Mini Meatball and Pasta Marinara Soup

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mini meatballs and anelletti ring shaped pasta sit inside two bowls of marinara soup
Andrew Bui

I still remember the first time I had a can of SpaghettiOs, sometime in 6th grade. I'd saved up a few bucks in anticipation, and finally, one week, those cans I'd been yearning for on my TV screen went on sale at the local KeyFood. I pounced, greedily buying three cans, then immediately went home, harnessed the power of all my hopes and dreams and popped one open.

The sight that met my gaze once the lid came off? A shallow well of discolored ketchup, one noodle hoop half-drowned, no meatballs in sight. That was the moment I learned firsthand about the deception of advertisement. 

Minor childhood traumas aside, this recipe uses store-bought marinara to form the foundation of a delicious pot of soup that has all the pasta and meatballs Chef Boyardee never gave me. It's never too late to make up for past disappointments, and if you do give this recipe a try, you need to write us a note down below in the comments to weigh in on how you liked it! 

This recipe is super flexible. Anelletti is the preferred pasta cut here for the ultimate nostalgia factor, but any small cut—like elbows or bowties—will do. (If you feel like making it from scratch to invent a brand-new signature shape, we've got a classic pasta dough recipe ready for you.) Just know that different cuts of pasta will take different amounts of time to cook to al dente texture, so be sure to keep tasting as you cook to test for doneness. 

The exact flavoring of marinara is up to you too. You can use homemade marinara if you've got it. If you're not a fan of spicy things, eliminate the red pepper flakes. Or, if you like on the opposite end of the spectrum, up the amount of pepper flakes, or use spicy Italian sausage instead of sweet. 

TL; DR: Do whatever you want. You're the adult now. Take charge and make your inner child happy.

If you've made this recipe, be sure to drop us a comment down below and let us know your thoughts! (If you used alternative pasta cuts, share photos!)

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Yields: 4 - 6 servings
Prep Time: 0 hours 15 mins
Total Time: 0 hours 30 mins
2 tbsp.

extra-virgin olive oil


small yellow onion, chopped


large carrots, peeled and chopped


cloves garlic, chopped

1 tsp.

Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp.

crushed red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper


(24-oz.) jar marinara

4 c.

low-sodium chicken broth 

8 oz.

sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, shaped into ½" balls

1 c.

small pasta (such as anelletti)

3 c.

packed baby spinach

Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, heat oil. Add onions, carrots, garlic, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, about 6 minutes.
  2. Add marinara and chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add sausage meatballs and pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until pasta is al dente, 9 to 12 minutes. Stir in spinach to wilt and then remove from heat.
  3. Serve with Parmesan.
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June Xie
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