This is a meal I can count on being a winner every time I make it for my family. When I make this, no one complains (not even my youngest one who is three!). My mom used to make this dish growing up. She thought it was a short cut way of making manti, the Turkish/Armenian/Central Asian dumpling dish with ground lamb and yogurt (there are so many versions of that dish). It takes time to make the manti dumplings stuffed with ground lamb, so the shell pasta with meatballs are an easy substitute. This dish has to be served with garlicky Greek yogurt. The mix of the rich tomato with the yogurt sauce is divine! It takes about 30 minutes of hands-on time and 40 minutes of cooking time.
Here is what you’ll need
- 1 pound of ground beef
- 1 pinch of allspice
- 1 pinch of nutmeg
- salt and black pepper
- 2 pinches of crushed red pepper (one for the meatballs and one for the stew)
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 26 oz or just over 3 cups of tomato sauce
- 5 cups of water
- 1 bag of shell pasta (pipe rigate pasta)
- two cups of plain Greek yogurt
The first step is to make the meatballs. I add the allspice, crushed red pepper, nutmeg, salt and pepper to the ground beef and mix together with hands. I then form small meatballs about 1 inch in diameter. I heat the oil in the frying pan on medium-high heat. I used olive oil to fry them until browned, but you can use your preferred oil. I put about a quarter-inch of oil in the pan for the frying. They browned in about five minutes with turning them to brown on both sides. Use a slotted spoon and put the meatballs aside to make the stew.
I cook the pasta in salted water until slightly less than al-dente. It will further cook with the tomato sauce. Once the pasta is ready, drain and add to the tomato and meatballs mentioned in the next step.
While the pasta is cooking, crush 3 cloves of garlic and sauté it in a big pot with about 2 tbsp. of olive oil under medium-high heat. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper. After about a minute, add the tomato sauce and salt and pepper. I add water to the pot and then bring it to a simmer. I then add the meatballs. Taste the sauce at this point to see whether you need to add more salt. Add the pasta and simmer for about five minutes. The pasta may soak up more water than you want. You can go ahead and add more if you feel it’s not soupy enough.
The last step is the garlic-yogurt. In a bowl, mix the yogurt and 3 cloves of crushed garlic. Place a dollop of the yogurt on top of the macaroni-meatball stew.