Instant Pot Pasta and Meatballs with Lemon Herb Ricotta

Ditalini pasta and meatballs in red sauce on a plate, topped with creamy ricotta.

This is a brand new recipe that’s part of our Fall 2022 SOS Series! View the full series.


This is quite possibly the most SOS recipe that there ever was, and it has a real cute name in our house: Spaghetti Bites.

The normal name for this would be “Instant Pot Pasta and Meatballs” but considering that this resembles actual spaghetti and meatballs, and that it also reminds me of a big bowl of spaghetti-O’s, and given the fact that I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old in the house, it’s going to be hard for me not to call these Spaghetti Bites.

This whole combination is like a hug in food form: little boingy bites of pasta, tender meatballs, caramelizey tomato sauce (it almost browns a bit on the bottom of the IP). And things even get a tiny little bit blingy when you load it up with some herbed lemon ricotta which packs some fresh garlic in there, and everything else good in your pantry – salt, pepper, basil, olive oil – gets flashy up on top. Sweatpants, fork, deepest pasta bowl, let’s go.


In This Post: Everything You Need For Instant Pot Pasta and Meatballs


Watch How To Make This Recipe

Fork scooping up pasta and meatballs with ricotta.

Does It Have To Be Made In The Instant Pot?

Nope! Just cook it like regular pasta, and then add the pasta to your sauce and meatballs. You do not need a recipe for it, I promise but you can look to the notes section of the recipe if you want more on that.

Personally, I like to use the Instant Pot for this pasta for a few reasons: the pasta cooks in the tomato sauce, making it a little extra starchy and thick, and it almost caramelizes the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. The meatballs get super tender from a quick pressure cook, the pasta cooks up nice and springy without getting mushy, and the whole thing only leaves you with one dish to wash.

What Type Of Pasta To Use For This

If you’re asking me, a random mom in Minnesota with a food blog, I think the most fun pasta to use for this is ditalini. It’s a small tubular shape that is like a miniature rigatoni. And I said it before, but even though the pasta shape is not rounded, it does kind of transport you straight back to a retro kitchen with a big bowl spaghetti-O’s in front of you.

The ditalini I have is DeLallo brand but I’ve seen other brands at Kowalski’s and other stores here in the Twin Cities. The beauty of the DeLallo brand ditalini (not sponsored) is that they have little ridges in them, and that is just a really lovely thing to chomp on when you’re hungry after a long day and just having an SOS dinner moment. It’s the details, ya know? Like the extra ridges on your ditalini. Who knew.

Ways To Customize This

There are a million and one. Some ideas that just scratch the surface:

  • Use a homemade or storebought spicy tomato sauce, like arrabiata.
  • Add olives, anchovies, or capers to the tomato sauce to make it more of a puttanesca.
  • Blend your sauce with cashews and red peppers to make it a red pepper sauce, like this one.
  • Use storebought meatballs, sliced chicken sausage, ground beef or sausage, or add a can of white beans for a veg alternative.

Things To Know About “The Creamy Element”

I am calling the topping for this Instant Pot pasta and meatballs your “creamy element” – and it really can be kind of anything, it’s just something to make the whole thing creamy, garlicky, and bright.

As written, straight out of the Instant Pot, the pasta is heavy and savory – it’s the contrast with the creaminess and the bite of fresh garlic, the freshness of herbs, and the zing of lemony zest and juice that brings this whole thing to the level of being worth writing a blog post about.

What you can use for the base of the creamy element:

  • mascarpone cheese (creamy, buttery, dense, and melty)
  • ricotta cheese (easier to find, a bit less melty, but reminiscent of lasagna which is a good thing)
  • garlic herb spreadable cheese like Alouette and Boursin (extra good for SOS moments – the Alouette brand has little flecks of fresh garlic in there, and a bunch of dried herbs, so I just grate some lemon zest in and it’s good to go)
Pasta and meatballs with ricotta on a plate, sprinkled with fresh basil.

How To Add More Vegetables To This

You could take three approaches here – one would be to add veggies directly to this dish and cook them into the sauce. Just chop and sauté some veggies (minced carrots, peppers, mushrooms, etc.) at the beginning of the cooking process, and just add your meatballs and sauce to that. The whole thing only cooks for 3 minutes so you don’t run too much of a risk of overcooking the veggies.

The second would be to do my favorite add-veggies-to-pasta-dish hack and just stir in some fresh spinach or frozen peas into the cooked pasta at the end.

And the third approach, which is what I’d probably do personally, would be to leave this recipe as-is and just add a little side situation to get your veggies in. If we’re talking about a whole meal here, this is nice because it gives you something else to eat that will vary the texture, color, etc. on your dinner plate. Rounds the whole thing out, right?

I’d recommend Liz’s roasted broccoli if you have a little more time (SO GOOD), house favorite brussels sprouts for if you have medium amount of time, or a simple green salad if you have minimal time. My girls love all of these but especially that simple green salad! We make it all the time and it’s the perfect super fast salad that gets some tender little greens on the plate and in the bellies.

Pasta and meatballs on a plate with ricotta and a fork.

Who knew there could be so much to say about the most basic Instant Pot pasta and meatballs recipe? (Or, as we say, Spaghetti Bites?)

This is a back pocket winner that is the realest definition of SOS cooking. Saucy pasta, savory meatballs, and a creamy dollop on top. Dinner = done!

Instant Pot Pasta: Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make this on the stovetop?

Absolutely! Just cook the pasta as directed. Add the meatballs and sauce to another skillet; add cooked pasta and combine (you likely won’t need any broth). You’re good to go.

Can I make this in a slow cooker?

We haven’t tested this in a slow cooker, but it sure sounds like it’s possible! If you give it a try, drop a comment and let us know how it turns out.

How can I make this vegetarian?

An easy, yummy swap for the meatballs would be to use white beans instead!

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A picture of Instant Pot Pasta with Meatballs

Instant Pot Pasta with Meatballs


  • Author: Lindsay
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 4-5 servings

Description

The most SOS recipe there ever was – Instant Pot Pasta and Meatballs! Bites of pasta, tender meatballs, caramelizey tomato sauce, and some herbed lemon ricotta on top.


Ingredients

Units

Pasta and Meatballs

  • 12 tablespoons olive oil (2 especially if your sauce doesn’t have much oil it in)
  • 1/2 to 1lb. frozen chicken meatballs (or other pre-made meatballs – I used ones that were already cooked) – about 2 cups if you’re eyeballing
  • one 32-ounce jar of your favorite tomato pasta sauce
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups small pasta – I like to use ditalini
  • salt and pepper to taste

Herbed Lemon Ricotta

  • 1 pound fresh ricotta – mascarpone is a bit more creamy / melty and also delicious!
  • juice of 1 lemon + a little bit of zest
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped mixed chives, parsley, basil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Place meatballs in the Instant Pot; drizzle with olive oil. Sauté for a couple minutes to get the meatballs a bit browned on the outside – they don’t need to be fully thawed.
  2. Add in this order: pasta, sauce, chicken broth. Do not stir. Cook on high pressure for 3 minutes. 
  3. Release steam right away (so your pasta doesn’t overcook and get mushy). Stir to incorporate. A small amount of sticking is normal, but with a few gentle stirs it will lift up and come together perfectly. It will be saucy at first; if you let it rest a few minutes, the sauce will absorb into the pasta and it’ll get a little less saucy. It’s delicious to eat either way!
  4. Mix your herbed ricotta ingredients together while the pasta cooks.
  5. Serve the hot pasta in bowls with dollops of the ricotta over the top. Mwah!

Notes

Stovetop instructions: Just cook the pasta as directed. Add the meatballs and sauce to another skillet; add cooked pasta and combine (you likely won’t need any broth). You’re good to go.

An amazing shortcut for the herbed lemon ricotta is garlic and herb spreadable cheese like Boursin or Alouette! I like to add lemon zest to those shortcuts too just so you get the nice lemony flavor in there.

A previous version of this recipe had the tomato sauce added first and stirred before cooking; I’ve never gotten a burn warning with that method, but just to be extra sure, I retested and reordered the ingredients so the tomato sauce goes on top of the pasta and meatballs to avoid burn warnings. 

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Instant Pot
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: instant pot pasta, pasta and meatballs, spaghetti o’s, ricotta cheese, easy dinner, shortcut dinner, weeknight dinner

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