Meatballs in Spicy Red Pepper Sauce with Cannellini Beans

Mini-sized meatballs in a zesty, vibrant red pepper sauce with cannellini beans and whole-grain penne pasta. Because sometimes even I, pasta lover that I am, get tired of traditional red sauce. This is a nice variation from the norm. And every bit as comforting!

The spiciness comes from red pepper flakes and the bright color from fire-roasted red bell peppers that are pureed and then mixed with half & half to form the sauce. The rich sauce has a pop of heat that works wonders with the red peppers. And the tender, perfectly seasoned, almost bite-sized meatballs? You can’t go wrong. Even eating them straight from the pan sans the sauce.

In the white beans you find a unique and unexpected addition. Mild in flavor, they add a heartiness that is highlighted by the sauce. The idea of a vegetarian version without the meatballs is exciting! The flavor combination really works. White beans and red peppers were meant for each other. I’m convinced of it.

Meatballs in Spicy Red Pepper Sauce with Cannellini Beans

Rating: 51

Yield: 4 - 6 servings

Meatballs in Spicy Red Pepper Sauce with Cannellini Beans

Mini-sized meatballs in a zesty, vibrant red pepper sauce with cannellini beans and penne pasta


1 + 1/4 pounds ground beef (85% lean)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/3 cup yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, mined
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning, crushed between your fingertips
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil, for sauteing
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup fire roasted red peppers, rough-chopped (3-4 jarred or 2-3 fresh if roasting your own)
1 teaspoon dried thyme or basil, crushed between fingertips
1/2 teaspoon sea or Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (add more or less according to your own preference)
1 can (14 ounce) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup half & half or heavy cream (light is ok)
1 heaping tablespoon fresh thyme or basil, chopped
1 pound penne pasta
grated Parmesan cheese, for serving


  1. In a large mixing bowl combine all of the meatball ingredients using a fork until well mixed. Roll into 1-inch sized meatballs (1 rounded tablespoon for each) and set on a platter.
  2. Make the sauce: In a large, deep-sided skillet saute onion in a few tablespoons oil until translucent, add garlic; saute until fragrant. Remove to a food processor or blender; puree with peppers, dried thyme, salt, pepper and red pepper. Set aside.
  3. Heat the same skillet to medium heat and lightly grease. Pan fry the meatballs in two batches until browned on all sides and cooked through the middle. Remove to paper towels to drain.
  4. Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions in plenty of salted water.
  5. Meanwhile allow skillet to cool down and drain grease, if pan is burnt on bottom use a new one, if not add the pureed peppers and beans, cook on medium heat very slowly stirring in half & half a few tablespoons at a time. When all the half & half is mixed in well stir in 1/4 cup of water from the pasta. Bring sauce to a simmer and add meatballs. Simmer five minutes. Add fresh thyme or basil.
  6. Serve over penne with plenty of Parmesan cheese and extra red pepper flakes.


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