Tortiglioni with Meatballs & Fresh Tomato Basil Mascarpone Cream Sauce

This post has been updated.

Summer has come to an end...

And with that, so has Food Network Star.
Okay, so it's still technically summer for about a month or so, and it definitely feels like it in Mississippi!! The heat index here has been over 100º for the last month- I'm pretty sure it reached 111º the other day... like crazy hot! Words cannot describe how ready I am for cooler weather... and Fall food! Ahh, don't even get me started on Fall and Winter. Even I know it's too early to get excited for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But while we're on the subject of it...
How perfect does this look for the holidays?? I can so see this as a Christmas Eve type dinner. 

Okay, I'm done- back to summer!

Honestly, my absolute favorite part of the summer is Food Network Star! I remember being curled up on our white couch, watching it with my mom after dinner for the first time, and eating a berry crumble of some sort a little over 7 years ago. After that first episode, I was hooked. I haven't missed a single season, episode, behind-the-scene footage, or Star Salvation episode to this day.

In season 8, I remember one of the final four contestants, Michele Ragussis, making these incredible Italian meatballs. Her trick- soaking soft white bread in whole milk and using it instead of traditional breadcrumbs.
Since Food Network Star Season 12 just recently finished, I've been feeling really inspired to experiment and cook a little more.

As I was pacing around the kitchen, looking back and forth in the pantry and fridge, trying to find some inspiration for what to make for dinner the other night, I spotted some extremely ripe, fresh Campari tomatoes, eager to be used in a creamy pasta dish, sitting on our counter. All I needed now was the half-empty container of mascarpone in our fridge and Michele's meatballs.

For the pasta, I used a Tortiglioni from the brand Pastificio Di Martino. It's by far my family's favorite store bought brand for when we're not stocked up on the really good stuff, AKA fresh imported Italian pasta from Central Grocery.

Back to the meatballs...
They are SO moist and delicious!! Michele's trick did not disappoint. I'm also obsessed with the addition of sage in these meatballs. Seriously, it MAKES this dish!

Tortiglioni with Meatballs & Fresh Tomato Mascarpone Cream Sauce

For the meatballs:
  • 1 lb. ground beef 
  • 1 small sweet onion- diced
  • 1 large clove garlic- minced
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. ground sage
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano 
  • 1 tbs. fresh rosemary- finely chopped (use 1 tsp. if dried)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups stale/hard white bread- pulsed into bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (use less/more if wanted)
  • 2 tsp. each salt & black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 tbs. cold butter + 1 tbs. cold butter
  • white wine
Preheat the oven to 365º.
Over medium-high heat sauté the onion, garlic, and fresh rosemary (if using dry rosemary- add in with other spices) in the pre-heated olive oil. Add a small pinch of both salt and sugar, and cook down until softened, adding a splash of white wine halfway through. In a food processor blend the onion mixture and 1 tbs. butter together to form a puree. Pour the milk into half of the breadcrumbs and let soak for a few minutes. In a separate bowl, add the onion mixture, ground beef, all the dried spices, and Worcestershire sauce. Squeeze out the milk from the breadcrumbs and add them into the meat mixture, trying to add as little excess milk as possible. Add in the bread, parmesan and the whisked egg. Mix until combined. Cut in the last tablespoon of butter with hands until incorporated. Small chunks of butter in the mixture is okay. Roll meatballs out on a lightly greased broiling pan, or on a tray that will be able to catch any grease underneath it. If you don't have a broiling pan, just make sure to let the meatballs rest on paper towels to soak up any excess grease/liquid.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until meatballs have an internal temperature of about 140º. 
Broil for 3-5 minutes, watching them closely, or until the tops are golden brown.
Let rest for at least 5 minutes before adding them into the sauce.

For the sauce:

  • 12-15 Campari tomatoes- quartered
  • 3 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 shallot- finely minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves- roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock OR pasta water
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese- room temperature
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp. oregano 
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

While the meatballs are cooking, sauté the shallot over medium-high heat with half of the fresh basil and a pinch of salt/pepper in heated olive oil. Cook down until softened and golden-brown in color. Add in tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, oregano, sugar, and a bay leaf. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. 
Add chicken stock or pasta water, mascarpone, and tomato paste. Mix thoroughly let simmer until ready to serve. Discard bay leaf, add crushed red pepper, parmesan, and more salt/pepper to taste. Add meatballs and toss gently to coat in sauce. Top with remaining fresh basil. Serve over Tortiglioni pasta (or pasta of choice- rigatoni is a good substitute).

Cecilia A.


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