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Spaghetti & Meatballs

April 27, 2011

A little while ago, we broke the number one rule when feeding Italians. We served them a saucy, ultra-orthodox version of spaghetti and meatballs. Contrary to popular belief, you will not find meatballs on spaghetti in Italy. Tiny little meatballs in baked penne, maybe. Meatballs as an antipasto or a second course, definitely. But spaghetti and meatballs is a wholly, indisputably, non-Italian entity that – from into songs, children’s books, and Disney movies – has penetrated our culture and become entirely American.

In fact, it was that very movie that enamored my dear Italian to the idea of spaghetti and meatballs, though it was not until years later that he meet me and felt the overwhelming desire to slurp my spaghetti strand. Despite the cuteness, putting meatballs on spaghetti still seemed like a transgression, an unnecessary confusion, a little like putting cereal on your eggs and bacon.

Thankfully, this meatball recipe stood up the ultimate test. Not only did Francesco love it, we were enjoying it so much we forgot to slurp spaghetti from the same bowl.

It was such a success that Francesco decided that this time we would make the meatballs, which only required my standing over his shoulder telling him what to do next. He even made the breadcrumbs himself with a cheese grater. I was thoroughly impressed. Later that day, I fried them then plopped them into a simple (but still definitely American) red sauce to finish. They came out a bit smaller than usual, but no less delicious. And our Italian guests, between hums of buono and complimenti, finished off their bowls.

The next day, Francesco and I fried up the leftovers (I think he made something like 50 meatballs and 1 1/2 pounds of spaghetti) for dinner and decided they were even better. And once again, the romantic slurping thing? Never happened. We were both in relationships with our spaghetti.

Like so many of my recipes, I have no idea where this one came from. It was probably concocted from a hefty dose of The Internet, a dash of trail and error and a fair few pinches of whim. If you’re looking to recreate Lady and the Tramp’s night under the stars, this might not be the recipe for you. I’d recommend an inferior recipe so you won’t be gazing into your bowl instead of into each other’s eyes.


A true classic. These quantities make a lot, probably enough for 8, so feel free to halve it or just freeze whatever you don’t want to eat in the next few days. The meatballs and sauce are also killer on their own, though nothing beats slurping and twirling your way to plaid tablecloth-filled evenings of romance.


1/2 cup bread crumbs

2 lbs (1 kg) ground meat
(mix beef, pork, veal)

2 tsp chopped fresh parsley

1 egg

½ cup grated parmigiano cheese

½ cup warm water

salt & pepper

flour, for dredging

In a large bowl, use your hands to gently mix the meat with the egg, parsley, bread crumbs, cheese, seasonings, and about 1/2 cup water. Combine until it’s relatively uniform. Taste to see if it needs salt. Use your hands to roll the mixture into whatever sized meatballs you like. Place a bit of flour in a medium bowl and put in some meatballs, tossing to just coat with flour. Repeat until all the meatballs are lightly coated.

Place a bit of vegetable or canola oil to thoroughly coat the bottom of a large wide-bottomed pan, and fry the meatballs in batches over medium to medium-low heat, being careful not to overcrowd them. You want to brown them well on all sides, which should take about 5 minutes per batch, then remove them to a tray covered with paper towels. Repeat until all the meatballs are fried.

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried oregano

fresh parsley and/or basil

When you’re done frying the meatballs, make the sauce in the same pan. Add the minced garlic and then all the other sauce ingredients, scraping up any brown bits. Season to taste. After 10 minutes, add the cooked meatballs and cook 10 minutes more. If not serving immediately, turn off heat and cover. To serve, ladle some sauce over just-cooked spaghetti, then tong spaghetti into each bowl. Top each bowl with about 4 meatballs and extra sauce. Top with grated parmigiano cheese and minced parsley or basil.

nota bene: make about 1 and 1/2 boxes of spaghetti (750 grams) for these quantities.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Nancy permalink
    April 27, 2011 11:26 pm

    Pictures and recipe looks great! Love your blog, I am also married to an Italian, native from Vicenza so not to far from Bologna. And my cooking is now more Italian than American and I love every minute of it!!! Buon Appetito!

  2. May 5, 2011 7:31 am

    Boy, that looks delicious! It doesn’t get much better than homemade meat balls!

    I think this is the first time I’ve left a comment on your blog, but I have looked at a lot of your posts and your recipes look fantastic! And I wanted to let you know that I have an award for you over at my blog, I hope you like it!

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