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Penne al Forno con Polpettine e Rapini (Baked Pasta with Small, Spicy Meatballs and Broccoli Rabe)

This recipe originally appeared on the Rachael Ray Show. For more recipes and videos from the show visit RachaelRayShow.com [1].


For the meatballs:

For the sauce:

  • About 3 tablespoons EVOO [2] – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 to 3 anchovy filets (optional)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock or water
  • 4 12- to 14-ounce cans or 2 28-ounce jars peeled, Italian cherry tomatoes or 2 28-ounce cans peeled, San Marzano tomatoes
  • A few leaves of basil, torn
  • 1 large bunch broccoli rabe/rapini, trimmed
  • Salt
  • 1 pound/500 grams penne rigate pasta
  • 1 pound Fior di Latte/fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced


Preheat oven to 400°F.

For the meatballs, in a large bowl [3], combine meat with salt, garlic, fennel, red pepper flakes, grated cheeses, soaked breadcrumbs, beaten egg, oregano, parsley and EVOO. Roll small (1 1/2-inch in diameter) meatballs and arrange on a large parchment-lined baking sheet [4]. Bake 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.
For the sauce, heat a large pot [5] or deep skillet over medium heat with EVOO, 3 turns of the pan [5]. Add anchovies, if using, and melt them into the oil. Add onions and garlic, and cook to soften for 3-5 minutes. Add stock or water and bring to boil, reduce heat back to medium and let the liquid almost completely absorb, 7-8 minutes. Add tomatoes and break them up with a spoon. Add torn basil and let sauce simmer 30 minutes. Adjust salt to taste.

While the sauce simmers, bring a few inches of water to a boil in a deep skillet. Salt water and cook broccoli rabe 5 minutes; transfer to an ice water bath with tongs or a spider to cold-shock. Drain, dry and coarsely chop.

Bring a large pot [5] of water to a boil for the penne. Salt water generously and add pasta; cook 5 minutes. Drain and rinse pasta under cold water to stop the cooking process. Add pasta back to pot and toss with sauce, meatballs and rapini/broccoli rabe. Transfer to baking dish and top with sliced mozzarella cheese. (If making this dish ahead, cover and store in fridge or freezer. Bring pasta to room temperature before baking.)

Bake pasta until bubbly and brown on top, about 30-40 minutes.