Cellentani with Turkey Meatballs and Homemade Tomato Sauce

Sometimes the ingredients you have on hand determine what you’re making for dinner. In our case, it was some ground turkey meat I took out of the freezer and a box of Cellentani, a curly-cued pasta that caught my eye at the supermarket and that I thought would provide a great clinging vehicle for the sauce. (I was right, BTW.)

Fun Fact: Cellentani was named in honor of a famous and much loved pop singer in Italy in the 1960s, when it was introduced. His name was Adriano Celentano, dubbed “moleggiato” or “springs” for his distinctive stage movements. As the shape resembles a coiled spring, it all makes sense. Cellentani is also known as Cavatappi, which translates from Italian to “corkscrew.”

My Mister found a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis that pretty much fit the bill for what we had in mind. Penne was the pasta of choice for Giada, but we were hell-bent on using the Cellentani. (I changed the last few steps to make the process easier, and included adding a garnish of fresh basil chiffonade.)

Making the sauce a day or two ahead (which is what I did) saves time and turns the meal into a quick weeknight dinner. Of course, you could also use your favorite jarred sauce to simplify things even more—but homemade just tastes better and avoids any unwanted additives.


Cellentani with Turkey Meatballs and Homemade Tomato Sauce

  • Servings: 4-5
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup grated Romano
  • 1 pound ground turkey, preferably dark meat
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 cups tomato sauce, recipe follows
  • 1 pound dried Cellentani pasta
  • Fresh basil, chiffonade for garnish (optional)

Simple Tomato Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional (we didn’t use any)


  1. In a large bowl add bread crumbs milk and mix until well combined. Mix in eggs and 1/2 cup Romano cheese and mix well.
  2. Add turkey and gently combine, being careful not to overwork the meat. Season with salt and pepper. Shape into golf-size balls.
  3. In a large skillet heat the oil over medium high heat. When almost smoking, add meatballs and without moving or turning the meat, allow it to brown for about 3 minutes. Turn meatballs and brown other side. Continue to cook until all sides are golden brown, about 8 minutes total.
  4. Add tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Lower heat and allow meatballs to simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and keep warm on stove. Be careful not to over-handle the meatballs since they are soft and fragile.
  5. In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 quarts of salted water. Add pasta and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain Cellentani in a colander. Do not rinse pasta with water since you want to retain the pasta natural starches allowing the sauce to cling to them.
  6. Add the leftover 1 cup of tomato sauce to the now empty pasta pot, then stir in the drained Cellentani.
  7. In a large pasta serving bowl, add the pasta topped with the meatballs and sauce; or simply let diners self-serve directly from the cooking vessels.
  8. Top each serving with grated Romano and basil chiffonade, if using.

Simple Tomato Sauce:

Yields 6 cups


  1. In a large casserole pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add celery and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until all the vegetables are soft, about 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes and bay leaves and simmer uncovered on low heat for 1 hour or until thick. Remove bay leaves and check for seasoning. If sauce still tastes acidic, add unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon at a time to round out the flavors (we didn’t use any butter).
  4. Add half the tomato sauce into the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Continue with remaining tomato sauce.


Adapted from a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis

1 thought on “Cellentani with Turkey Meatballs and Homemade Tomato Sauce

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