Something I personally find a lot of joy and fun in, is turning a familiar recipe into a soup version of itself, and that’s just what I did with this cheesy rigatoni meatball soup.
Ah, soup… it’s one of my favorite things to prepare and to eat.
I love the entire “dance” of preparing soup—stock simmering away while I chop, slice and dice all of those delicious and aromatic ingredients that’ll create that wonderful depth of flavor… I create a little station next to my stove where I can begin the process of searing and browning, of stirring and sautéing, in order to ultimately achieve pure bliss in the form of a steaming, magical elixir that typically emerges only 25-45 minutes later.
What could be better? More soothing?
Rich and hearty, this comforting rigatoni meatball soup is a fun take on one of our favorite pasta dishes, complete with creamy mozzarella cheese.
• 1 pound ground beef (85/15 ratio, organic if possible) • 1 French roll (2-3 ounces), processed for 20-30 seconds in food processor for breadcrumbs • 1 egg, whisked • 1 teaspoon salt • 1 teaspoon dried basil • 1 teaspoon dried oregano • 1 teaspoon dried parsley • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper • 4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press (Need a good garlic press? Here’s the link: Rowav Garlic Press) • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese • Splash of milk or half & half (about 2 tablespoons)
• Olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) • 1 onion, roughly chopped • 1 teaspoon dried basil • 1 teaspoon dried oregano • 1 teaspoon dried parsley • Pinch salt • Pinch black pepper • Pinch red pepper flakes (optional) • 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced • 2 tablespoons tomato paste • 1/4 cup red wine (optional) • 1 (28 ounce/ 793 gram) can organic whole, peeled tomatoes • 6 cups warm chicken stock (I like Better Than Bouillon to make my stock) • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley • 8 ounces uncooked rigatoni, cooked according to package instructions • Grated mozzarella cheese (about ¼ cup per serving, so about 2 cups total)
Prepare your meatballs by placing your ground beef into a large bowl, and then adding in the remainder of the meatball ingredients; gently mix together just until combined, and using a tablespoon, scoop portions of the mixture and roll between your palms to form meatballs.
Place a large soup pot (non-stick is ideal, if you have it, you can give this one a try: Calphalon Unison Nonstick 4-Quart Soup Pot with Lid) over medium-high heat, and drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil; once the pot is hot, add in the meatballs, working in a couple of batches, if necessary; if you have a non-stick pot, then you can leave your meatballs to brown on that first side, undisturbed, for about 2-3 minutes; if your pot is not non-stick, make sure to move it around vigorously for about 30 seconds when you add in the meatballs so they don’t stick to the bottom before the sear up.
Once the meatballs are browned on all sides (about 4 minutes total per batch), transfer them to a plate or bowl to hold; then, drizzle in a touch more olive oil (if needed), and add in the chopped onion.
Saute the onion, scraping up the good bits from the meatballs as much as possible; add in the dried basil, oregano, and parsley, plus a pinch of salt, pepper and red pepper flakes (if using), and stir for a couple minutes until things soften.
Add in the garlic and stir that to combine, and once it becomes aromatic, add in the tomato paste, and stir to incorporate that in, about 30 seconds or so; add in the red wine to deglaze (if using), and after about 20 seconds, add in the whole tomatoes and the chicken stock.
Simmer the soup for about 15 minutes; then, using a blender or a hand-held immersion blender (my personal favorite for soup, here’s the link: KitchenAid 3-Speed Hand Blender), puree the soup until smooth.
Add the meatballs into the soup, and bring it back to a gentle simmer; simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes more until the meatballs are tender.
To serve, add ½ cup of the cooked rigatoni to a bowl, and ladle in some of the soup (about 1 ½ cups) along with 4 meatballs; top with about ¼ cup grated mozzarella cheese, and either enjoy immediately, or place under the broiler for a minute to melt and slightly brown the cheese.
Good quality lean, ground beef: I like to use 85/15 organic ground beef, as it has just the right amount of fat to lean meat, which equals flavor; but you can also use a leaner ground beef, just know that it will not be quite as tender in meatballs, since there is less fat.
Substitute another ground meat: You can also use dark meat chicken or turkey as a substitute for beef, for a leaner version—you can even use ground lamb or pork, if you prefer.
Make your meatballs first: I like to prepare the meatballs first, and have them ready to brown; I also use a tablespoon to scoop out portions of the meatball mixture to create bite-size meatballs, not too small but not too large to comfortably eat in soup form.
Feel free to leave out the wine: I add in only a very small amount of red wine into the soup, and that completely cooks out; but if you prefer not to add wine, simply omit it.
Vegetarian option: You can very easily prepare the soup on its own without any meatballs if you are looking for a vegetarian option, and substitute vegetable stock in place of the chicken.
Prepare ahead: Separate elements of this recipe can easily be prepared ahead. You can prepare the meatballs a day or two ahead of time, and you can cook your rigatoni in advance as well. Just make the soup the day you plan to serve. Or, you can prepare the entire recipe, keeping the rigatoni separate, a couple of days ahead of when you plan on serving it—the flavor will be amazing! (If you make it ahead and it thickens up a bit, feel free to add a some water, if necessary.)