Bolognese Cavatelli with Meatballs

Lunch / Dinner

Bolognese Cavatelli with Meatballs

A silky, slow-simmered sauce and aromatic meatballs offer a fresh take on traditional Bolognese, for a baked pasta dish packed with Italian flavor. There’s no doubt Bolognese sauce requires a little work, but what’s a few extra minutes when it comes to big flavor? Carrots, onion, and celery are finely minced with garlic, so they virtually melt into the sauce. Red wine and Romano are added, then slowly simmered in, to achieve the trademark silky texture and deep, rich flavor.

There are two main ways this sauce differs from traditional Bolognese: the faster cooking time, and the meat. Instead of cooking ground beef in the sauce, mix up some savory meatballs with Italian herbs and fennel for fresh zing. To keep the sauce from becoming greasy as the casserole bakes, use a leaner beef, such as ground sirloin. And bake the meatballs separately before adding them, to help render the fat further. To make efficient use of your cooking time, prepare the meatballs while the sauce is simmering.


10 servings (about 30 meatballs)

Total Time

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Bake the meatballs separately on a preheated baking sheet before combining with pasta mixture to speed up the cooking process and help to render the fat.


Preheat oven to 400° with a baking sheet inside. Coat a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.

Cook cavatelli in a large pot of boiling salted water until slightly underdone, 67 minutes; drain.

For the sauce, pulse chopped onions, carrots, celery, and garlic cloves in a food processor until minced. Transfer mixture to a sauté pan and sweat in oil over medium heat until liquid evaporates, 810 minutes.

Add tomato paste; cook 1 minute. Stir in 2 tsp. Italian seasoning, pepper flakes, 1 tsp. salt and black pepper, and bay leaves.

Stir in broth, wine, tomatoes, Romano, and sugar; simmer over medium-high heat, stirring often, until thick and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves and stir in pasta.

For the meatballs, combine pork, sirloin, grated onion, bread crumbs, parsley, egg, minced garlic, fennel seed, 1 tsp. Italian seasoning, 1 tsp. salt, and 12 tsp. black pepper in a medium bowl. Form mixture into meatballs using a #60 scoop (about 2 Tbsp.). Spray preheated baking sheet with nonstick spray. Carefully place meatballs on tray and bake 15 minutes.

Arrange meatballs in bottom of prepared baking dish; top with pasta, sauce, and mozzarella.

Cover casserole with foil and bake 15 minutes; uncover and bake 15 minutes more. Let casserole rest 10 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Facts

Nutritional Facts

Per serving

Calories: 450

% Daily Value*

Total Fat 14g 21%

Saturated Fat 7g 35%

Cholesterol 65mg 21%

Sodium 1091mg 45%

Carbs 51g 17%

Fiber 5g 20%

Protein 27g

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

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