One Pot Creamy Tomato Pasta Sauce and Meatballs is spaghetti and meatballs meets vodka rigatoni, but it’s all made neatly in one pot! Tender meatballs made with Italian sausage are seared until crusty and golden brown and then cooked with a creamy tomato sauce and adorable pipette shells. The perfect Sunday supper!
One Pot Creamy Tomato Pasta Sauce and Meatballs
The only unfortunate factor about heading into warmer days, is dishes like today’s One Pot Creamy Tomato Pasta Sauce and Meatballs will be few and far between. It’s bittersweet really. We are one of those families that relies heavily on comforting Sunday dinners to finish out our weekend, and aldente noodles saturated in a creamy vodka sauce and studded with tender, salty meatballs sure fits the bill.
Even better, this comforting creamy tomato pasta sauce is made in one pot so the cooking process is virtually seamless and of course, there’s very little cleanup.
The meatballs are a rift on these Ricotta Meatballs we made a few weeks back, except this time I didn’t have ricotta on hand so we just left it out. The meatballs are still super tender, thanks to the addition of bread crumbs and milk, and still have an infinite amount of flavor because again, we make them with Italian sausage. Oh, and they’re only five ingredients, so there’s that.
The sauce, as mentioned is basically just a creamy tomato pasta sauce meets vodka sauce made with canned tomatoes, a little bit of vodka, plenty of garlic and onion. Oh, and a good amount of parmesan cheese. A simple classic, bu oh-so delicious.
Ingredients in One Pot Creamy Rigatoni and Meatballs
Italian sausage. This has always been my go-to ingredient when it comes to making spaghetti and meatballs, but I typically use a half ground beef, half Italian sausage combination. Leaving out the ground beef altogether lets us narrow down the ingredient list even more since Italian sausage is already packed with garlic, salt, and plenty of other spices.
Breadcrumbs. You can use any bread crumbs you like here, just make sure they are unseasoned. If you only have seasoned on hand, that’s okay as well, just cut back the amount of salt a touch. For this particular recipe I went with standard plain breadcrumbs, but I’ve also used panko which works just as well.
Parmesan cheese. A little bit of grated parmesan cheese is a must in all my meatball recipes. It doesn’t make the meatballs “cheesy” per se, just adds a little bit more flavor and slightly nutty bite to them. I’d recommend using parmigiano reggiano, but if you don’t have it, or it’s not in your budget, an aged parmesan cheese is just fine!
Egg. I always like to add an egg to bind everything together. It also adds a little richness to the creamy tomato pasta sauce.
Salt. Even though the Italian sausage has some salt in, you still need a little bit extra to make sure they’re seasoned appropriately.
Onion and garlic. I like a somewhat textured sauce when it comes to this one pot wonder so the recipe calls for about 1/2 medium onion and three large garlic cloves.
Vodka. I typically add red wine to all my red sauces, but I also love the way vodka adds a nice, more natural acidic flavor to the creamy tomato pasta sauce. Don’t worry, the vodka cooks out, you and your children will not get drunk. If you want to leave it out, you can also do that.
Tomatoes. I like to use Canned Whole San Marzano Tomatoes. For me, whole tomatoes are a little bit fresher than if your were to buy pureed tomatoes. These days you can find them in pretty much any grocery store, but I’ve also linked them up on Amazon. All I do is use my hands or kitchen shears to crush the tomatoes by hand. It takes about two minutes, and you can do it while the onion and garlic cook. Of course, buying San Marzano tomatoes isn’t a requirement, but if you can, you should pick some up.
Tomato paste. Because we have to add more liquid to the rigatoni and meatballs, I like to add a little bit of tomato paste for a more concentrated tomato flavor, plus it helps to thicken the sauce. I like to buy mine in tubes like this, especially since we only use a little bit in this recipe. This way you can keep for another recipe.
Water. As mentioned, because the pasta cooks in the sauce, you need to add a little bit of water so there’s enough cooking liquid to cook the pasta.
Parmesan cheese rind. A parmesan cheese rind adds SO MUCH FLAVOR to the finished creamy tomato pasta sauce. I would say it’s a necessity, and if you’re using parmesan cheese, then you can just cut off the rind from the block of cheese you’re using. As mentioned I’d recommend using parmigiano reggiano if you can.
Cream. Heavy cream is the name of the game here. It adds a luxurious final touch to the creamy tomato pasta sauce, hence the creamy title.
Pasta. I love to use a Pipette pasta shape here. In Italian pipette translates to “little pipe,” and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a curved pipe-like shell that is perfect for holding puddles of the creamy tomato pasta sauce. It’s also perfect for little kiddos, my boys thought they were super fun to eat.
Parmesan cheese. Finish everything off with more parmesan cheese, because why not?!
Salt. The key to taking any dish from good to great is seasoning, so make sure to season with plenty of salt and pepper!
How to make One Pot Cream Rigatoni with Meatballs
Make the meatballs. Add the Italian sausage, salt, egg, and parmesan cheese to a medium bowl. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and then cover in the milk. Make sure the milk soaks into the breadcrumbs. This creates, light, tender meatballs!
Use your hands to gently mix the ingredients together just until they are combined. Do not over mix!
Use a small cookie scoop to form the meatballs. Wet hands and roll into balls (this helps to prevent sticking).
Cook the meatballs. Heat a large skillet with high sides to a medium heat. Add olive oil. Brown the meatballs on all sides. A little trick is to keep from flipping the meatballs until they release easily. This means they are adequately browned.
Remove the meatballs to a plate. Drain all but about a tablespoon of the grease.
Make the sauce. Add onions and garlic to the fat. Reduce the heat to a medium-low. Saute onion and garlic until slightly softened, about 2-3 minutes. Pour in vodka. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
Open the can of tomatoes and use hands or kitchen shears to crush the tomatoes. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, water, remaining salt, sugar, basil, pasta, and parmesan cheese rind to the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover. Stir every few minutes to make sure the pasta isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan.
When the pasta is just under aldente (still has a very solid crunch to it), add the meatballs back to the pot along with the cream. Continue to simmer until the pasta is fully aldente. Add remaining parmesan cheese and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Can I make this in advance?
Yes! Just cool completely and store in the fridge. Also, I would cook the pasta just under aldente. Reheat on the stove, and if necessary, add more cream or water to loosen the sauce up. This will keep for a few days in the fridge.
Are the meatballs good on their own?
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Because you can’t taste raw meatball mixture for seasoning, I like to make a super small meatball and cook it up to make sure my seasoning is right. It’s not a necessary step, but if you’re ever worried about the seasoning being off, you can do this.
- Swap out the plain breadcrumbs for panko or whole-wheat. If you use seasoned breadcrumbs, reduce the amount of salt in the meatballs just a pinch.
- Any short pasta will work for this. Elbows, bow ties, rotini, cellentani, or rotini are great.
- The meatballs are brown enough when they easily release from the bottom of the pan.
- If you notice part of the way through cooking, that the pasta may need more liquid, go ahead and add the cream.
- I like my noodles swimming in creamy tomato pasta sauce, but if you want less sauce, take away 1/4 cup of water.
If you love One Pot Pasta, be sure to check out some of our other favorites!
- This Creamy One Pot Garlic Pasta is the perfect side dish for any meal. Add seared chicken or shrimp and make it a meal!
- This One Pot Turkey Mexican Pasta is one of our most popular recipes, and for good reason! Aldente pasta shells are cooked with a spicy ground turkey, enchilada sauce, and of course, plenty of gooey cheese. Easy and pretty healthy too!
- This Short Rib Bolognese is by far our most popular One Pot Italian recipe. Hearty short ribs are simmered in a red-wine infused tomato sauce, shredded and tossed with thick pappardelle noodles. So good!
- 1 lb mild italian sausage
- 2 1/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan, divided
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 3 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 28 oz canned whole San Marzano Tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup water
- 1 parmesan cheese rind
- 1 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 3 cups pipette pasta or similar short pasta
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Medium bowl
- Large skillet with high sides
- Add the Italian sausage, 3/4 teaspoon salt, egg, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese to a medium bowl. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and then cover in the milk. Make sure the milk soaks into the breadcrumbs. This creates, light, tender meatballs!
- Use your hands to gently mix the ingredients together just until they are combined. Do not over mix! Use a small cookie scoop to form the meatballs. Wet hands and roll into balls (this helps to prevent sticking).
- Heat a large skillet with high sides to a medium-high heat. Add olive oil. Swirl to coat pan. Add meatballs. Sear until meatballs are crusty and brown on all sides. Try not to turn the meatballs until they release easy from the pan. Once all the meatballs are brown, remove them from the pan and transfer to a plate.
- Open up the can of tomatoes while the meatballs cook and use hands or kitchen shears to crush them.
- Drain all but a tablespoon of the remaining fat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onion, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Saute until slightly softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add in vodka. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until reduced by half.
- Add in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, water, parmesan cheese rind, sugar, basil, and remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons salt. Stir to combine. Add in pasta. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover and continue to simmer until the pasta is just under aldente, about 10 minutes. Stir every few minutes to prevent the pasta noodles from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Add the meatballs and cream to the pan. Again, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered until the meatballs are cooked through and the pasta is aldente or cooked to your liking. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.