One-Pot Wonders

Baked Meatballs with Orzo in Roasted Pepper Sauce

November  4, 2020
4.5 Stars
Photo by Anna Chwistek | Serving Dumplings
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

  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Serves 4
  • meatballs
  • 500 grams (1.1 pound) ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon each: smoked paprika, dried oregano, cumin
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or grated
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 3 tablespoons ricotta
  • also
  • 200 grams (7 ounces) orzo
  • 150 grams (5 ounces) grated mozzarella
  • 1 eggplant, sliced into small cubes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 250 milliliters (1 cup) chicken stock
  • olive oil
  • 1 small jar roasted bell peppers
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon each (seasoning): smoked paprika, dried oregano, dried thyme, dried basil, chili flakes
  • salt + black pepper
  • fresh thyme, for sprinkling
In This Recipe
  1. In a high speed blender add crushed tomatoes, stock, roasted peppers and tomato paste. Blend until smooth.
  2. Place the breadcrumbs and milk in a large bowl and mix well to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes. In the meantime, cut the eggplant, slice the shallot and mince the garlic. 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. In a large oven-proof skillet, heat 3 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Brown meatballs on all sides, remove from skillet.
  3. 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, then add in orzo. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in tomato sauce, salt, pepper and the seasoning. 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. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Add meatballs to the sauce, simmer for 5 minutes or until the orzo is al dente. Sprinkle with cheese and fresh thyme. Place in the oven until the mozzarella is melted and golden, about 10 minutes. Serve!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Anna Chwistek | Serving Dumplings
    Anna Chwistek | Serving Dumplings
  • lbscala13189
  • hhgf624
  • traciestamm

6 Reviews

lbscala13189 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?
Author Comment
Anna C. October 13, 2021
Thank you for your feedback. The recipe is fixed, I am sorry for the confusion!