omitted the orzo? Kind of a key component imho. How would you recommend adding it back in?
Thanks again!
 
AmandaQ November 9, 2022
Correct! I mentioned the orzo omission (I rarely eat pasta at home). Since orzo takes about 7-9 min to cook, I'd add it in in step 6, after whisking in the sauce but before adding the meatballs. It'd probably be a good call to add about 1/2 cup chicken/veg stock or water in with the tomato sauce as well. Hope this helps!
 
Emily A. October 18, 2022
I was really excited about this recipe, in fact started sharing it with friends before I made it. I read all the other comments about the ingredients and directions being out of order and I agree, it's written in an odd way but knowing that I was okay going into it. I thought this would be a super rich flavorful powerhouse dinner, but honestly it was all very bland and disappointing. I didn't save the leftovers.
 
McKenzieMRoss November 13, 2022
Emily, is it possible that you left the second round of spices out of the sauce? I found that part of the recipe to be worded in a confusing way and nearly skipped over them, myself.
 
Desiree D. January 26, 2022
Excellent weeknight meal, even though I messed up and added the eggplant to the meatballs, highly recommend!
 
Sierra S. December 9, 2021
This is such a tasty, cozy, dish that my family loves! We used frozen/defrosted meatballs added in toward the last 5 minutes of simmering then added dollops of cottage cheese before sprinkling with mozzarella and popping in the oven.
 
lisamulroo November 23, 2021
I did this recipe with my usual meatballs. It was very good, but I would halve or do 2/3 the herbs next time because it did come out quite strong.
 
hhgf624 October 29, 2021
I made this last night and it was delicious! I left out the eggplant because I'm not a fan, and the sauce was perfect. No critiques on the flavor! One critique, as another commenter stated: the ingredient list and recipe are not laid out/written logically at all. The directions seem like they should be separated into more than three steps. I had to go back several times and re-read things. Please consider updating.
 
traciestamm October 18, 2021
I liked the flavor profile and one pot ease of this dish. However, two items of critique: 1) it took longer to put together than the 40min stated, primarily because I needed to brown the meatballs in two batches. Also 2) the ingredients as written today are listed entirely out of order. This makes it cumbersome to read and work through the recipe. Both are easy fixes and I hope Food52 will consider revising.
 
David H. October 14, 2021
Made this tonight. Had to sub in fideo as I was out of orzo but this dish is quite good and will make repeat appearances on my table.
 
Kenneth W. October 13, 2021
There are some ambiguities in your recipe - listed under the meatballs section you have smoked paprika, dried oregano, and cumin. Are these the "seasoning" you refer to? And if so, what is the "seasoning" referred to in Step 3? And what size can of crushed tomatoes - 14.5/15 oz. or 28 oz?
 
Anna C. October 13, 2021
Thank you for your feedback. The recipe is fixed, I am sorry for the confusion!