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Instant Pot Pasta and Meatballs with Lemon Herb Ricotta

10 reviews / 4.5 average

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.

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: 45 servings 1x

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 Scale

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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43 Comments

  1. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Kate

    Are the meatballs frozen when you put them in the instant pot, and are they pre-cooked?

    Could you also drop in raw uncooked meatballs?

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      Good question, Kate! We used pre-cooked frozen meatballs in this recipe. We probably wouldn’t recommend raw uncooked meatballs though, at least when cooking it in the Instant Pot. Hope you love this!

  2. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Kristen

    I kept getting the burn notification on my instant pot, added everything in the order recommended- any tips?

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      Hi, Kristen! A couple other readers were getting burn warnings too, so we updated the order in which you put the ingredients in the Instant Pot to help with this. The sauce should now go on top of the pasta and meatballs to avoid getting a burn warning. Hope this helps!

      1. Pinch of Yum Logo
        Kate

        I keep getting burn warnings, I’ve made 3x, following the directions exactly. The third time I stirred it all together and still got them. We LOVE this, but the burn warnings make it frustrating. Any tips?

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      Hi, Emily! We don’t have a crockpot version of this one, unfortunately – the noodles might get too mushy in a slow cooker. If you don’t have an Instant Pot though, we’ve included instructions for the stovetop version in the notes of the recipe card. Enjoy!

  3. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Liz Foltz

    This was so easy & delicious! My kids (ages 3 & 5) even loved it and they are pretty picky lately. The ricotta mixture is so amazing on top of the pasta…my new go to pasta recipe! I did add 2 cups of pasta the second time I made it and felt this made better use of the liquid in my pot:)






  4. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Meg

    Made it on the stove and added some veggies but twas so delicious! I even used your recipe for chicken meatballs and they’re ridiculous. Thank you for another easy, and tasty dinner! ❤️

  5. Pinch of Yum Logo
    angela

    If I want to double this recipe do I need to double the cooking time on the Instant Pot to 6 minutes?

  6. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Libby

    Finally made this, after having the ingredients sitting here for a week. Don’t know why I waited! So so SO good! I used the Boursin cheese and zested a lemon into it while the pasta cooked. Brilliant! I also used frozen Jones Farm Chicken Meatballs from Costco. It turned out perfect! And if you think you can skip the creamy element, don’t do it! It enhances this so much!






  7. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Lauren

    I have some pre-cooked, non-frozen meatballs that I’d love to use with this. Would this change anything in the cooking directions, or will the instant pot figure it out and account for it while coming to pressure?

  8. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Kathleen

    I love the idea of this recipe! I followed the instructions, sautéing the meatballs, then adding the pasta, sauce and broth – in that order – no stirring. After a few minutes, I got a “burn” message on my instant pot. Some of the pasta was burnt on the bottom and the rest of the pasta was undercooked. I dumped the whole thing into a pot and simmered it until the pasta was cooked.

    I wish it would have worked in the instant pot. I’m not sure what went wrong. Does anyone have any tips for having this work in the instant pot without getting the “burn” message?

    After finishing it on the stove, it was delicious. Everyone loved it. Just wish it worked as written.

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      Hi, Kathleen! Oh, bummer! We retested this after hearing readers get the burn warning, but we haven’t heard of issues with this new reordering of ingredients. This feedback is helpful for us to hear and know though! Let us know if you try it again and still get the burn warning.

      1. Pinch of Yum Logo
        Anon

        I also tried this using the re-ordered ingredients and still got a “burn” message. Do you deglaze the pot after sautéing the meatballs?

          1. Pinch of Yum Logo
            Elyse

            Personally, I have tried a lot of these type of recipes and I always find that “no stir” step to be the kiss of death. I think it may depend on the model of IP? Whatever the reason, in my experience it is vital that I DO STIR!!! I have an IP model that doesn’t give a burn message but will begin the cook cycle without fully coming to pressure. That happens to me on this recipe if I try it as written. I have to stir. Once I do that it’s a great recipe lol.






  9. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Christina

    Thank you for this SOS series! As a busy mom of 3 littles getting back into the school routine, I have appreciated and enjoyed these recipes! This one was a hit tonight for the whole family and it was really easy to put together. I had some herbs left over in my garden which I used up in this recipe. I like how the lemon ricotta makes this feel like a gourmet meal. Thank you again for the great recipes. I’m a big fan of POY! 😀






  10. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Chelsea

    Made this tonight! I added diced zucchini and mushrooms and did it on the stovetop. I used the one pot method, so cooked everything together. It took about 20-30 minutes to cook everything down and get saucy, stirring often so it didn’t stick. I usually don’t love a plain spaghetti, but the mascarpone topping was a really nice note to elevate it. It was the perfect easy weeknight dinner and everyone in my house loved it. Next time I think I’ll add some roasted breadcrumbs!






  11. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Ashley Latimer

    I’m giving this 4 stars for flavor, but technically my experience with this was 3 stars because I don’t have an InstaPot brand pressure cooker, so sharing in case it’s helpful. 🙂 I used a Mueller pressure cooker, and 3 minutes was not even close to enough time to cook the noodles. I didn’t know this until I stirred it all together, at which point I realized it needed to cook more, but once it was done it was *burned* so bad on the bottom that it was a little bitter. Still delicious, but it definitely affected it!

    Not an issue if you have an IP, but if you have another brand, maybe add on a couple minutes to be sure. 🙂 That lemony, creamy component on top cannot be skipped either, it was my favorite part! I made a vegan cashew ricotta with lots of lemon, garlic, and chives.

    Will definitely make this combo again with some adjustments for my pressure cooker!






  12. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Emily

    Tried the updated recipe twice- both times got the dreaded ‘burn’ from my InstaPot.

  13. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Kate

    The Instant Pot version of this recipe didn’t work- pasta completely underdone and bottom of pot was burned. Recipe directions were followed.

  14. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Jennifer

    This was delicious and we had no burning issues in the Instant Pot. Used some frozen POY chicken meatballs, but did not bother browning them because they had some browning from when I had baked them. Dumped everything in the IP in the order stated, didn’t stir, done perfectly in the 3 minutes. After releasing pressure, I allowed it to sit in the IP with the lid off for about 10 minutes to thicken up. I had about 3 oz. of mascarpone and mixed that with some whipped cream cheese to make the creamy element, which was amazing. The only thing I might do differently next time is add another 1/4 cup of ditalini, because the 32 oz. of sauce could accommodate it. Definitely a make-again dish!






  15. Pinch of Yum Logo

    Cooking pasta and meatballs like this feels like magic! I did get a burn message the first time, but I just opened it up and scraped tte bottom a bit and then started again and everything came out perfect. I even used some little dinosaur shaped pasta from Whole Foods which made my kids love it even more! Delicious!






  16. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Leanne

    This recipe was definitely yummy but unfortunately I got the dreaded burn signal from my IP 😕 I followed all instructions exactly and this is with the updated recipe. I ended up dumping the whole thing into a pot and cooking on the stovetop as the noodles were still hard. This is too bad because it would have been a great quick recipe to have ready for my kids after work. Let me know if there are any changes that make this recipe work better in the IP!






  17. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Jill

    If you make 1/2 a portion, you should add more liquid. It burnt the bottom of my instant pot.

  18. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Cara

    This was super yummy and not too much work on a weeknight. Next time however, I will combine the pasta, pasta sauce, and chicken stock before putting them in the instant pot. Some of my pasta did not cook fully and i think that is because it went in first and some snaked it’s way down in the depths with the meatballs, too far from the liquid to get a good cooking.