Sartù di Riso (Meatball, Sausage, and Rice Timbale)

I know what you’re thinking. Why on earth did you put meat in the middle of a cake? That’s just gross.

Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

Sartù di riso is actually an Italian rice dish, not a cake. It can be baked in several different types of pans, but I love using a bundt cake pan. By using a donut-shaped pan, you can fill the center with extra sauce and filling. Most of all, it just looks pretty impressive.

Sartù di Riso (Meatball, Sausage, and Rice Timbale)

To make sartù di riso, arborio rice (yes, the same rice you use to make risotto!) is first simmered with a bit of chicken stock. Once cooled, the mostly-cooked rice is mixed with freshly grated parmesan cheese, eggs, and a little salt. The rice mixture is then pressed into the sides of a pan coated with breadcrumbs.

The breadcrumbs play a crucial role in making a successful sartù di riso. Without them, it would be nearly impossible to get the timbale out of the pan in one piece. If there are any bare areas of the pan, the rice will quickly stick to it. I actually missed a spot when making this one and had to spend an extra few minutes banging the pan against the cutting board to get it out.

Sartù di Riso (Meatball, Sausage, and Rice Timbale)Sartù di Riso (Meatball, Sausage, and Rice Timbale)

After the rice has been gently pressed into the pan, the sausage and meatball filling is poured into the well left by the rice. Then, any remaining rice is spread out over the filling to create the bottom of the sartù di riso.

The pan is then placed into the oven, until the breadcrumbs turn a beautiful golden brown.

Sartù di Riso (Meatball, Sausage, and Rice Timbale)Sartù di Riso (Meatball, Sausage, and Rice Timbale)

This impressive dish is definitely not a last-minute weeknight dinner since it takes a considerable amount of time to make. However, you can easily prepare the meatball and sausage filling the day before to cut down on prep time.

You can even make the entire sartù di riso the day before, then refrigerate it in the bundt pan before baking. About 1 1/2 hours before you’re ready to serve it, place the bundt pan into the preheated oven for 60-70 minutes, until the breadcrumbs have turned golden brown the the sartù is hot throughout.

This is also a great dish for leftovers. We’ve been enjoying them for days!

Sartù di Riso (Meatball, Sausage, and Rice Timbale)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 6-8
For the Rice:
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt
  • 2½ cups Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 3 eggs
For the Filling:
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 oz hot Italian sausage (casings removed) or regular spicy pork sausage
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
  • 3 sprigs fresh basil
  • 1 piece of Parmesan rind, about 2 inches long
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
For the Meatballs:
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 2 tbsp Italian-style fine breadcrumbs
  • ½ tsp dried Italian seasonings
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 10 oz. ground sirloin
  • oil, for frying
  • 5 tbsp Italian-style fine breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, chopped
  • 1 cup green peas, thawed
  • fresh basil, for garnish
  1. Add the arborio rice, chicken broth, bay leaves, and kosher salt to a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover with a lid. Simmer over low heat for about 7 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed but the rice remains a little undercooked.
  2. Pour the rice into a large bowl to cool completely. Once cool, stir in the parmesan and eggs, then set aside.
  3. While the rice is cooling, add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the sausage. Cook the sausage until browned, breaking it apart with a spoon as it cooks. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon, leaving the olive oil and fat in the pan. Place the sausage into a large bowl and set aide.
  4. Add the shallot and garlic to the reserved oil and cook until the shallots have softened, stirring constantly. Add the crushed tomatoes, basil, parmesan rind, and red pepper flakes, then bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  5. While the sauce is simmering, prepare the meatballs. Add the milk, 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs, dried Italian seasonings, and ½ teaspoon of salt to a medium bowl. Allow the mixture to thicken for 3-5 minutes. Once thick, add the parmesan cheese and ground sirloin and mix until just incorporated. Shape the mixture into small meatballs, about 1 tablespoon in size.
  6. Heat about ½ inch of oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, fry the meatballs in batches until each side is golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meatballs and place them into the bowl with the browned sausage. Repeat with remaining meatballs.
  7. Add the thickened tomato sauce to the bowl with the sausage and meatballs. Stir to combine. Then, stir in the peas and mozzarella and set aside.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  9. Prepare the bundt pan by smearing the 1 tablespoon of softened butter all over the interior of the pan, then dusting it with 3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs. Make sure the entire interior surface of the pan is coated with breadcrumbs or the rice with stick to the pan.
  10. Using damp hands, press two-thirds of the cool arborio rice into the bottom and up the sides of the bundt pan. Then, spoon enough tomato sauce and meat mixture to nearly fill the rice well (you should have plenty of the meat mixture left over). Press down gently with the spoon to remove any air pockets. Press the remaining rice evenly over the filling, making sure to seal the edges. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs over the rice.
  11. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden-brown. Cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes, before attempting to remove the sartù from the pan.
  12. When ready to remove, place an inverted plate onto the pan. Using oven mitts, flip the pan and plate over, then lift the pan off of the rice. You may need to gently shake or tap the pan to release the rice. Pour the remaining sauce into the center well and garnish with basil before slicing and serving.