Macaroni and broccoli with tiny meatballs is a comforting soup that combines elbow pasta, loads of chopped broccoli, tiny meatballs, and plenty of Pecorino Romano cheese. Best served with a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and more grated Pecorino.
This soup was borne out of love for both recipes, and the desire to create a meal that was so incredibly soothing that it could be turned to whenever you're in need of a little extra comfort.
While this pasta with broccoli and meatballs recipe calls for a soupier consistency, you can certainly use less liquid and enjoy it as a pasta dish.
This soup is hearty and filling enough to be a full meal and we recommend serving it in bowls topped with freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and some garlic bread.
How to make it
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Preheat your oven to 375f and set the rack to the middle level. Slice 6 cloves of garlic, and mince ¼ cup of flat-leaf parsley. Grate the Pecorino Romano cheese and divide into ⅓ cup for the meatballs, and ½ cup for the soup.
- Chop one large head of broccoli. Note: we used broccoli crowns here but if you have a full head, remove the bottom 2 inches of the stalk and chop the rest of the stalk along with the crowns.
- Mix together 2 large eggs, 1 pound of ground chuck, ½ cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs, the minced parsley, ⅓ cup of grated Pecorino, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper.
- Set a bowl of tap water beside the meatball mixture. Dip your hands into the water to moisten them and allow for easier and less sticky meatball formation. Begin to shape the mixture into tiny meatballs, about ½ - ¾ inch in diameter. When your hands start to become sticky, dip your hands back into the water bowl.
- Place the meatballs on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake until they reach an internal temperature of 165f (approximately 15-20 minutes).
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the chopped broccoli to the boiling water for 5-7 minutes, or until tender. Use a slotted spoon to remove the broccoli and set it aside. Do not drain the broccoli water as you will need it later on. Heat a large pot or pan to medium-low and saute the garlic in a ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil until golden (about 2 minutes).
- Once the garlic is golden, add ½ teaspoon of red chili flakes and cook for another 20-30 seconds.
- Add the cooked broccoli to the pot and saute along with the garlic for 3 minutes.
- Add 4 cups of low sodium chicken stock to the pot and bring to a simmer.
- Once simmering, add 8 ounces of elbow macaroni (or other small pasta) and stir well. Cook the pasta until just al dente then remove the pot from the heat.
- Add the ½ cup of Pecorino Romano cheese to the pan and give a stir.
- Add the meatballs to the pot and stir to combine. If needed, add some of the reserved water from the broccoli to thin to the desired consistency. Taste test and adjust salt, pepper, or hot red pepper levels to taste. Serve the macaroni with broccoli and meatballs in bowls with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and more grated Pecorino Romano on the side. Enjoy!
Top tips for amazing macaroni and broccoli with tiny meatballs
- The broccoli. We used broccoli crowns for our pictures because that was what was available but we also love using the full head of broccoli. With the exception of the woody bottom, most of the stem can be used and is just as delicious as the crown. We prefer the broccoli to be on the softer side for pasta and broccoli soup, but if you prefer it to be on the firmer side, you can just reduce the boiling time. Be sure to reserve your broccoli water as you will most likely need it to loosen up the soup before serving.
- The meatballs. These meatballs are fantastic but do take a little time to make. We recommend making the meatballs ahead of time and adding them to the soup when you're ready. In fact, we love these meatballs so much that we'll often double or triple the meatball recipe and make a bunch at a time, freezing some for use in chicken noodle soup, or with pasta and a simple marinara. If you prefer to use turkey, as we do in our Italian wedding soup, check out our turkey meatball recipe.
- Forming the meatballs. Pictured above you'll see that we keep a bowl of water nearby whenever making meatballs. We find that dipping your hands in the water allows for an easier meatball-rolling experience as it prevents the meat mixture from sticking to your hands. Give it a try!
- The pasta. We love elbow macaroni in this recipe but you can use any small shaped pasta. Ditalini or tubetti, small shells, or farfalline would all be great!
- The consistency. If you prefer this to be on the soupier side, add more broccoli water until you've reached the desired consistency. If you prefer this to be less soupy, you may reduce some of the liquid, or add more grated cheese to thicken it a bit.
More comforting recipes you'll love
This soup really takes me back to my childhood and reminds me of two of my favorite dishes that my grandma would make. Here are a few of our most comforting recipes we think you'll enjoy.
- Italian zucchini soup - zucchini soup with broken spaghetti.
- Pasta e fagioli - pancetta, cannellini beans, and tubetti pasta.
- Pasta e ceci - tiny bow tie pasta with chickpeas in a tomato broth.
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For the meatballs
- 1 pound ground chuck
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup Italian flat leaf parsley minced
- ⅓ cup Pecorino Romano grated
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
For the soup
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni
- 1 large head of broccoli chopped, see notes below
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic sliced
- ½ cup Pecorino Romano grated
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes
- 4 cups low sodium chicken stock
For the meatballs
- Preheat oven to 375f and set rack to middle level.
- Mix together all of the meatball ingredients and form tiny meatballs about a ½ to ¾-inch in diameter.
- Place the tiny meatballs on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake until they reach 165f internal temp (about 15-20 minutes).
For the soup
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the chopped broccoli to the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes or until tender. When finished, set cooked broccoli aside making sure to not drain the boiling water.
- Heat a large pot to medium-low and saute the garlic in olive oil until golden (about 2 minutes). Once golden add the hot red pepper flakes.
- Add the cooked broccoli to the pot and saute with the garlic for 3 minutes.
- Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, add in the pasta and stir well. Cook the pasta until al dente then remove the pot from the heat source.
- Add all of the meatballs to the pot along with the Pecorino Romano cheese and stir to combine. If needed use the reserved water from the broccoli cooking process to thin to desired consistency.
- Taste test and adjust salt, pepper, and hot red pepper flakes to taste. Serve in bowls with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and more grated Pecorino Romano on the side. Enjoy!
- Use most of the broccoli and cut it into chunks. The only part that shouldn't be used is the very woody bottom part of the stems.
- The sauce consistency will get creamier the longer the broccoli cooks. If you like the broccoli more firm just reduce the boiling time.
- Leftovers can be saved for up 3 days in the fridge. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.