baked rigatoni with tiny meatballs

Did you hear a resounding whine/sigh/moan the volume of the entire Eastern seaboard? Because there’s a fresh foot of snow outside for the 200th time this year and friends, I love snow. I get so excited when it is going to snow. But this? Lacks charm, likely because the first day of this anticipated four day storm was three to four inches of mucky slush.

sleet day

Anyway, I still maintain that complaining about the weather is dull, thus if any one good thing can come of this, it is that pasta, meatball and cream sauce season just got extended by at least another weekend. After the excitement over Marcella Hazan last month, I wanted to share a recipe from her on the opposite end of the spectrum, sort of the Italian version of Italian-American baked ziti. Except, the ziti is rigatoni, which she insists holds up better to being cooked twice (plus has large hollows that nicely slurp up their surroundings). The red sauce is a white sauce. The cheese is subtle and oh, there are wee meatballs scattered everywhere.

about to make the meatballstiny meatballs, one dredged in flourshaking off excess flourbrowning the wee meatballs

I loved her head notes on these meatballs, by the way, where she said it used to startle students to learn that meatballs and spaghetti were not an authentic Italian dish. Except conceptually, she says, meatballs are “undoubtedly” Italian, what is exclusive to this side of the Atlantic is those colossal ones (she should see the one — the size of my baby’s head, and if possible, more delicious — I had at Gramercy Tavern a few weeks ago!) packed with herbs and buried in tomato sauce.

tiny browned meatballs

I worry that this is blasphemous — this is Marcella Hazan, after all, surely any imperfections are user error, yes? — but I have to admit that this dish wasn’t all that I had hoped it would be. Maybe it’s not the best version of itself, maybe it needs to self-actualize? (Oh god, can you all tell I watched Oprah that day?) Less passive aggressively, I’d approach this differently next time, adjust it to my American excess-demanding tastes — more bechamel, more cheese and more seasoning. More “glue”. More lushness. These are righteous causes, yes?

rigatoni + tiny meatballs, unbaked
baked rigatoni, not so gluey

One year ago: Key Lime Coconut Cake
Two years ago: Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges
Three years ago: Red Split Lentils with Cabbage, Indian Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes and Cucumber Scallion Raita

Baked Rigatoni with Tiny Meatballs
Adapted, no doubt blasphemously, from Marcella Hazan

Serves 8 but I think Americans would serve this to 4 to 6

When I first realized that this “baked ziti” lacked a tomato sauce, I had my doubts. But then Alex said “it would be like Italian mac and cheese!” and then, predictably, it had my full attention. Although the original dish didn’t yield anything so sauced and cheesy as the mac-and-cheese we know, I’ve upped the sauce, cheese and seasoning for a baked pasta that is more lush, but surprisingly un-heavy. This is still a subtle baked pasta.

There’s a lot of room for tweaking here: If you’re certain you won’t be happy without a veritable oozing of cheese, you could tear up some fresh mozzarella and toss it in with the dish before you baked it. If you cannot bring yourself to eat this unless it contains one form of vegetable matter, I imagine a bit of cooked spinach, steamed broccoli bits or even eensy cubes of roasted carrot and parsnip would work in here.

For the meatballs:
1/4 cup milk
1 slice good white bread trimmed of its crust
1 pound ground pork (or beef, or lamb, or a mix of the three)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)
1 egg
Black pepper in a grinder
1 cup flour, spread on a plate
Vegetable oil for frying

For the bèchamel:
4 1/2 cups milk
6 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

To finish:
1 pound rigatoni
3/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup milk

Make the meatballs: Heat the milk, but don’t let it simmer. Tear pieces of the white bread into it and let it soak for 5 minutes, before picking it up with your hand, squeezing it of excess milk and putting it in a large mixing bowl.

Add the pork, garlic, parsley, grated cheese, egg, salt, and pepper. Combine all the ingredients with a fork until they are evenly mixed (or “amalgamated”, as Hazan so charmingly says).

Pinch off a small lump of meat, about the size of a raspberry and roll the lump into a ball in the palm of your hands. (Hazan says if you are good with your hands, you can try making 3 balls at a time. It turns out, I am not.) When all the meatballs have been shaped (a process that took less time than I had expected, just the same), roll them in the flour, 15 to 20 at a time. Place the floured meatballs in a strainer and shake it smartly to dispose of excess flour.

Put enough vegetable oil in a skillet to rise 1/4-inch up the sides of the pan and turn on the heat to medium high. When the oil is hot, put as many meatballs in the skillet as will fit without overcrowding. Brown them until they form a nice crust all around. When one batch is done, transfer it with a slotted spoon to a platter covered with paper towels to drain and do the next batch until all are done.

Make the bèchamel: Heat the milk over low heat in a saucepan until it forms a ring of pearly bubbles, but do not let it break into a boil. In a larger saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, add the flour and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or flat whisk until combined. Add 2 tablespoons of milk at a time to the flour and butter mixture, stirring steadily and thoroughly, then repeat through 8 additions. At this point, you can add the milk in 1/2 cup increments, stirring constantly to keep it smooth. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir the sauce until it thickens.

Assemble the dish: Cook the rigatoni in a pot of well salted water. Drain when still al dente, and combine immediately in bowl with two-thirds of the bèchamel, half the grated cheese, and all the meatballs.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heavily butter a 9×13 baking dish. (Original recipe calls for a 12-inch springform, which I am sure would be lovely but is not the commonest U.S. cake pan.) Spread the rigatoni and meatball mixture in the pan, leveling it off with a spatula. Pour the milk over the dish, the spread the rest of bèchamel on top, and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese.

Place in the uppermost level of the preheated oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until a golden brown crust forms on top.

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262 comments on baked rigatoni with tiny meatballs

  1. Kalena

    That looks delish! I may just have to make this one tonight. Thanks for the inspiration, Deb! (BTW – as I type I am making the carmelized onion and cauliflower tart…mmmm)

    1. Michelle Balatbat

      I want to make this dish and also use the meatballs in a lasagna. My friend’s mother in-law, who is Italian, makes her lasagna with tiny meatballs.

  2. Interesting! I always thought that those colossal sized meatballs were Italian style. I do prefer the meatballs portioned the way you have it in this recipe. This may not be its best version, but I am sure your tenacious testing will ferret some good modifications soon.

  3. I love meatballs but I’m really conflicted on the cream sauce. Although since I frequently make mini meatballs and toss them with pesto I break tradition all the time. Oh and I don’t know if you’ve seen the recipe for Crack Pie since it retails for $44 in NYC I thought I should share. I recently made it and next time, I am going to make it as a bar cookie (double the crust in a 9×13 with the same amount of filling). The only time I found the ratio of crust:filling was on the edges.,0,5228045.story

    1. deb

      Deanna — I am laughing at how many people are sharing these recipes with me! I appreciate it. I also live very close to the bakery and have not yet been enthralled with anything I tried there. Very sweet, goopy stuff. Maybe I’ll tweak a recipe to my liking soon…

  4. Rhonda

    Hmmm. We’re having fish tonight but this looks so good. Tiny meatballs, huge pasta. I made the buttered tomato sauce last night, soooo good on a cold rainy day. Maybe use that as an aside to this, so we can have our fruity vegetable? It’s really good on toasted french bread. We have sunshine, yeah, until tomorrow. I really really need to come hold your baby. How do you ever get anything done?

  5. Kat

    I’m jealous of your snowfall. I live in Toronto, Canada, where allegedly we have eskimos, polar bears and ice floats, and we’ve seen precisely three days of snow this “winter.” Bring it to me!!

  6. Susan

    I can totally see this dish with spinach or veggies in it. I made a lasagna yesterday and mixed the meat layer with a bean and veggie assortment and it was fabulous. I love the tiny meatballs, too. That started with the chicken meatball recipe you presented here. I’ve made meatballs that way ever since.

    Speaking of Momofuko, I just copied a recipe for their Compost Cookies that I found somewhere online. I loved the idea of pretzels and potato chips or goldfish inside a toffee flavored cookie dough. Sweet and salty grabs me everytime!

    1. deb

      Jenny C — I was a vegetarian for a long time but I never once worked with tempeh or smart ground. So, if you know of other meatball recipes that have used either successfully as a swap, it is likely that these may too.

  7. anna

    Deb, it’s so interesting that you should mention Marcella Hazan and our American tastes. It seems that our proclivities do tend towards gluey and saucy with quantity, at least… I just made some of MH’s ragu bolognese today and was marvelling at the fact that most American recipes use twice the amount of the ragu per pound of pasta than MH or true Bolognese might. In any case, she also mentions in her text that the Italians (maybe just those in Emilia Romagna, because I am almost certain to have seen it on some menu in Italy) don’t mix spaghetti with ragu bolognese, but rather, tagliatelle (fresh, of course). So I will serve it, with a judicious amount of sauce and some fresh fettucine from Raffetto’s. Thanks for the beautiful photos and delicious looking meatballs… I don’t have the patience for it, but am glad to live vicariously.

  8. I’ve never really enjoyed cheesy sauces on my pasta. (I know, I’m the only one!) I’m thinking of just making the tiny meatballs and throwing them into a brothy soup with some greens and chopped carrots. I’ll report back if I end up doing it

  9. Kathy in Madison

    The pasta looks delicious, and we, too, are sick of winter in the midwest – but this crack pie distracts me. I’d not heard of it until just now, but it looks like it’s making the rounds on the web. Looks to me like it’s quite similar to St. Louis’ gooey butter cake!

  10. Kat

    I could go for that, but making meatballs intimidate me. They seem simple enough, but I made a complete mess of them before. Sadly, it appears that I completely fail at playdough balls.

    Oh god, that baby…

  11. Wow that does look like a very rich pasta dish indeedy! Something that would stick to my thighs, tummy and BOTTOM for sure! Too bad I can’t hide under winter sweaters FOREVER!

  12. Erin

    Oh, Deb. How do I love Saturday afternoons, sitting down at my computer to see what lovely food item you have added to your blog. Here, in Southern Cali it does not snow (except I think twice in the whole history of weather record keeping) but we have had an actual winter time of much rain. This dish looks divine and perfect for a rainy day such as today!

  13. Lilster

    Hmm. Here’s what I might do for the meatballs that might add oomph and get the hint of the tomato in — finely dice a small onion, saute in a little olive oil and tablespoon or so of tomato paste. Let it get all nice and golden, cool, and then add to the meat mixture. I do something like this all the time for all kinds of meatballs. I might also add in bit of a melty cheese to the sauce mix — fontina, shredded mozzarella (I probably wouldn’t use fresh for this), very mild cheddar etc. Not so much that it overpowers the dish into a gooey mess, but a little bit of goo is so nice in these kinds of dishes.

  14. Yum! One of the first meals I made as a kid was lasagne with “beach-camel sauce” – felt sooo gourmet (and appropriate since we were holidaying on the beach…)!
    ps you left out the ‘tbs’ when describing how to add milk to the beach-camel :) and there is an accidental bechamel st in your 2nd last paragraph. I bet baby spewed at an inopportune editing moment!

  15. I just had (and wrote about) a very similar experience making mario batali’s baked rigatoni with eggplant. I felt awful and oh so typically american that i just needed more sauce, more cheese, more oomph. It was tasty, but not all I had hoped for as a comforting snowy day baked pasta, which lets just face it, is all about oozy, gooey, saucy cheesiness. I served it with extra sauce and a dollop of fresh riccotta, which did the trick.

  16. jenny

    Speaking of Marcella Hazan and snow, you should explore minestrone soup! I’ve really experimented with soups this winter, even being in Austin, and my favorite hands down, is Alice Water’s Winter Minestrone from The Art of Simple Food. It is incredible. Marcella describes the base of the soup (and most Italian dishes) – a soffritto – very well in her fundamentals section in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. All of the vegetables create a complex flavor and it is just, so, good. I haven’t tried Marcella’s minestrone but I’m sure it’s just as hearty and warming.

    In the meantime, I need to make more baked pasta dishes!

  17. Ryan

    I just found your website this week and am absolutely in LOVE with it. Thank you so much for everything you do. My list of “to make” has grown considerably. I can’t wait to try this one!

  18. Apparently New England keeps not getting the memo about snow, because we’ve had rain the last five days, and I am going so insanely stir-crazy.

    I think I have to make this, because TINY MEATBALLS? Adorable!

  19. Rach

    My husband and I just made this dish. Once he saw that you had a new posting and it was “italian” or anything with “noodles” he told me he was making dinner. :) Well the dish was a bit out of his cooking range since there was alot going on so I became his sous chef. I did add a bit more garlic though since it seemed a bit boring. Also we did add mozarella and some percorino romano for more cheese. Unfortunately I didn’t have any dishes of the size needed- so we had a laughing anxious moment trying to fit all of the meatballs and noodles into the biggest baking dish I have! As I type its in the oven baking and the cheese oozing. It smells absolutely yummy too!

  20. I fall in love with any thing mini (mini meatballs?!). I’m totally on board for this recipe. After a week of intense yoga training (I’m nuts), I deserve a mac and cheese like dish. Clearly I’m not a total yogi yet.

  21. I agree about the bechamel – too much dairy in proportion to the fat/flour. It still looks really yummy, but, kind of watered down and not very clingy. At least for this American who’s obsessed with goopy mac and cheese!

    1. deb

      SoupAddict — Yes, I struggled with the proportion too because I always use 1 cup milk : 1 tablespoon butter : 1 tablespoon flour. But I believe the sauce is intended to be thinner, lighter. It may just not be what we’re used to.

  22. Abigail

    Having grown up in New Hampshire, I’ve learned that moping and complaining about weather is energy better spent elsewhere because really, what the heck do people expect anyone to do about it? As mere organisms crawling across the earth (or stuck living in the climate zone we’re in) all we can do is what humans do (or are supposed to do) best: adapt. (Though I’m still baffled at how many people think they can still go 60-70 on a snowy highway.)

    This looks absolutely divine. I think I could even enjoy it quite well without the typically-Western gooey-ness. (Though I sometimes purposefully dish out extra sauce just so I can sop it up with my bread at the end.)

  23. Jean C.

    Made this tonight with my boyfriend, absolutely amazing! (I did throw some mozzarella on top, because we’re cheese-hungry Americans)

    How well do you think this would freeze (pre-baked)? Boyfriend’s thinking of making several for his parents to keep around.

  24. I had a similar dish (timballo – layers of fresh lasagne noodles, tiny meatballs, pecorino, bechamel) at a local suburban Italian restaurant on Thanksgiving day. It was absolutely yummy. Can’t wait to try this.

  25. OMG it looks so delicious!!

    I’m surprised that you were a little bit disappointed with it, Marcella’s meatballs are the best meatballs I’ve ever done, although the recipe on the book asks for olive oil(1 tbsp), finely chopped onions(1 tbsp) and a pinch of ground nutmeg(really makes a difference).

    I have done baked Rigatoni with meatballs and loved it, but I did the meatballs in tomato sauce and then mixed in the béchamel before putting it together with the rigatoni and baking it.

    Your baby is just SO cute…and by the way with a baby you can still cook all those wonders?? You’re my hero!!!

  26. Sorry it wasn’t what you expected but those meatballs look just so darn adorable!!! I could imagine eating them with mini pasta too – hehe, a mini feast… I feel a dinner party theme forming.

  27. Nuj

    Hi, long time reader but first time commenter here (why am I nervous about this!? Ahh!) I just made the cocoa brownies and easiest baked mac-n-cheese, and both were great, so I can’t wait to try this new recipe. I just wanted to say thanks for maintaining and updating your blog, even though your life must be crazy busy right now. Please know that you are much appreciated :-)

  28. i have been loving your site for a while now and i’ve been absolutely THRILLED with every recipe i have tried from you. i have my second rye bread baking right now (made one yesterday and fell in love – making one for my aunt now).

    this recipe = ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. mozzerella cheese really does work here. we’re BIG cheese people, so i used 1/2 cup parm and 1/2 shredded mozz. and making those meatballs – oh my god, so cute!

    thanks for sharing, as always!

    ps: i agree, DEFINITELY an italian mac and cheese…so so so delish (yeah, i need to stop talking :p)

  29. Kiley

    I haven’t even read the post yet (I am visiting today to dig up your Indian dal recipe for dinner tonight) but I had to comment on the Sleet Day photo. I’m in photography course right now so I am looking a lot at movement and exposure. This shot struck me and really capturing where and when you are.

  30. han

    The awful weather in NYC seems to mean more posts for us readers! And for those of us in hot humid climes, struggling through a particularly tough summer (I;m an Aussie girl), it is lovely to imagine being able to turn on our ovens again one day!

  31. kristin

    just made this tonight for a date night with one of my best girl friends– DELICIOUS! although next time i think i might forego the meatballs (they were delicious, but kind of heavy with all the cream) and instead replace with spinach as you suggested. Thanks for the recipe! :)
    PS. It’s sunny here in CA, although there’s a tsunami warning on the coast (i live across the street from the beach) as a result of the earthquake in Chile.

  32. I don’t know which is cuter. The bowl you tossed the pasta in or the little meatballs which make the rigatoni look massive! I think I’d love the spinach version, or maybe just some ham tossed through. But to satisfy my curiosity, I’m gonna try it with the little meatballs first.

  33. Judy

    no matter what time of day (or night, i’m on u.k. time) I read your website….I IMMEDIATELY want to eat whatever you are cooking. Morning, noon, night – doesnt matter. Rigatoni for breakfast – why, yes!

  34. Suzy

    I’m a huge fan of less sauce, and I adore bechamel in anything. Many thanks for bringing this one around again!!! However, much as I appreciate Marcella’s invaluable scholarship (AND one of the all-time best recipes in the WORLD, Pork Loin Braised In Milk), she’s not my favorite cookbook author to READ. It’s a very different kind of book, but let me mention the Tornabenes’ little gem, 100 Ways To Be Pasta. *sigh* Now Sicily has been added to my list of Places I Must Get To. When, that is, I start getting anywhere.

    Rigatoni for breakfast, Judy? Good thing you’re across the Atlantic — otherwise, I might have to drop in!

  35. Michelle A

    Just what I didn’t know I was in the mood for, looks amazing. What a beautiful picture of the street, it makes me miss living in New York!

  36. Sara

    I just wanted to say a great big THANK YOU! I’m a part-time student, I work part-time and I am a mum of two (so, like most of us, busy!). When I get time to look at your site I sit and wait for the page to load with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning; I am never disappointed. Thank you. Sara

  37. True, homemade Italian meatballs have -almost- always some sausage in it, so maybe this is the “kick” you felt missing. I usually make them with 2/3 ground beef and 1/3 sausage meat. A bit of garlick and lots of parsley. As for the size, the smaller the better – because you know, the best about meatballs is their crusty crispy outside.

    About the sauce, right now I can’t make any metric translation of the amounts stated in the recipe, but my personal ratio for a nice bechamel (good for anything from lasagne to soufflé bases) is 1/1/10: 1 part butter, 1 part flour, 10 parts milk. That is, 100g butter, 100g flour, 1liter milk. Comes perfect anytime and yes, I cook it in a microwave to forget about stirring and lumps.

    I had never dreamt to marry meatballs and bechamel, in Italy the usual partnership is with a tomato sauce, but I do love baked pasta and am inspired to give it a try.

    Love your blog, Deb!

    marcella from Italy

  38. Roxlet

    There was a chef from Patsy’s Restaurant I saw on Martha Stewart’s show some time ago who had an interesting technique for making tiny meatballs. He made ropes out of the meatball mixture and then cut them into small pieces. Once they were all cut, he put them into a bowl with a small amount of flour and moved the bowl back and forth. The little pieces were transformed into tiny balls, which he then put in a strainer to remove the excess flour, and then sauteed. He used these meatballs in a lasagna layer. Here’s the link and there is a video showing the technique…

  39. I love the idea of tiny meatballs. I have been playing around with some different amuse bouche recipes and love to make anything little. This looks delicious. Wish I could eat grains. My daughter challenged me to give up grains, white things and sugar for 40 days. So maybe I will try this in a month.

  40. That meal looks amazing – to keep with the spirit of the season, I’ll put it on the menu for Wednesday – the next predicted snow storm – enuf white stuf!

  41. My husband’s Italian Grandmother makes an escarole soup with tiny meatballs. (Liza, this recipe sounds like what you’re talking about making if you leave out the egg and cheese). Actually, nearly everything she makes is tiny- tortellini, ravioli, they’re all super-tiny and beautiful. It’s such a nice aesthetic and a true labor of love to cook that way.

  42. @Roxlet, thanks for the link, I did remember that technique but obviously could not source it! however it’s really no big deal to roll them up by hand. I suggest you call a friend on the phone and have a good chat while rolling them— done in no time at all :)

    @Stefanie, as I said in my previous comment, adding sausage to beef is exactly how I make my meatballs – say 2/3 meat and 1/3 sausage, but if it’s not overly spicy or fatty you can go for half-and-half.

    @Andrea I know that soup! I think it’s the one called Minestra Maritata, a recipe that always gets translated as “Wedding Soup” while it actually means “Married Soup” O_o

  43. This looks really good. I don’t make a lot of baked pasta dishes, but I like how simple this looks. I recently joined a meat CSA and have a ton of ground meat and have been looking for creative ways to use it, so this might just do the trick. Thanks!

  44. Roxlet

    marcella-not-hazan — I have never, ever used sausage meat in meatballs, and neither has anyone in either side of my extended southern Italian family. Actually, this might be the first I’m hearing of it! It might be so in your experience, but I’m not sure that you can extrapolate and say that meatballs almost always have sausage meat. In our family, sauce meat frequently includes sausage, braciole, a piece of pork “sauce meat,” as well as meatballs, but I have never had the type of meatball you mention.

  45. June

    I really enjoy your blog, and one of these days I am going to stop reading, and printing all your recipes and actually cook some of them (truth be told I have made a few the pineapple cake was sooo good. I used fresh pineapple and I don’t think I will ever go back to a pineapple cake using canned pineapple) I just have one little request. I enjoy your witting and recipes so much I don’t want to miss anything, so I click on every link you put in so that I don’t miss a thing….my problem is that I have trouble seeing the links, could you possible do the clickable links in a different color so that they will stand out?

  46. Lisa

    Here’s what happened this morning: i live in Colorado and it is supposed to snow tonight. I wanted to make mac and cheese for dinner, and then i woke up and saw this recipe. As i have all the ingredients on hand for mac and cheese and not for this recipe, i searched your website for YOUR recipe for mac and cheese, suspecting that whatever recipe you used might be superior to the one i’ve been using for the last several years. Of course, it turned out that we’re using the same NY Times recipes! I actually like the second one, though, which does have a ridiculous proportion of cheese to pasta, but is really great if you make it with a mild, softish cheese like Cojack. In any case, it’s good to feel validated by you, Deb:) You are my new cooking macher!

  47. georgemocha

    I made the original decades ago (the recipe was on a calendar of 12 Marcella recipes) and it was great, but it didn’t save the relationship.

  48. Joan

    YUMMMMMM! I’m going to make this tonight with our RABBIT sausage! I started deboning the rabbits I raise for meat, and we are loving the results. I was getting sick of plain old rabbit, so I started making breakfast sausage, ground rabbit, and Italian sausage with it. This recipe looks like a great match with a batch of rabbit italian sausage; thanks!

  49. Sharon

    Baked ziti? How can anyone read “Baked ziti” without thinking of Carmela Soprano bribing/threatening the Dean of Columbia with a Baked Ziti? (Cultural references are such a distraction . . .)

  50. @Roxlet – I said *almost* didn’t I? it might be because I live in Northern Italy. Here all the cooks in my family and circle of friends use sausage meat in their meatballs. I guess there’s a meatball recipe for every homecook that you can talk to :) I just mentioned that because Deb said it lacked *something* and sausage might well add that missing extra. I did not mean to sound *extrapolating* at all, just wanted to suggest a nice variation based on my daily, local practice of Italian cooking :)

  51. Erin P

    That first picture had me convinced I’d be making this soon. Looks so good. One question though Deb, my fiancé is allergic to egg, any substitute suggestion to glue those little meatballs together? Thanks!

  52. Oh this looks SO rich and warm and comforting. But given that it’s wintery and I’ve been sitting on the couch for too much, I am tempted to healthify a tiny bit. I wonder if it would still be amazing and wonderful with turkey meatballs and whole wheat pasta?

  53. I’m making this for dinner tomorrow. Not because it’s a new recipe to me (well, not a new concept anyway), but because you said ‘wee meatballs’. Which made me not backspace to CakeWrecks, but instead click on your post. Please include the term ‘wee meatballs’ more often!

    Also, I’m thinking a breadcrumb and Parmesan crust would make this extra scrumptious. :)

  54. lux

    hehe, someone may have already pointed this out, but your “one year ago” recipe that i was just sucked into starts with “Friends, I may adore you but I have had just about enough of this cold, windy and snow-free excuse for a New York City winter.” it made me chuckle. (:

  55. You have really inspired me! I recently started a food/recipe website and I haven’t used any of my own photos cause I thought I couldn’t take good ones. Well, I am so determined to try now! This recipe looks wonderful and the photos make me want to make it even more. I made pizza tonight, but maybe tomorrow the tiny meatballs will appear on the table!

  56. Emily

    I made this last night as soon as I spotted the recipe and was very happy with the results. I added fresh mozarella to it because I’m a cheese addict. The whole family loved it. Very yummy!

  57. Mikki

    Looks lovely! when you say ‘Pour the milk over the dish, the spread the rest of bèchamel of the bèchamel on top, and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese.’ what milk is this and why am i pouring it into the dish?? meatball bread milk?

  58. Katherine

    I’ve been eyeing this recipe for a while now. From my understanding. Marcella bakes the pasta in a springform pan and then removes the outside ring to make a sort of pasta-cake. Perhaps that’s why it’s designed to be so dry?

    Check out the recipe in the same section for Pasta Cartwheels with Sausage in Tomatoes and Cream (I think it’s called something like that). Super easy and very successful.

  59. Hope you’re digging out okay! We feel your pain down here in D.C. as we got hammered weeks ago. I can just now see grass – muddy, brown and dead grass, but grass nonetheless!

  60. StaceyC

    Hi Deb,

    Just a proofreading eyes comment…there are a couple of sentences in this paragraph that I had to read twice and I think they could use a little tweak from you (which is probably how they came to be in their current state, ha! How you cook, blog and parent simultaneously is quite the feat!)

    ” (Original recipe calls for a 12-inch springform, which I am sure will be lovely but I am not the commonest U.S. cake pan.) Pour the milk over the dish, the spread the rest of bèchamel of the bèchamel on top, and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese.”

    1. deb

      Stacey — Ugh, thanks. And the answer to how I cook, blog, etc. is exactly this — it’s the editing that has suffered! Also, bang trims. But that’s neither here nor there.

  61. tree town gal

    While I may come for the recipes, I stay for the photos of your son… more delicious than your recipes. Thanks for sharing…

  62. I have found that baked ziti dishes always leave me unsatisfied, as they often seem to be lacking something. However, I would suggest adding a sprinkling of bread crumbs mixed with parmigiano over the top of this before baking to make the top even crunchier. My family is from Northern Italy and all our baked pasta dishes have 1. white sauce of some form and 2. bread crumbs over the top!

  63. Gah, this reminds me that one of my cookbooks has little vegetarian meatballs (well, big ones). I would love to try this with the tiny vegetable meatballs.

    This sounds like tomorrow’s dinner has come early!

  64. Dalnapen1


    I was wondering if you could work your magic on a Hot Crossed Bun recipe? I always attempt these for Easter, but have not hit on a winning recipe to date. Might that be one of your baked goods to try this spring? Many thanks.

  65. ozark_beatnik

    I know this isn’t the same type of meal, but I make a “southern style” (comfort food) meatball recipe, completely non-Italian, with a beefy-mushroom sauce with bell pepper, onion, and garlic served over mashed potatoes. The past two times I’ve made this, I’ve downsized the size of the meatballs from what was originally about golf-ball size, now to about quarter sized. Not only do they brown better, it saves from having to cut up the larger meatball on the served plate (or bowl). Very nice article.

  66. Amanda

    I absolutely love Marcella Hazan, but agree with you that I have found some of her sauces wanting for richness. Or, I make a sauce that is for four, and my husband and I handily eat it in one sitting (and, we are not big eaters). Alas, it is always, delicious, though, every time!

    1. deb

      Amanda — I have definitely noticed that Italian pasta recipes presume 2 ounces of pasta per person, American recipes suggest 4 (or a quarter-pound). It’s because pasta in Italy is usually before the main course. (Secondi, I think.) Anyway, curious about what 2 ounces of pasta actually looks like, I measured precisely in this top photo. It’s a wee pile, indeed. I found it just right for a light lunch but know that people generally expect more on their plates.

  67. Elizabeth

    I’ve had it on my to-do list to find a baked ziti recipe for a dinner I’m hosting on Friday night and I just thought to look to your site first to see if you had anything in your archives, and there is it was! This feels like fate. Thank you!

  68. Susie

    Could this be made ahead, refrigerated and baked just before serving? We have a lot of large gatherings at our house and, if I doubled this recipe, it looks like it would make adults and children equally happy.

  69. Like most every other commenter, I am in love with the idea of the tiny meatballs. The photos look delicious, but the recipe as a whole sounds a little… well, boring to me (Please don’t hate me for that. I got the impression you thought so, too). The first thing that sprang into my mind while reading this was how yummy it would be with a tomato cream sauce instead of Bechamel. And maybe some buffalo mozzarella on top. So hungry now. :)

  70. Jendorf

    Yum! Yum! Yum! This was delicious! All 3 of my under-six kids gobbled it up–my son told me he’d like to dive into a sea of these meatballs ;)

    I did try to health it up a bit. . .Can’t help that Mommy thing, LOL. But, rolling the meatballs in whole wheat flour (still used all-purpose for the bechamel) and adding steamed broccoli didn’t detract from its richness, so both grownups and kiddos were thrilled.

  71. Jendorf

    P.S. I was soooo glad that I’m the cook and my husband is the dish-washer after I realized how many dishes this dish takes!

  72. What a perfect dish for this grey NorCal evening. Just finished prepping and will pop into oven when good, but long lost friend arrives to catch up. Can’t wait ot share.

  73. nancy

    wonder how it would work to bake the meatballs (I loathe that process of
    sauteing meatballs, no matter what size, in a skillet.

  74. barleygirl10200

    This makes a lot of food! It’s just hubby and I and I should have halved it. You know, it looked amazing but it ended up just being a little drab.Veggies, bacon, who knows…it just needed something. My husband is trying to find some neighbors to give the left-overs to. That’s never a good sign! Oh well…I bet that Rice pudding is gonna erase any previous kitchen blunders! Keep posting, Deb!

  75. Isabella Grove

    I recognized this dish instantly! I have a copy of Marcella Hazan’s “Italian Kitchen” and I made this several years ago. My take on it was the same as yours: not as fabulous as it sounded. And yes, kinda dry. I remember that Marcella was always criticizing the American tendency to overdo everything:too big, too much sauce, etc. I learned a lot, but I felt like I was being reprimanded. Thanks for the memory!

  76. Cara

    I used this as an inspiration to combine my homemade meatball recipe with my favorite baked mac and cheese recipe… and oh, my goodness. Really, what could be better? My husband told me I really “kicked it up a notch” – a huge compliment! Thanks for the GREAT idea! Just a note, I’ve found baking meatballs on a sheet pan to be much less labor intensive and it ensures that all the meatballs cook evenly.

  77. So Very Soul Satisfying – My new comfort food!!!! Many thanks for sharing your wonderfully delicious recipes with us hungry beings! ~:o)

  78. Sharon McEachern

    Be glad this Italian recipe doesn’t use ground cat for the meat balls. That could be what ‘Beppe’ Bigazzi might do. Italian chef Bigazzi, a gastronome on public television daily for a decade, last week praised the taste of cat stew (aka casserole-of-cat) while on air. He expounded on it being “a delicacy,” and “a succulent dish,” which “many a time I’ve eaten its white meat”. Ofcourse, you need to hang the cat under running water for three days before cooking, he said. Appalled viewers jammed the network’s switchboard. Oh yes, he claimed cat in a thick sauce is “better than chicken, rabbit or pigeon.” He was suspended indefinitely from cooking on the public TV airwaves and he refuses to apologize. Ethic Soup has several good posts on this at:


    1. deb

      I read that. But I guess what I’m not following is why people are so outraged — is the life of a cat that much more valuable than the life of a cow? Just because cats are pets? I’m not saying I have any interest in eating a kitten, I’m just wondering how it adds up in peoples heads that some animals are allotted a place in the food chain and others are not.

  79. Elise

    Made this tonight, but a half recipe; I added about a cup of shredded mozzarella when I mixed the pasta, bechamel and meatballs together, and a sprinkle more on top.

    It is *fantastic*. Cheesy, creamy, gooey, surprisingly light for such a deadly-looking dish, and those meatballs! I made an extra meal’s worth and froze them uncooked, for speedy ziti later on.

  80. bea in rome

    Hi, Deb. Love your Italian streak! If you miss some taste in the meatballs, try replacing the parmigiano with pecorino romano. This is what they do in naples (and also some add raisins and pine-nuts in the meatballs), but the pasta is then cooked in a thin, garlic based tomato sauce. The bechamel-based dish is often garnished with peas, mushrooms, and shredded prosciutto cotto (or pancetta, or scamorza affumicata, or…..) instead of meatballs. Of course, each home has a different recipe……

  81. Linda T.

    Deb, this was delish. I made it over the weekend. I added just a bit of fresh mozzerella – I had some left over from some sliced tomatoes and fresh basil salad (God, will someone PLEASE turn on spring right about now??!). Anyway, you did really good here. And those meatballs are also PERFECT to add to a pot of escarole soup!!

  82. Hey Deb! I made this last night with a few adjustments- I used macaroni instead of rigatoni, added some dried thyme to the bechamel, and tossed in some bits of mozzarella. The result was a creamy, cheesy delight. YUM!

  83. Jason

    Thanks for the recipe, I made this on Monday and loved it. So delicious! I never thought that the sauce would thicken enough with just milk and butter, but it worked fine. Also, those meatballs are the bomb! I added some green onions to mine and used whole wheat bread. So great!

  84. I wanted to check in again because I made the meatballs last night and loved them. I did make some changes. I used a combo of ground chicken and pork sausage because that’s what I had in the fridge. I also doubled the garlic and had to add dry breadcrumbs because the mixture was too sticky and wet to use as is.

    I used a pastry cutter to combine everything, which worked really well. But I think the meatballs came out too dry. I’m not sure if it’s because of their size or because I used chicken or because I added dry breadcrumbs. It could be a combination of all three. The flavor was still delicious, though! Maybe next time I’ll follow the recipe more closely and see if that gives me a moister meatball.

  85. I made this last night… I don’t know if it’s just me, or the recipe really is this complicated, but it took me 2 hours, even overlapping the meatballs, the bechamel, and the noodle-boiling. Luckily it made so much, though it’s so delicious, it may not last as long as I was hoping. (Also, I apparently undersalted the bechamel, which is easily fixable by salting every portion as I serve it up for myself.)

  86. Libby

    First of all: Baby. Babybabybabygorgeousbaby. My “baby” is now 10 months old and is rapidly headed toward toddlerville and it makes me sad.

    Second: I love how many people log on to comment, just to tell you that you are doing it wrong. It makes me laugh.

    Third: To completely conflict what I just said, I do have to say that my favorite meatball recipe is the Rao’s version. [Can be found by simply googling “Rao’s Meatballs] It took me FOR-EVER to realize that it’s not always more garlic = better. The only thing I wonder is that it’s such a soft mix, I don’t know if the tiny meatballs would hold as well as the golf ball sized ones I’m used to.

    Anyway – Enjoy the bechamel, and the baby.

  87. missesjameson

    After 3 LONG hours of prep on this dinner-and 20 minutes of cook time-this dish is finally done and it is delicious. I would make it again except for the unexpectedly long prep time. I added the nutmeg to the meatballs as suggested in a previous comment, and added shredded mozzerella cheese for the meltiness.

  88. kate

    this was fantastic, despite the long about of prep time….took me 2 hours as well.
    i did allspice instead of nutmeg in the bechamel (since it was all i had), and added shredded white cheese in with the mix before baking for more ooze. id make this again if i had helpers … and a lot more pots (i had to wash out a couple mid-way to complete this).

  89. Lisa

    I made this last night and as others said, it took a while to prep. But the outcome was great! I am more so proud of myself because I cooked EVERYTHING from start to finish. As I type this, I am eating it for lunch and even now its remarkable. I will continue to read your blog and try your recipes!

  90. Colleen

    I made this last night and the family loved it! It’s hard to find a dish that the whole family will eat!! One question, though….my sauce never thickened. I wonder what I did wrong?

    1. deb

      Colleen — You may not have done something wrong. I found that this didn’t get as thick as most bechamels… in the original recipe Hazan says “as dense as a thick cream” so I assumed it was correct.

  91. Jean Marie

    I have come in late on this recipe but definitely will make it. It looks and sounds so good. We love Ina Garten’s italian wedding soup and I usually double or triple the tiny meatball recipe, bake them in the oven and then flash freeze the extras. Good thing too because now I don’t have to make meatballs for this dish!! As long as you’re going to the trouble of making them, you might as well make extra.

  92. Kimberly

    I just made this tonight, gluten-free with corn needles and white rice flour for the sauce.

    The meatballs browned up perfectly with the white rice flour, and I’d never made a bachsemel sauce before in my life! it turned out great!

    Thanks for the recipe!

  93. Such a storm abrewin’ over the meatballs! I made it precisely to the recipe and was delighted. Even better the next day, and the day after that! Okay, so I added more parmesan to the top- but that was it. I did not find it too so very long to make, BUT! And Deb, dishwashing-hater that you are, must confess, the amount of dishes, bowls, pans, and -even WITHOUT the Cuisinart I used to mince nice lean boneless porkchops into ground pork- is over the top crazy. The dishwashing was the only thing that got to me. Marcella, she can be persnickety but she knows her bechamel. I find when I use non-fat milk it takes longer to thicken, duh, I suppose.

  94. Anne

    I made this last night, and it was amazing. Your adaptations were great – I think less cheese/sauce/seasoning might have made it a bit too subtle.

    I can’t wait to use this meatball recipe in other places – sandwiches, wraps, turnovers, other pastas…

  95. Dollop

    We made this last night and it, quite possibly, was one of the best baked pasta dishes we have tried! we made the meatballs out of a mixture of pork and beef, and the pork was the key!! Also, we added some fresh mozzerella to give it more cheese. MMMMMMM!

  96. Summer

    This was AMAZING!! I added shredded mozzarella and a little extra grated parmesean to the sauce, and it was wonderful!! :)

  97. i made this over the weekend! i made the meatballs and my boyfriend made the sauce with the 4 1/2 cups of milk. i heard him remark how its silly why why the recipe didn’t just say 2 cups of milk. i wasn’t quite paying attention when he said it. needless to say, it ended up a bit dry. i hope he knows 4 1/2 = 4 cups + 1/2 cup from now on. it was still delicious!

  98. scubagirl

    Hello I am new to your website and I tried out this recipe tonight. It took me a bit longer than I had anticipated but turned out great. I am glad to find a blog with both cooking and baking. I look forward to more tasty treats.

  99. Hi Deb — I don’t know why I’m so hung up on this detail, but do you know approximately how many tiny meatballs this makes? I’m thinking of using this for a potluck, and I’m trying to factor in if it needs to be doubled or tripled before I go buy my ingredients. Also, I might want to make a pan of it to keep for myself. Maybe. Just saying.

    1. deb

      Buttercup — You know, I am exactly the kind of person who counts the number of meatballs I got and I did. And proceeded to not write it down. So long story short: I can’t remember. It was a few dozen.

  100. kristen

    i made this tonight for dinner and it was delicious! while the prep and assembly took longer than i usually allow for a week night dinner, the taste was worthwhile. i made the meatballs with turkey and was pleased with how moist and tasty they were. i added broccoli to limit my guilt, and it was quite the success! THX smitten!

  101. Jen

    I made this last night and it was good but you’re absolutely right on some needed tweeking! I added a handful of shredded mozzerella but hours later my husband was still thinking of what it needed. We decided on more herbs, mushrooms, shallots,and julienned zuchinni for next time! He also suggested bacon b/c let’s face it, everything is better w/ bacon! ;)
    Also, those mini meatballs took forever to make!!! They were the best part of the dish so they were worth it but man was that labor intensive to roll all those tiny things!

  102. RA

    We made this for dinner last night and it was OMG SO GOOD. And I don’t just throw around “OMG” all willy nilly. Instant addition to our recipe binder!

  103. Yowsa!! Just discovered your amazing blog and it’s ruining my drift into dreamland. I should be shutting my eyes and sleeping, but no…the kitchen is now calling my name. I’m craving baked rigatoni with tiny meatballs!!!! I’m definitely going to follow your blog. Thanks.

  104. NicM

    My husband made this last night and it was the best thing I could have come home to after a very long day. He tore some homemade mozza over the top too.

  105. Shawna

    We just had this for dinner! Like others, we found the sauce to be pretty thin, but after baking it for 20 minutes, it was thick enough as you’d want. I “basted” sauce on the top noodles twice during the baking time because the sauce was so thin that it slipped off. It worked well.

    I got 46 meatballs from my 1 lb of lamb. We had so many meatballs that I felt they could have accompanied 1 1/2 lbs of pasty well.

    I enjoyed the process of frying the meatballs even though I was nervous about it, initially.

    And finally, we did add a bunch of local spinach, sauteed lightly, into the bechamel at the end. It added a wonderful low, earthy note that matched the nugmeg and helped to take the cream sauce “down” a little from being all creamy and light. I definitely doubled the pepper, and I think I should have sliced some mushrooms in there, too.

    Thanks for the recipe!

    1. deb

      How does a no-boil recipe save ingredients? It’s hard to control the final texture of the pasta with no-cook pasta, which is why I don’t care for it.

  106. Julie

    Awesome dinner/recipe!!!! A little time consuming for the meatballs but worth it. The sauce was a little thin so I simmer/boiled until thickened for several minutes while the pasta cooked. Kids loved it! Thank you!!

  107. Dear SK,

    Last night I made the baked rigatoni, substituting penne, and in place of the ground meat, I used mild Italian sausage. Every other ingredient was as shown in your recipe. I didn’t expect much, as I already had an excellent baked ziti w/o meat, but to our surprise…… was FABULOUS!!! Loved it! Talk about comfort food. And those itsy bitsy meatballs……….Well. Just had to let you know what a dynamite dish this is (and easy). Try it with the sausage, I’m telling you.

    Thanks, Michele

  108. Rachel

    I made these tonight for 5 of us and we all loved it. My eldest will have some later when he gets home from work. The meatballs were lovely with the garlic and parmesan taking the edge off the sweetness of the pork. I’m not getting the folks saying it took a long time to prep. I made the meatballs while hubby batch fried and the water boiled for the pasta. I made my own bechamel because I’m British and cup measurements make my head ache because I can’t visualise them!

    This is definitely on our good dinner list – thank you!

  109. Alexandra Martin

    Something was just… missing. It’s like the sauce was so thick and I could’ve used a little more oomph to it. not sure what I’d add, though.. Hrm. The meatballs sure were goooood.

  110. mai truong

    Hi Deb, Thanks so much for sharing yet another scrumptious recipe! Could this be made ahead of time for a dinner party? If so, when should it be stowed away? Just before the baking step? Would love your advice on this!
    Thanks :)

  111. Patricia B.

    Made this the other night and it was a BIG hit with the BF (which is saying a lot, since new recipes generally come with high hopes and big failures). Never having made bechemal, I am not quite sure I did it right. It was awfully runny still when I thought it was at the point of being done, so I did not add the additional milk on top of the dish before baking. After it came out, it was pretty thick. Not so much that it was bad, it was actually pretty rich and delicious, but now that I see how much the sauce thickens in the oven, I know to add the milk and all will be fine. Maybe a time or what to look for in the recipe would have been helpful for those of us less-experienced cooks.
    Meatballs are REALLY REALLY good (I made mine with half pork sausage, like breakfast sausage, and half ground sirloin) and I made extras to use with other dishes. Love the bitesize idea. I just put them in a ziploc and threw them in the freezer. YUMMY IN MY TUMMY. Southwestern Pulled Brisket is next.

  112. Abbie G

    I had this recipe sitting in my bookmarked folder for a while and made it the other night. It took a lot of pots and pans and some tediousness, but I really enjoyed making it and it was delicious. Great snowy day recipe when you have a little time and want something rich an delicious. Great leftovers!

  113. jrm

    FWIW I finally made this yesterday. Doubled the meatball recipe using 1 lb. Ground pork and 1 lb. Ground mild Italian sausage —these suckers were soooo good! Kept half of the doubled meatballs unfloured and froze for later.

    Overall I didn’t have any problems with the bechamel. It does take some time and I wanted to hurry it up, but the result made it worthwhile. I added. 1/4 tsp fresh rosemary into the finished bechamel (just b/c that is what I had around) and it gave it a little extra flavor. I also added about 1/2 lb fresh mozzerella on top before placing in oven. Prolly only needed 1/4 lb of mozzerella. BUT this was a really great dish.

  114. Alexandra

    I made this sans meatballs and added corn and carrots. Also, I doubled/tripled (something like that) the nutmeg. It’s so good I could cry.

  115. Paula DiGiacomo

    Finally made this recipe. It was delicious. Although we are not fans of “white sauce” on pasta, this was delicious.

  116. We aren’t big red sauce fans so this was a huge hit. I’m a semi-vegaterian and don’t eat much meat but this even wowed me haha. My husband loved it. The meatballs are amazing. I made ours using local bison as that is what we use for red meat. It’s leaner and healthier. Plus its’ local.

  117. Wen DutchLady

    Made this last night for me and my boyfriend and it turned out really bland…
    Though I did everything according to recipe it just had no real tast…it was bland ( I hope
    That is the right english word)…so when we plated it I put extra nutmeg and salt and pepper on.
    The meatballs where great however!

  118. Stephen

    This looks outstanding. Will it hold/reheat if I make a few trays on Saturday and reheat it/serve it over sterno Sunday for my son’s first birthday party?

  119. Mestebla

    This is a staple in our house now. We all absolutely love it! I make it with whatever meat I have on hand (I’ve made it with brats, chicken, and meatballs) and it’s always great! Thanks for such a fabulous recipe!

  120. Britt

    I am curious if you adjusted the flour when making your roux. I really wanted to, I was so tempted.. then I decided to just go with the recipe. I ended up with an extremely oozy delicious cheesy mess without adding anything else in. Love this recipe. Also on a random side note, I used ground elk meat for the meatballs, and it was fantastic. My father from Wyo, loves to send me home with loads of the stuff and I am always trying to find ways to use it up. This fit the bill perfectly!

  121. Karen

    I made this today and it was excellent. I didn’t have a good baked pasta recipe (besides lasagna) until this one, so thank you!

    I added a few pressed garlic cloves to the white sauce, which probably isn’t “right” but I loved the flavor. Definitely will make again.

  122. I’ve never made any meatballs before but decided you’re so reliable I’d be safe enough doubling the meatball part of the recipe and freezing a half portion. I fried half and baked the other half on a Silpat baking sheet (no oil). They baked very nicely too. Just slightly flattened on one side. Mmmmm….flat.

    Delicious meatball recipe. Love that they’re teeny morsels. Will make again!

  123. Sarah

    Hi Deb –

    First let me say I love reading your blog and just received your cookbook for Christmas! This morning my husband and I made the baked french toast which was perfect for a snowy London morning.

    I made this rigatoni recipe last weekend, but froze half of it right before baking and plan to bring it to friends that have just had their first child. Do you have a recommendation for how long it should bake from frozen and at what temperature? Or does it need to be completely defrosted and brought to room temperature first?

    Thank you!

  124. Kimberly Michelle

    I’ve been using your meatball recipe for about two years now. Let me tell you, it just tastes better and better each time I make them! I love them! I’m going to make them for my husband for the first time tonite. I can’t wait to hear the rave reviews. Thank you!!

  125. betsy

    Can I also chime in, approximately 3 years after this posted, and say how fabulous this dish is? I am an American living in Amsterdam, and laughed over the Euro/American differences discussed in this post – I must have converted to being more European already, because I thought there was the PERFECT amount of sauce, the portions were plenty hearty, and with a little fresh greens on the side to keep it from getting too heavy, I could not have asked for more from this recipe! Except maybe, a few less dishes to wash ;-) (but that’s what the boyfriend is for!) Thanks Deb!!!

  126. Wini

    made this for dinner tonight! the only thing wrong is… half the meatballs are gone by the time everything else is ready to go into the oven! ;)

  127. Cory

    I made this over the weekend, the meatballs on friday night and the dish on saturday afternoon. I wish I had assembled the dish and served it right after baking. Instead, I baked it off first, and rewarmed for dinner – too dry. So next time, I’ll make that change, and nothing else: bechamel + meatballs + seasoning = perfect. Thanks, SK!

  128. Grace

    I made this a while ago – although it took a while it was totally worth it. Me and my husband couldn’t stop eating it! I think its the parmesan cheese in the meatballs which gives it that savoury, moreish flavour.

    The only difference was that I put in a few cups of red and yellow halved cherry tomatos (garden surplus) and spinach to make is a little more colourful (and healthy ha ha). It worked really well.

  129. Kyle

    I made this for my daughter and wife tonight. I usually try to cook healthy meals so when my wife saw it and asked how many calories per serving I said “100”. I may be in the doghouse tonight. :(

  130. Holly K.

    I made this tonight after having spent many hours on the SK website over the holiday weekend (my secret escape from my in-laws, thank you very much!). The photography and writing style makes me want to try every recipe I read… I picked this one for my first try at SK, and it was delicious! I loved your hint to add a veggie- threw in some frozen spinach and I took the time to carmalize a few diced onions and mixed them in when the bechamel, rigatoni and meatballs came together. Just wanted to let you know I am a big fan of your site and can’t wait for my next SK adventure. I feel inspired to break out of my cooking rut, thanks to SK!

  131. Cara

    I’ve made this several times for my boyfriend and I am continually getting requests for the “mac & cheese with the little meatballs!” He and I both love it. Thanks so much!!!!

  132. Jan

    Hi Deb,
    Made this last night and it was fabulous! But, the whole time I was making it, I kept thinking, there is no way Deb has made this recently! You know why? Because this dish uses no less than 13 separate bowls/pans/etc plus cups/spoons for measuring!!! (I counted — 1. bowl to heat milk 2. bowl for meat mixture 3. plate for raw balls 4. plate for flour 5. strainer1 6. pan for frying 7. plate for draining 8. saucepan for milk 9. saucepan for becahmel 10. pot for pasta 11. strainer2 12. bowl for assembling 13. baking dish)!!! — this post is meant to be light-hearted, I know some of these can’t be helped. Mostly I was just chuckling to myself and thinking about how you always complain about dishes that require lots of bowls.

    1. deb

      Jan — AND I MADE IT WHEN MY SON WAS FIVE MONTHS OLD. No wonder I found that first year to be completely and totally overwhelming. Oh, and I started writing a book the next month. Babies make you crazy. :)

  133. Carrie

    Made this yesterday for a new mama and saved myself some. Very yummy! I will say, though, that it takes a LONG time- definitely a weekend dinner! Thank you!

  134. Time

    Prep time and cook time would be a welcome addition. Had I known reducing the sauce would have taken a half hour I would have found a recipe on pioneer woman.

  135. Amanda

    If you were going to freeze this, would it be best to cook and then freeze, or freeze first and cook later (adding on a little extra cook time)? Trying to stock up our freezer before baby #2 arrives!

  136. Heather

    This really hit the spot on our first night of snow this year in VT. My boyfriend wanted something mac and cheese like, I was feeling Italian, so this was a great compromise. Written as you have it here, it’s the perfect amount of creamy and gooey-nothing even close to dry. I did add a bit of torn mozzarella on top. The meatballs are delicious! Served it with a big leafy green salad with a mustardy cider vinaigrette-cut through the richness perfectly. Will be going into our regular comfort food rotation for sure!

  137. Lois Servaas

    One thing i like about food websites is the comments from real cooks. It helps so much in deciding whether to make the dish. This site is egregious in it’s disregard for such information. I understand everyone wants to write something so they say “this looks good.” But why it would be published in beyond me. I have yet to find anyone who actually makes these recipes so I stopped looking.

    1. Betty

      Making this as a freezer meal for my sister who is having a baby soon— what do you recommend in order to reheat? Bake from frozen at 350? For an hour?

  138. Midmodtom

    After deciding that my idea to stuff pasta shells with spinach artichoke gratin would simply be ‘too rich’, I started a web search for something else and stumbled across this. Yowsa! This looks like a winner! I think I will tweak it by using shorter tube pasta about the size of the tiny meatballs and make sure it is ‘rigate’. How about a crispy (panko/butter) topping too … and something in my gut is saying ‘oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes’, something – by the way – that I like in my mac & cheese from time to time. Cheers!

  139. just made this for the first time, as written above, and it was delightful! the three of us scarfed it down (defs serves 6 not 8, but we’re pigs). we did not find it too dry at all! there was plenty of béchamel! but i would certainly recommend serving it with a crispy green salad that included juicy tomatoes; my kale caesar was a bit too rich to go with.

  140. MDR

    I wish I had followed my instincts- every “mini-meatball” recipe I have ever tried has been too much work for too little reward. Sadly this one is no exception. The end result is fine but in no way justifies the kitchen messiness that results from frying meatballs (not to mention the time required to form them). The sauce was bland for my taste and my husband’s (he put hot sauce on it- ouch!) but the kids ate it. I might make again using sausage to save significant time but just for the kids.

    1. Sarah

      I felt the same about this one, and the dirty dishes made a mountain by the time I was done. Good proportions, but not more than the sum of its parts.

  141. Stacey

    This recipe was a wow. Everyone at the dinner table loved it, which isn’t an easy feat. The cheese, bechamel and incredible meatballs made for a comforting meal on a freezing cold day.
    I also added a mix of spinach and chard, thank you for the suggestions!

  142. mks

    This one doesn’t get the love or comments it should! I made it exactly as directed last night — except I doubled the tiny meatball production so I could freeze half for another night. Delicious and so cozy on a cold night. Thank you! Whole family loved it and happily packed leftovers for lunch.

  143. Nancy

    I followed the entire process for making this, but at the last minute found out we were having company for dinner. So I folded in some roasted mushrooms and diced crispy prosciutto. HUGE success. I can see making the dish as written for a kid-safe meal, but for adult company I’m glad I took the extra steps.

  144. Teresa

    I made this tonight and sauteed some mushrooms with it. Lovely. I’m wondering if you could make batches of the meatballs for freezing?

  145. Amber Simmons

    My daughter said this was the best thing she’s ever eaten, and we thought it was pretty great too! I made a couple of changes to suit us – far less sauce, no milk at the end, the addition of crushed red pepper and lots of black pepper to the bechamel, and sauteed kale because my kid loves kale – and it was literally perfect. No squishy noodles, no dry meatballs, great flavor. Thanks for the great recipe, and giving confidence to tweak!

  146. Pamela Schmidt

    I made this last night — just as written. It was quite tasty and got a thumbs up from my husband. But, it did take a couple of hours to make and dirtied nearly every dish in the kitchen. Excellent recipe when one has time and wants to watch rain or snow fall while working in the kitchen but it has to be that kind of day to make the investment of time required. (One of the earlier comments was along the lines of patience is a virtue, especially when making bechamel sauce. . . . Boy howdy! A truer statement has never been made. That took a LONG time — a little heads up about that fact in the recipe would have been welcome.)

  147. Eliza

    I am going to be THAT person that makes a thing but also modifies it. I try to add vegetables to everything so I chopped up an onion, two parsnips, a carrot and a fennel bulb sauteed in olive oil and then roasted them while I made the sauce. I also added some curly kale to the pasta water about a minute before the pasta was done. It was fantastic but next time I will skip frying the meatballs in so much oil, it was a pretty big mess.

  148. Jenna

    I will echo that this dish was a lot of effort, dirtied a sink-full of dishes, and there was way too much oil to fry and it wasn’t needed. In the end, the dish tasted good, not great, and was Very heavy. A lot of effort for not enough payback.

  149. Mark

    Is it possible to make the Baked Rigatoni with Tiny Meatballs ahead and freeze?
    Thank you!

    I LOVE your cookbooks and they are always my go to!
    Mark Bove

  150. Joetta Gobell

    I just made these meatballs but with a few variations, and OMG they’re fantastic.

    I used a slice of homemade white bread that had been lingering in the freezer, and about 1 tsp of dried parsley and 2T of chopped fresh basil.

    I made them into smaller (like 2 tsp) balls and dredged them in flour before cooking them in the air fryer (10 minutes @ 380F).

    They. Are. So. Delicious.

    Thanks for the recipe, yet again!

    1. Joetta Gobell

      Oops, just an edit–I didn’t make them smaller! I made them smaller than the reference recipe I looked at for air frying meatballs. Making them small was one of the things I kept from this recipe. :)

  151. Jennifer R

    Would it be possible to assemble this the day before and back the next morning? These look perfect to take to a potluck.

  152. Kathryn

    I made this last weekend and really enjoyed it! I ended up using italian sausage (out of the casing) for the meatballs and added some mozzarella and baby spinach before baking. It was perfect for a snowy weekend. The béchamel came together really well and I appreciated the consistency of it. The tiny meatballs were a nice touch throughout the baked pasta, I think I’ll try this method with a baked ziti with a tomato sauce next time.

  153. Lindsay

    I didn’t make the whole dish – just the meatballs (and tossed them into Rigatoni alla Vodka) but they were SO good. Yes, sure, maybe a bit of a project but honestly didn’t take as long as I expected. I did a double-batch and saved half for another dish later in the week and they reheated beautifully! Will be adding these to our fall menu on regular rotation :)

  154. Baked Rigatoni with Tiny Meatballs
    Adapted, no doubt blasphemously, from Marcella Hazan

    Serves 8 but I think Americans would serve this to 4 to 6


    Really??? AMERICANS why because we’re gluttons???? – RUDE