I wanted to combine Italian sausages, turn them into bite-sized meatballs and bake them in a rich tomato sauce with the tortellini because this kind of pasta dish is my absolute heaven. It’s a whole lot quicker and easier than making lasagne and delivers a similar result. This is winter comfort food at its best.
I used a delicious Sicilian sausage from Giovanni’s which I love. You may have seen my recipe with these sausages and the best ever warm lentil salad a while back. To make these meatballs, you simply remove the meat from the casing and pan fry them off to a golden brown. A lot of the fat gets rendered off which is also good. No other spice is required, apart from salt and pepper and a pinch of chilli if you want some heat. A large part of the success of this dish is based on the taste of the sausages, so you really want to use good quality, flavour packed ones here. I love the Sicilian because of the fennel flavour profile.
I made a batch of Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato sauce. I literally cannot get over how awesome and easy this is to make. It takes about 2 minutes to decant the two tins into the pot with the halved onion and butter. I’ve found I use a little less than her recipe of 70gms of butter, and find around 50gms is good too. Let that cook off slowly for 20 minutes then get about making the rest.
Sadly fresh tortellini isn’t readily available in Cape Town, so one has to really hunt them down and store in the freezer, but I used a dried Italian brand this time and it was delicious. I went for the cheese filled one, but failing that, spinach and ricotta would have been my choice. This was also available at Giovanni’s – my favourite food shop in Cape Town.
So you have your sauce simmering away becoming delicious all on its own, then you boil the pasta for about 16 minutes or according to the packet instructions (fresh would be shorter), and you pan fry the meatballs. Everything gets put in the oven covered with Parmesan and fresh mozzarella to bake for about 20 minutes and until bubbling and golden.
To make this dish vegetarian, simply leave out the meatballs and add more spinach.
Recipe serves 2 – 3 people (or 4 less hungry ones)
- 2 tins of Italian whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 large white onion, halved
- 40 – 60gms butter – depending on how many calories you are willing to sacrifice
- a good few pinches of good quality sea salt flakes such as Maldon
- Black pepper
Meatball pasta part
- 250 gms tortellini (either cheese or spinach)
- 400 -45 gms of Italian sausages, removed from casings and rolled into small meatballs.
- 3 – 4 cups baby spinach leaves
- pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
- 1 x ball of mozzarella
- Parmesan to grate
Get the sauce on the go and allow that to cook for about 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350 F
Make your meatballs and fry these in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat until golden on all sides. They don’t have to be cooked through. Remove from pan and drain if you want to take off any fat.
Get your water to the boil and cook the tortellini according to the packet instructions.
Once the tomato sauce has been cooking for about 40 minutes, add the meatballs, chilli flakes to the sauce and allow to bubble for about 5 minutes. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary. Fold through the spinach until it is all wilted. Add the pasta and stir gently to combine.
Decant into a buttered oven proof dish and grate over Parmesan cheese (as mush as you would like). Tear or slice the mozzarella into pieces to cover the surface. Bake for 20 minutes until starting to go golden and the cheese is bubbling. Serve with more Parmesan on the side.
A few of my other favourite pasta dishes:
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