This Homemade Meatballs with Vodka Sauce and Cavatappi pasta is such an easy dinner that we have regularly in our house. The ingredients are minimal and the end product will feed the whole family! And just to clarify, the meatballs are homemade but the sauce is from a jar.
The biggest perk - it's crazy cheap to make 💕 If you have a pound of ground beef on hand, here's the recipe you should try out this week.
I am not Italian, so these will definitely not be how your Italian grandmother made them, ok?! Now that we're past that, I'll tell you what I think makes this pasta dish so great!
Tips for success -
- Using a cast iron skillet - I brown the meatballs in a cast iron pot and then let the meatballs and vodka sauce cook down together in the skillet as well. Once we combine the pasta with the sauce and meatballs, guess where it gets baked in the oven? Yep, the cast iron skillet for a gorgeous presentation and less dishes 🤣
- Cavatappi pasta - Cavatappi is thick enough for the hearty sauce and meatball combo. The vodka sauce can get trapped in the corkscrew shape of the pasta and it won't be smooshed by the meatballs like other types of pasta (looking at you, angel hair)
- Baking the pasta - it's tempting to just mix it all together and then chow down, but bake it first!! The flavors are able to really mend in this time and it makes the dish so much better!
Is it a crime to use jarred sauce? Maybe to you. But sometimes I only have time to make part of a recipe homemade. Here I chose to make the meatballs myself but outsource the sauce 🤪 and I'm ok with that! If you have a tried and true vodka sauce, by all means, you can use it here! Just try it with my combo of meatballs and cavatappi pasta to get the best meat/sauce/pasta combo around!
Homemade Meatballs with Vodka Sauce and Cavatappi
For the Meatballs -
- 1 pound lean ground beef you can also use 80/20 here
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup plain breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup grated romano cheese
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or avocado oil works too
For the vodka sauce and pasta -
- 1 jar vodka sauce I like to use Bertolli brand
- 1 box cavatappi pasta I always use Barilla brand
Make the Meatballs -
- Add egg to a large mixing bowl and whisk.
- Add in breadcrumbs, romano cheese, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and dried parsley and mix well.
- Add in ground beef and mix together, making sure to not overwork the meat.
- Roll into 1 ½ inch meat balls.
- In a 12 inch cast iron skillet, add oil and let get very hot, but not yet smoking on medium high heat.
- Add in the meatballs, making sure to not overcrowd, and brown meatballs on each side for 3-4 minutes. I normally do this step in 2 batches.
- Remove meatballs from the skillet and let rest, don't worry if they aren't fully cooked yet.
Make the rest of the dish -
- Preheat oven to 350
- Meanwhile, boil the cavatappi pasta for 1 minute less than the box states. Reserve ½ cup pasta water. Drain and set aside.
- Once meatballs have been browned, turn fire to low (the cast iron skillet stays REALLY hot) and add in the full jar of vodka sauce along with pasta water and gently stir to combine.
- Then add in meatballs and coat meatballs in sauce and let simmer for at least 5 minutes. I normally have to turn my heat back up to medium low.
- Add in pasta and gently mix to coat the pasta in the sauce.
- Cover with foil, carefully!! And then let bake in oven for 10-15 minutes.
- Enjoy with an extra topping of more romano or red pepper flakes!