Rigatoni e Polpette

Photo credit: KitchenDaily.com

I’ve heard that the fastest road to a man’s heart often leads through his stomach. If that’s true, Rigatoni e Polpette is the vehicle that will get you there.


10-12 meatballs, serves about four

Ingredients (Pasta & Sauce)

2 cans of crushed tomatoes, opened

3 T olive oil, + more as needed

1 medium white or yellow onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, diced finely or pressed

A generous handful of basil, chopped coarsely

1 T dried oregano

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper to taste

A few pinches of crushed red pepper (optional)

1 lb of dry rigatoni or pac-macs

Ingredients (Meatballs)

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground lamb (or ground pork)

4-5 slices of good, crusty bread (about a cup when pulverized)

4 oz pecorino romano, + more for shredding on top

1 large white or yellow onion, peeled and quartered

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

A generous handful of basil

1 egg

1 T dried oregano

Approximately half a cup of milk

Instructions (Sauce)

Start with the sauce, since longer cooking times lead to a richer, sweeter taste (and lasting relationships). Pour the olive oil and one piece of the diced onion into a large pot and apply medium-high heat. When the one piece of onion starts to sizzle, add the rest of it. (Now’s a good time to open the cans of tomatoes, if you haven’t already.)

Stirring often, sautée the onions until golden brown, then reduce the heat to medium-low, pushing all the onions to one side of the pot. This should cause the olive oil to pool on the other side. You’ll need at least a tablespoon, so add more if necessary.

Now comes the part you’ll want to practice before trying to impress your special someone. (Or just do it before she arrives, leaving plenty of time to air out the house if needed.)

Understanding how to work with garlic makes the difference between tantalizing him or bringing her to tears. The secret: medium-low heat and good timing. Add the minced (or pressed) garlic to the hot oil and sautée until fragrant, but not burned. (If you burn the garlic, throw everything out — including the onion — and start over, knowing that your house will be safe from vampires for weeks.) When the garlic is “ready” (usually < 30 seconds, but use your nose), mix it in with the onion briefly, and, working quickly, add the cans of tomatoes and stir, raising the heat back to medium-high.

If you smell anything acrid, if your nose hairs are burning or if your eyes are watering, throw everything out and start over.

On the other hand, if things seem to be going well, add the oregano and about 3/4 of the chopped basil, reserving the rest for sprinkling on top. Add the bay leaf, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste. When the sauce starts to bubble, reduce the heat to create a nice, even simmer. Give it a stir every ten minutes or so to make sure it’s not burning. Taking a break to stir means you can stop and give someone samples, so she can taste the subtle sweetness emerge from this Southern Italian staple, something many of us call “gravy.”

Instructions (Meatballs)

Now, it’s time to let the machines do the work. Use a food processor to pulverize, in this order: the bread, the cheese, the quartered onion, the garlic, the basil and the egg. Combine with the milk, 1T of oregano, salt, pepper and the crushed red pepper (optional) and mix into the ground meat, something that we traditionally do with our bare hands. The mix should stick and hold together, but barely. If things seem too dry and aren’t sticking together, add a little more milk or another egg, beaten. If things feel too loose, add some breadcrumbs. Be careful not to use too heavy of a hand with either, as this is a really good way to screw up a nearly complete recipe.

Now is another great time for samples. Take a pinch of the raw meatball mix and share it with your guest. (How this part goes might be a leading indicator of things to come.)

Form the meatballs (using your bare hands is best). They should be larger than golf balls but smaller than cricket balls. As you form each one, drop it into the sauce. Continue until you’ve finished the mix. Continue to simmer on low heat for at least 30 minutes to several hours (adding water as needed to keep those babies submerged). Try not to stir, at least initially, until you’re certain that the meatballs have cooked through and solidified. Even then, stir carefully! Remember, we designed these puppies to crumble when touched with a fork.

Instructions (Pasta & Serving)

When you’re about 20 minutes from your special dinner, cook the pasta to al dente, drain, combine with sauce and 2-3 meatballs each. Top with the remaining chopped basil and grated pecorino romano.

Whereas I normally appreciate feedback on my recipes, I’ll understand if you’d rather keep the results of this one all to yourself.

Also published on Medium.

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