Elite Tier Meatballs and Rigatoni

Elite Tier Meatballs and Rigatoni with a cork and a wine bottle opener

These are Fork & Twist’s “Elite Tier” meatballs. As the name suggests, this is our ultimate version using ingredients and methods you’ll actually buy/use. Our goal was to make incredibly tender and juicy meatballs using only common supermarket ingredients & certainly supermarket mince – let’s face it, how many of you would actually go to a butcher, by some short rib and ribeye and mince it yourself? Didn’t think so. Although that would be far superior than supermarket mince, we are hoping this is a recipe you would consider making and not be put off by.

Elite Tier Meatballs and Rigatoni close up with a meatball cut in half

When making meatballs it’s important to remember that the filling is just as important as the meat. The ratio of filling to meat is roughly 2:3, filling:meat. It’s important to layer up the flavour and include ingredients to help with the juiciness and tenderness. Our filling ingredients and purposes are as follows:


  1. Breadcrumbs in milk. These add tenderness and juiciness. 
  2. Pecorino Romano. This adds saltiness and Umami.
  3. Star Anise Onions (thank you Heston Blumenthal) – Adds sweetness and meatiness from the aniseed.
  4. Ricotta Cheese – Adds much needed moisture.
  5. The simmering Tomato Sauce – Also helps with moisture and slight umami taste.
  6. Garlic/Parsley/Fennel – Boosts the meaty characteristics and adds fresh pungent flavour needed to carry the dish.
  7. Egg – Just a binding agent. Does not add moisture. Helps to keep it together.


It’s clear that every ingredient has a role to play, and each layer is important. It’s also important to season each layer slightly so the seasoning is consistent throughout. 


The tomatoes need to be mentioned too. Feel free to buy supermarket tomatoes – just don’t buy cheap, for this, we suggest you buy the best quality you can find. San Marzano D.O.P are the best, hands down. Often found on Amazon or other pantry based websites, these are slightly expensive at £2.50 a pop, but the taste is worth it – we did a side by side comparison with some branded tinned tomatoes and they were blown out of the water. Try and get some if you can – if not, buy the best you can find easily. 

Elite Tier Meatballs and Rigatoni close up with basil

There is a comprehensive recipe card below – we don’t want to spend too much time going into detail about the do’s and the don’ts and why we added this or that – feel free to use this recipe as a template and add your own flavours and generate your own ideas. Cooking is all about what you feel and creativity – just go with your instincts and see were it takes you.  With that in mind, please enjoy this recipe, share this recipe and make it over and over again – we know you’re going to love it! Shout out Not Another Cooking Show for some inspiration on the cooking method. 

Elite Tier Meatballs and Rigatoni in white bowls

The Video

The Recipe

Elite Tier Meatballs and Rigatoni with a cork and a wine bottle opener

Rigatoni and Meatballs

Perfectly al dente Rigatoni smothered in umami rich San Marzano tomato marinara sauce with the most soft and juicy beef meatballs. An absolute Elite Tier dish.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Course Dinner
Cuisine American, Italian
Servings 4 people
Calories 950 kcal


  • Large Saucepan (for Sauce)
  • Medium Saucepan (for Pasta)
  • Frying Pan
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Colander
  • Food Mill (for the tomatoes)
  • Pestle and Mortar



  • 500 g Beef Mince 20% Fat
  • 25 g Bread Crumbs
  • 10 tbsp Milk
  • 10-12 g Fresh Parsley
  • 2 Medium Garlic Cloves
  • 1/2 tsp Fennel Seeds
  • 1/2 Large White Onion
  • 1/2 Star Anise
  • 50 g Unsalted Butter
  • 40 g Peccorino Romano Cheese
  • Salt
  • 1 tsp Fresh Black Pepper
  • 1 Medium Egg

Tomato Sauce

  • 8-900 G Tinned Whole San Marzano Tomatoes D.O.P makes a huge difference, and make sure they are D.O.P. (Can use any good quality tomatoes, but buy good ones for this recipe).
  • 2 Large Garlic Cloves
  • 2 Sprigs Fresh Basil
  • 1 tsp Flakey Sea Salt
  • Olive oil


  • 350 g Rigatoni Pasta
  • 1 tbsp Table Salt


Prepare and Start Cooking the Sauce

  • Pass the tinned tomatoes through a food mill and into a large jug/bowl to create a smooth sauce.
    Top Tip - If you don't have a food mill, simply pass them through a colander using the back of a spoon, or if you don't mind a chunkier sauce, add to the pan and break up using a wooden spoon whilst cooking.
    Top Tip 2 - Keep the tins. You will need them for the next part of the sauce making.
    (Do not blend the tomatoes - the seeds being broken up can cause the sauce to become overly bitter).
  • Chop up the two garlic cloves finely.
  • To a large sauce pan add enough oil to full coat the bottom.
  • Add the garlic to the oil and add the two basil springs - stalks and all, no need to pick the leaves.
    Top Tip - Stalks have a lot of flavour.
  • Put the pan on a medium to low heat and bring up to heat until gently frying
    Top Tip - Starting cold and bringing up to heat whilst the ingredients are in the pan helps to infuse the oil with the lovely garlic and basil flavours.
  • When the basil starts to darken, remove from the pan. Remove the leaves and keep the stalks.
  • Immediately after, add the tomatoes to the pan along with the basil stalks. Turn up the heat to a medium high.
    Note - begin cruhsing the tomatoes now in the pan if you haven't already passed them through a food mill / colander.
  • Using the tins the tomatoes came in, fill each one half way with water and swirl it around to capture all the leftover tomatoes jucies. Pour into the saucepan, stir and let it come to a simmer.
  • Let this simmer on a very low heat with the lid off.
    Note - the reaosn for having the lid off is to allow the sauce to reduce down over time to its more saucy and intense.
    In the meantime, prepare the meatballs.

Forming Meatballs

  • Start by making a fennel, garlic and parsely paste.
    In a dry frying pan, add the fennel seeds and toast on a medium heat for about 30 seconds until fragrant.
    Add these to the pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder.
    Peel and roughly chop the garlic cloves and add them to the mortar. Grind to a thick paste. Add a little olive oil to help losen if needed.
    Finely chop the Parsley and add to the mortar (chopping first helps grind it to a paste easier). Grind the parsley, garlic and fennel into a smooth paste.
    Finish with a touch of flaked sea salt.
  • Finely diced the white onion. Dice it as fine as you can.
  • In the same frying pan, add the butter, star anise and a dash of olive oil and bring up to heat - a medium low heat will do.
  • Add the onion to the butter and cook gentley until very soft. About 7-8 minutes should do.
  • Remove the onions from the pan using a slotted spoon and keep the butter oil for later. Discard the star anise.
    Top Tip - Use the onion butter in the pan to cook the meat balls. It adds another layer of flavour.
  • In a small bowl add the breadcrumbs and milk, mix togehter until it forms a paste. Salt it lightly.
  • Add the beef mince to a mixing bowl and salt with about 1 tsp of sea salt and the black pepper.
    Add the breadcrumb paste to the beef mince.
    Add the fennel, garlic and parsely paste to the beef mince.
    Add the cook onions to the beef mince.
    Finely grate the Peccorino Romano cheese and add to the beef mince.
    Add the egg.
  • Get a couple tbsp's of the simmering tomato sauce and add this to the mixture.
  • Mix all the ingredient together well. You can use a spoon, your hands, or a mixture of both. But make sure the meat and filling is properly combined.
  • Form the meaty mixture into 80g balls using hands. No real technique, no water needed, no oil needed, just roll them using cupped hands into as much of a ball as you can. This will make between 9-10 meatballs. If you want 12, make them into 60g balls. (We find 80g is a nice size though).
    Top Tip - Place them on baking paper on a tray for easy storage.
    Top Tip 2 - Make double and freeze the other half for another day.

Cooking the Meatballs

  • Using the frying pan with the butter / oil in, add a touch more oil if needed to fully coat the bottom of the frying pan. Place on a medium heat.
    Top Tip - Don't have the pan too hot. These can quickly burn, cook them more gentle than you would a steak or a burger.
  • Carefully the meatballs to the hot buttery oil. They will be soft, so handle them gently. Cook until brown and crisp on one side.
    Top Tip - Don't overcrowd the pan. Make sure each ball has good contact with the pan and not touching another meatball.
  • Flip the meatballs once browned and keep doing this until each edge is browned.
    Top Tip - Remember to be gentle and turn them carefully. This is a soft meatball, and could fall apart if too heavy handed.
  • Once all of the meatballs are fully browned, add them carefully to the simmering tomatoe sauce. Try to make sure each meatball has contact with the bottom of the pan and not overcrowded. The sauce needs to be almost covering the meatballs fully.

Finishing the Sauce + Pasta

  • Now the meatballs are in the sauce, simmer gently for around 45-60 minutes until the tomatoes have reached your desired thickness. This is down to you, but ours was perfect after 45 mins.
    Top Tip - avoid turning up the heat too much or you'll risk the bottom burning. We want a nice layer of jammy tomatoes on the bottom and rich tomatoe sauce on top.
  • Taste the sauce and adjust for seasoning, add salt if needed.
  • Allow the meatballs and sauce to sit off the heat and rest. In the meantime, start cooking the pasta.
  • Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to the boil (about 1tbsp per liter works well). Add the pasta and cook for between 12-15 mintues. Do refer to packet instructions for this stage.
  • Check the pasta 10 minutes in to see if closing in on the al dente stage. Take a bite, if there is a white ring in the middle of the pasta where you have bitten, it's not quite ready. Test again after a couple minutes and when there is no white ring it's ready.
  • Drain the pasta (Reserve the water) and use the same pasta pot to finish the sauce.
  • Add the drained pasta to the pot. Cover the pasta with 3/4 of the sauce (best if you remove the meatballs from the sauce pan first). Add 20g of Parmesan Cheese to the pasta and sauce. The residual heat will melt the parmesan.
    Top Tip - If you want a thinner suace, add a couple tbsps of pasta water at a time until desired consistency is reached.
  • Spoon a generous portion of the pasta into a large pasta bowl. Place 2-3 meatballs on top. Spoon over a little more sauce. A heavy sprinkle of parmesan or peccorino and a little basil leaf garnish if you want.


  1. Use San Marzano tomatoes if you can. They really do make a big difference. 
  2. 20% Fat Beef is a must. Fat = flavour.
  3. If you don't have a food mill, simply pass the tomatoes through a colander using the back of a spoon, or if you don't mind a chunkier sauce, add them straight to the pan and break up using a wooden spoon whilst cooking.
  4. Make more meatballs than you need - in fact double the recipe - then freeze the rest for later. Easy and quick meatball dinners.
  5. When cooking the meatballs don't have the heat too high or risk burning. Turn gently to avoid them falling apart. Don't overcrowd the pan, we want them to brown nicely, not stew. 
  6. Simmering the sauce for an hour or so allows the tomatoes to develop more flavour and richness. Adding the extra tomato tin water allows us to do this without them simmering in a thick paste.
  7. Don't forget to reserve some sauce for the final serving over the meatballs. Essential.
Keyword Beef, Pasta
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Nice to meet you!

I'm James. A full time technical analyst and part time home cook. I live in London, England and run the Fork & Twist website. I'm passionate about good food and I'm so happy you're checking out one of my recipes.