Spaghetti and Meatballs

Comfort food is a highly personal thing.  One of my greatest comfort foods is a plate of spaghetti with red sauce.  An  instantly recognizable Italian-American classic, spaghetti and meatballs makes a long day better and warms the cockles of my heart.


Sauce notes

While prepping the pasta and meatballs, you want to be working on a tomato sauce.  You can see the previous versions of sauce from the blog here, with a more involved red sauce, or here, with a deceptively simple pomodoro sauce. This is a little variation of both, including an anchovy for some flavor depth to match up to the meatballs and gin to get to the alcohol soluble flavor compounds of the tomatoes.  Yes, gin.  It isn’t that strange.


Meatball notes

The best meatballs are made from a mix of meat plus breadcrumbs or torn up bread.  Meatballs are likely something that came out of using up the scraps of the previous few meals, with bread crumbs or stale bread added to bulk up the meat trimmings being passed off as a meal.  The different meats bring different flavors to the recipe, as well as different fat contents.  Here, I made liberal use of Hillcrest Artisan Meat to provide most of the protein. The bread crumbs can absorb additional fat to keep the meatball moist, either olive oil when mixing the meatballs or the rendered fat from the ground meat.  The most important thing here is to let the meat rest in the fridge for an hour so the meatballs start to absorb the moisture.  If you are not happy with whether your meatballs are staying together, add an egg to the mix for binding strength.

Cooking Method Notes

In southern Italy, polpettes or meatballs would traditionally be deep fried in olive oil before the braise in the sauce.  I don’t have a deep fryer hooked up right now, nor do I have a convenient method of storing or disposing of the oil so I will pan fry them.  If you’ve for a deep fryer handy, consider that as an option.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Meatball Mis en Place

  • 1lb Spaghetti or other long noodle.
  • —–
  • 1/2lb Ground Beef
  • 1/4lb Spicy Italian Sausage
  • 1/4lb Sweet italian Sausage
  • 1/2 Cup Bread Crumbs
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • —–
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
  • 1 1/2lbs Tomatoes, fresh or canned
  • 1 Tablespoon Tomato paste or conserva
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Anchovy
  • 1/4 Cup Red Wine or 1/8 Cup Vinegar + 1/8 Cup Gin
  • Any other herbs or spices you like in a marinara sauce
  • —–
  • Chopped Parsley for garnish
  • Grated Parmagiana Regiano or Pecorino Romano cheese for garnish


  1. Put 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, garlic, and anchovy in a large pan over medium heat to warm up the oil and infuse itIMG_4317 with garlicy flavor.  Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until the garlic is gently browned or the anchovy disintegrates into the oil. Discard the garlic.
  2. Add the tomatoes and stir.
  3. Add the wine, or vinegar and gin, stir and continue to bubble.
  4. Reduce heat to simmer, stirring occasionally to break up chunks of tomato if needed.
  5. Begin to prepare the meatballs by combining the different meats and breadcrumbs in a bowl.
  6. Chill the meat, breadcrumbs, and optional egg in the refrigerator for an hour.
  7. Gently work the components together until almost uniform and then begin to form little balls.  Go smaller here so that they fit quietly in the middle of your hand, a little larger than a quarter across. Or bigger if IMG_4318that’s your inclination.  Dust the meatballs with flour lightly.
  8. Heat a heavy bottom pan, such as a cast iron skillet, or pot over medium high heat with the 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil until the oil is shimmering.
  9. Start the pasta water coming to a boil
  10. Pan fry the meatballs, in batches if need be, until browned with a nice crust on all sides.
  11. Add the meatballs to the simmering sauce, including the rendered fat if you want the flavor, omitting the rendered fat if you want this to be marginally healthier.
  12. Continue simmering the sauce while the pasta water comes to a boil.
  13. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, removing it about 2 minutes ahead of the estimated cooking time.
  14. Add the pasta to the sauce and meatballs, stirring around to coat the noodles and let simmer on low about 5 more minutes.
  15. Plate and smile.
Pasta and Meatballs
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