Spaghetti and Meatballs

It’s no secret that I love to cook, and so it’s no surprise that I’m often asked about my favorite food. I think people expect me to say something fancy like roast chicken, or pistachio-encrusted lamb chops, but the truth is, I’m a simple gal at heart. My last meal would be a toss up between tacos and spaghetti. I can find just about any reason in the world to eat tacos, but there’s something about a bowl of homemade spaghetti that makes me feel at h(om)e.

I ate a lot of spaghetti as a kid. My mom made it with a can of Prego and a box of Meuller’s pasta. I can still remember the green can of Kraft grated parmesan cheese on the dinner table. Despite the line up, I fell in love with spaghetti. Every time it was on the dinner menu I could feel something inside of me relax. Spaghetti night was an opportunity to take a break from whatever it was I was sorting through in my young life and revel in the comfort of a big bowl of pasta. Or maybe twirling the noodles on a big spoon and slurping them into my mouth was the real highlight. It’s unclear.

When I go out to eat and I see spaghetti on a menu, I almost always order it. To me, it’s one of those true tests of good cooking. It’s not so different from yoga; if you want to communicate the maturity of your yoga practice, forget the fancy tricks and show me your Trikonasana. I’ll see everything I need to know.

When it comes to spaghetti and meatballs, my brother-in-law, Nick, is a master. For Nick, cooking homemade sauce is an all-day affair. He learned by watching his grandmother in the kitchen, and you can literally taste the tradition and ritual in every bite. Nick is always experimenting and evolving in the kitchen; if you ask him for a recipe and a firm list of ingredients, he’ll be hard-pressed to retrace his steps. That’s one of the things I really admire about him—he gets lost in his love of cooking. To me, that’s the epitome of yoga. (I was his sous chef at Thanksgiving, tasked with the job of keeping him on track and managing his in-the-zone genius.) Somehow I managed to get a spaghetti sauce recipe out of him (with meatballs and sausage) and have been playing with it in my own kitchen ever since. I’m here to tell you that it’s insanely good. The meatballs are out of control. Buckle your seatbelt ’cause this here sauce is gooooood.

Let’s have a little pep talk before we roll up our sleeves and dig in. This is not a “oh, I think I’ll whip up some spaghetti and meatballs” kind of recipe. This is a block-off-the-entire-afternoon kind of adventure. Your kitchen will be covered in dirty dishes and tomato sauce, or both. Do not wear a white shirt. Do listen to Italian opera. Do open a good bottle of vino to sip while you cook.

The last thing I’ll say about making homemade spaghetti and meatballs is that everyone has an opinion about how it “should” be done. My advice is to ignore everyone and figure it out for yourself. I’m by no means an expert at spaghetti and meatballs, although I will say that I’m at expert at eating it, and that has to count for something. When you make something you love, you can always play with the process and adjust according to your taste.

Meatballs

1 1/2 pounds of 80-85% fat ground beef
1/2 pound of 80-85% fat ground pork
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Mix the ground meat together with your hands (I wear gloves to make my life a little easier in the clean up department.) Beat two eggs and add to the meat; mix together with your hands. Add the breadcrumbs 1/2 cup at a time, incorporating well after each addition. Finally add the parmesan, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix well. Roll into 1 1/2 inch balls.

Heat up a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a non-stick fry pan. Work in batches. Add about half of the meatballs and brown on all sides. Nick’s trick is to keep rolling them around the pan so they retain their shape. Set the cooked meatballs aside while you start to work on the sauce.

Sauce

small piece (1/4 pound) of bone-in pork shoulder (boneless is also ok)
2-4 sweet Italian pork sausages
3 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
1 onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup red wine
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 or 3 fresh basil leaves
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, smashed
salt and pepper

In a heavy duty pan, like a dutch oven, brown the pork shoulder and sausages in a little olive oil over medium-high heat. Don’t be afraid to get some good color on the meat—this is what will add depth and flavor to the sauce. Remove the browned meat and set aside. Sauté the chopped onion in the same pot until they’re soft and translucent. Deglaze the pan with red wine, using a wooden spoon to scrape all those brown bits of goodness of the bottom of the pan. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, bay leaf, garlic, salt (about a teaspoon) and pepper (a few strong turns of the grinder). Optional: Add a heavy pinch of sugar. Add the pork shoulder, sausages, and meatballs back to the pot. Turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover.

I’ve made this a few times and have found better success when I leave the pot completely covered. If you leave the lid slightly ajar, the sauce will evaporate and you’ll be left with a thicker paste. That said, sauce is very forgiving, so even if it’s not turning out the way you had hoped, you can always chart a new course.

Cook the sauce for four hours, checking in every half hour or so to stir and make sure the meatballs aren’t burning on the bottom. The bottom of the pot WILL burn slightly, creating a dark brown crust on the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry about it. If you burn a meatball or two, don’t worry—you can slice off the burnt part with a knife and no one will know (she writes, the memory of her experience lingering fresh in her mind.) You will also need to skim the fat off the top of the sauce every hour or so.

When it’s all said and done, you can serve the sauce as is. I like to pull out all the meat, set it aside, and use an immersion blender on the sauce. It still keeps the thick, chunky texture, but feels a bit more incorporated. But that’s me—I like things to be incorporated. The sauce will taste even better the day after. Case in point: I invited some friends over for dinner last night, but made the sauce the day before (#nailedit).

Now let’s talk about the pasta. Nick introduced me to Colavita pasta made with 100% semolina and it’s to die for. I think the texture and taste stands up to the richness of this sauce. Plus the squiggly shape of the fusilli is so fun, and in life you’ve gotta take the fun where you can get it. Make sure you salt the water heavily. (Tip: Let the water come to a full boil before you add salt, otherwise the water will take longer to boil.)

I know you’re going to love this dinner. Gather up your loved ones, your friends, or dive in on your own; it’s the perfect comfort food for this freezing, snowy, winter weather. If you eat it in front of a fire place you’ll have hit the jackpot. Grate some parmesan or romano cheese over the top and you won’t even need the fireplace. Add garlic bread to the menu and . . . I don’t even have words. I’m so excited for you to try it. Enjoy! Mangia!

Chrissy
Join the Discussion

5 Responses to Spaghetti and Meatballs

  1. Kate says:

    DELICIOUS! Thank you for breaking it down into steps for the cooking-challenged population…some day I will give this a whirl!

  2. Cindy Galotti says:

    Dear Chrissy, I admire your culinary skills. I always wanted to be a good pastry baker but I always mess something up. Being Italian decent I know there are many was to make a meat sauce. Through the years of making this sauce almost every Sunday,I stopped using paste .I just use cans of imported San Marzano tomatoes and let the sauce simmer without the lid till it thickens a little then us the lid. Also you might want to use half plain and half seasoned Italian breadcrumbs. Seasoned breadcrumbs and a lot of flavor. Thanks for your beautiful website, Cindy

    • Chrissy says:

      Thank you! I’m relatively new at making sauce — I’ve been inspired by my Italian brother-in-law who makes sauce in his sleep. I will definitely try your suggestions!

  3. Derek says:

    Sitting in my mother’s kitchen after just finishing this dish for probably the twentieth time, and I have to say that I (and everyone who shares it with me) love(s) this recipe. Thank you so much for this gift, I appreciate it and you so much.

    • Chrissy says:

      Derek! You are the sweetest! Thank you so much for your comment. I’m thrilled that you and your family love this recipe! Sending you a big hug. Miss you. Much love, Chrissy

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