Little Meatballs in Vodka Cream Sauce with Penne & Favas or Peas

"I added meatballs to my signature vodka cream sauce, which makes the dish cuter and even more romantic in a 'Lady and the Tramp' kind of way." —Rach
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Little Meatballs in Vodka Cream Sauce with Penne & Favas or Peas

Recipe by Rachael Ray

This recipe originally appeared in our Summer 2020 issue. Get the magazine here

  • 6 to 8Servings

Ingredients

Polpetti (Little Meatballs)

  • 1 1/2 lb. ground lamb or a mix of ground beef and ground pork
  • 3/4 cup fresh ricotta, drained
  • 3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • A handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus more for garnish
  • 1 head roasted garlic, cloves removed and pasted (see recipe here)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp. EVOO
  • 1 tbsp. fennel pollen or fennel seed
  • About 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • About 1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • Salt and white pepper and/or finely ground black pepper

Vodka Cream Sauce

  • 2 tbsp. EVOO
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • Scant 1 tsp. crushed red pepper or ground pepperoncini
  • 1 head roasted garlic, cloves removed and pasted (see recipe here)
  • 3/4 cup vodka
  • 3 cups passata or tomato puree or crushed tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup chicken or beef stock
  • A few leaves of basil, torn
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • A small hunk of Parmesan rind
  • 1 1/2 cups shelled fava beans or fresh peas

Pasta

  • 1 lb. penne rigate (penne with lines)
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil, then parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, combine the meat, ricotta, breadcrumbs, Parm, parsley, roasted garlic, egg, EVOO, fennel pollen, lemon zest, nutmeg, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Roll the mixture into 1- to 1 1/4-inch balls. Transfer to the baking sheet and roast until the meatballs are lightly brown and set, 7 to 8 minutes.

3. While the meatballs roast, make the sauce. In a large Dutch oven, heat the EVOO, two turns of the pan, over medium. Melt the butter into the oil, then add the shallots and crushed red pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the shallots soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the roasted garlic and vodka; cook for a minute. Add the passata, stock, and basil; simmer for 20 minutes.

4. Stir in the cream, Parm rind, and favas. Reduce the heat to low and add the meatballs. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meatballs are heated through and the sauce reduces slightly, 10 to 15 minutes more.

5. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Salt the water liberally, add the pasta, and cook 1 minute less than the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.

6. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a serving bowl. Remove the Parm rind from the sauce. Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding some of the pasta water, if needed, to thin. Transfer the pasta to another serving bowl. Top with half of the meatballs; garnish with parsley. Pass the remaining meatballs at the table. Serve the pasta with the grated Parm.

Get Ahead: You can bake the meatballs up to 2 days ahead. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge, then reheat them in the sauce.