Soul-satisfying Baked Rigatoni for a Cold, Blustery Day

On a cold blustery day, my kitchen beckons and I look forward to spending the day assembling this baked rigatoni dish. I imagine you’ve looked at the ingredient list and maybe thought “no way.” I suggest you think like a cook who sees the list and thinks “Look at that ingredient list! Isn’t it great? You know this is going to be fantastic.” This is a rich wintery preparation that is, frankly, an improvement on my mom’s recipe. She wouldn’t have gotten as involved as this, but this recipe is wonderful. Although there is, admittedly, a bit of work in preparing this dish, I think it is worth it for two reasons. First, it’s soul-satisfyingly delicious and, second, if you have leftovers, they make great meatball heros for lunch.

Baked Rigatoni with Meatballs and Meat Sauce
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Baked Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6 servings
  • For the sauce
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ pound ground beef
  • ½ pound mild Italian sausage, casing removed and crumbled
  • ¼ pound pork sirloin, chopped with a knife
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • One 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, with its liquid, chopped
  • One 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • ½ cup water
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • For the meatballs
  • ½ pound white part of a French baguette or Italian country loaf bread
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound ground beef (at least 90% fat-free)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • For the zucchini
  • 1 medium-size zucchini, peeled and quartered lengthwise, cut into tenths
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Assembling and garnishing the rigatoni
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped freshly parsley
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • ¼ cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
  • ½ loaf crusty Italian bread
  1. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat, then cook the ground beef, sausage, and pork until the pork loses its color, stirring, about 10 minutes. Drain well using a slotted spoon and set aside. Discard the fat.
  2. In a flameproof casserole, heat ¼ cup olive oil over medium heat, then cook the onion and garlic until translucent, stirring, about 6 minutes. Add the meat to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in the red wine and reduce by a third. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, oregano, rosemary, red wine vinegar, and sugar. Cook, uncovered, on low heat until all the meat is very tender and the ragoût is thick but not too thick, 3 hours. Add small amounts of water or wine if the ragoût gets too thick.
  3. Meanwhile, make the meatballs. In a small bowl, soak the bread in the cream until all the bread is wet, but not dripping wet. In a larger bowl, with wet hands, knead together the ground beef, soaked bread, onion, parsley, egg, and season with salt and pepper. Form into 14 to 16 balls with wet hands (so the meat doesn’t stick).
  4. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter in the olive oil over low heat, then cook the meatballs until browned, pushing them around so they don’t stick, about 30 minutes.
  5. In another skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the zucchini until dappled with brown spots, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  6. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil, salt abundantly, then cook the pasta until al dente. Drain without rinsing. Transfer the rigatoni to the tomato sauce and moisten with some red wine, then transfer the rigatoni to a deep baking casserole and spread the cooked zucchini and meatballs on top.
  7. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  8. Drizzle some olive oil on top of the meatballs and bake until lightly browned on top, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and serve with a sprinkle of parsley, grated parmigiano and pecorino cheese, and crusty Italian bread.


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