Quick Meatballs and Pasta

Slow and steady, so they say, wins the race. A perfect example is Marcella Hazan’s Ragu Bolognese, which requires six hours of simmering to yield “when clinging to the folds of homemade noodles,” to quote Marcella, “one of the most satisfying experiences accessible to the sense of taste.” But when you’re really hungry, especially after a nerve-racking day, sometimes quick and easy is the way to go.

Recently we had one of those stressful days. It was raining, (yes it does rain in southern California) and we missed the bus, which resulted in our calling an Uber to get us to an appointment on time. During the ride, our driver argued endlessly with his navigation system, blaming her (it?) for his taking the wrong exit. On our way home on the trolley, we encountered a homeless person in an alcoholic stupor, who, at the top of his lungs, was calling for us to repent before it was too late. “The end is near,” he shouted, ironically prophetical, as we were approaching our stop. And maybe he was right, since as soon as we got off the trolley, the sky darkened and another cloud burst drenched us on our walk home.

It was late and since we had missed lunch, we were hungry. The perfect time for comfort food, I thought. And apparently so had my husband, who came into the kitchen with Jamie Oliver’s recipe for “Messy Meatball Buns” from his book 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food. The recipe featured a photo of soft hamburger buns laden with saucy meatballs coated with melting mozzarella and swimming in tomato sauce. A kind of Italian sloppy Joe.

Oliver’s Messy Meatball Buns

Although we didn’t have the required buns and mozzarella, we did have ground beef in the fridge and jarred pesto and tomatoes, as well as pasta, in the pantry. Andrew, who had recovered from the day’s challenges faster than I suggested pasta and meatballs and before I could object set out the ingredients, photographed them, and said: “Your next blog post.”

Well here it is. I’m sure some of my more conservative readers may find this recipe a travesty of the classic Italian-American classic. I must admit that at first glance, so did I. Yet after making this dish, in under 30 minutes, I have to admit that far exceeded my expectations and provided the comfort food we were both looking for. Were they the best meatballs I ever made? No. Were they as tender and light as my traditional ones? Perhaps not. Nevertheless, I’m happy to have this dish in my culinary repertoire and, with a few modifications, shall probably make it again when I need something quick and easy.

For those readers who may want to make the full original dish with buns and mozzarella, here’s a link to the recipe online. https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/beef-recipes/messy-meatball-buns/

Quick Meatballs and Pasta (adapted from Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food)



1 pound lean ground beef
4 heaping teaspoons green pesto
1 14-ounce can Italian chopped tomatoes tomatoes
Kosher salt|
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces pasta
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano


1. Use your clean hands to scrunch the minced beef with the pesto and a pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Be careful not to overwork the meat.

Beef & Pesto

2. Split into 12 pieces and, with wet hands, roll into balls. Brown the balls all over in a non-stick frying pan on a high heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, shaking the pan regularly.

Shaped meatballs

3. Once the balls are golden and gnarly, pour in the tomatoes, along with just a quarter of a can’s worth of water.

Browning the meatballs
Adding the tomatoes

4. Bring to the boil, cover, and leave to thicken for 5 to 10 minutes on a medium heat. Sprinkle with some of the cheese.

The finished meatballs

5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta following the package directions for al dente. When about 2 minutes shy of al dente, drain the pasta. Remove the meatballs to a warm bowl. Transfer the drained pasta to the pan with sauce and finish cooking over medium heat.

Finishing the pasta in the sauce

6. When done, serve the pasta accompanied by the meatballs and a generous sprinkling of the cheese.

Plated meatballs and pasta

Wine Pairing: Chianti, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

2 thoughts on “Quick Meatballs and Pasta

  1. I made this dish again last night with just a few modifications. Added 1 egg and 1/2 cup of dried bread crumbs to the beef and pesto. Was careful not to over work the meat and used wet hands to form the balls. As a result, the meatballs were less dense and far more tender.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s