Imagine biting into a big piece of pasta and realizing the whole rigatoni is stuffed with a meatball filling! I dreamed up that idea about 12 years ago and made it a reality. Tender al dente rigatoni – nice thick pieces of artisan pasta – stuffed to the max with a savory meatball filling. So much garlic, parsley, and meaty goodness. I even snuck in a little Italian sausage! The meatball stuffed rigatoni is tossed in a simple buttery sauce made with it’s own pan juices, pasta cooking liquid, and lots of parmesan cheese.
The origin and history of Meatball Stuffed Rigatoni
It always makes me happy when I can think of a new way to present the classic Italian flavors that I grew up with. I had the idea to try and stuff rigatoni and make a baked dish that almost resembled mini cannelloni or manicotti for a year or so before I finally attempted it in 2012. When I made it back then, it came out good but I added a lot of unnecessary steps like baking the pasta to cook the insides, and then baking it again with the sauce! On top of that, I used a thick red sauce that hid the beauty of the stuffed pasta!
The modern update to Meatball Stuffed Rigatoni
I decided to tackle this dish again in 2023 and update it to my tastes. There are a few small differences like adding some sausage to the filling, and making the dish overall easier to make, but the main thing I changed was the sauce. I made a super simple sauce with some butter, wine, and lots of garlic to really showcase the stuffing in the pasta.
The Meatball Filling
I made this similar to my usual meatball mixture with a few changes. It has beef, garlic, breadcrumbs, milk, parmesan cheese, parsley, and salt like normal, and I added sausage. I also added extra breadcrumbs, and much more milk than usual to help the mixture soft enough to pipe into the pasta.
Stuffing the Rigatoni
Step one in this recipe is to par-cook the pasta. This basically just means cook it, but not all the way. Strain out the pasta at the 3/4 of the way through how long it says to cook it on the box. It should still have a little crunch to it.
Then add your meat mixture to a piping bag and stuff the meat into each piece of pasta. It might seem like a bit of work, but making meatball stuffed rigatoni is much easier than making ravioli!
Cook the pasta the rest of the way and make the sauce at the same time
I started with some butter and garlic in the pan, then added the meatball stuffed rigatoni. Be gentle! Then add in some wine, then a little bit of the water that you originally cooked the pasta in. This water is nice and salty and starchy and helps season everything and also thicken it a bit. We need this extra water to help the pasta finish cooking and the meatball mixture cook through.
As this boils, it will reduce and thicken. Add a little more water as needed if it seems a little dry before the pasta actually finishes cooking. Finally a little parsley and parmesan cheese finish it up.
So Good! This meatball stuffed rigatoni is one of the best pasta dishes I have had in a while! The meatballs become steamed which gives a much different texture or flavor than when they are broiled or cooked in a pan like traditional meatballs. If you love rigatoni like I do, try my bulgogi Bolognese or pumpkin stuffed crunchy rigatoni
Variations on Meatball Stuffed Rigatoni
You could definity do this with a classic red sauce like I did originally, I would still start with some butter and garlic in the pan, then add water and allow it to reduce a bit, then add the tomato sauce and cook another 5 minutes to finish. You could also stuff these with other types of mixtures. You could try them with just sausage, or you could also go in a totally different direction and use an Asian dumpling filling. I also always think vegan meat substitutes are a great idea!
Meatball Stuffed Rigatoni
- 1/2 pound ground beef
- 1/4 pound hot Italian sausage
- 3 cloves garlic grated
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 egg
Pasta and Sauce
- 1/2 pound large rigatoni
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese plus more for garnish
- Mix all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl to combine. You may need to use your hands to really get in there and mix it well. Once the meat is combined, store it in the fridge until ready to use.
- Bring a pot of water to a simmer and season heavily with salt. Add the pasta and cook about 7-8 minutes- about 3/4 of the amount of time it says on the package. It should be still crunchy but only a little.
- Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid, then strain the pasta.
- Fill a piping bag with the meatball mixture. Only put in an amount that will be manageable, if you overfill it, it will be hard to push into the pasta.
- One by one, pipe the meatball mixture into the pasta. Really fill it up so it is bursting out of the edges of both sides of the pasta.
- Put a large heavy bottom pan over medium high heat and add in the butter and garlic. Cook 2 minutes until simmering. Add in the red pepper flakes. Then add in the pasta and gently stir to combine.
- Add in the wine, then the pasta cooking liquid. Only add enough of the pasta water to just barely cover the noodles. Bring to a simmer and cook about 10 minutes, adding more water if needed as the water evaporates.
- When the pasta is tender and the meat is cooked through, allow the water to reduce to only about half way up the pasta. Remove from heat and add in the parsley and parmesan. Stir to combine and thicken the sauce. Serve.