Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs, what’s there not to love? Spaghetti and meatballs has to be one of the most fun dishes ever invented, at least from a kid’s perspective. Mounds of spaghetti, fork twirling strands in a spoon, tasty meatballs, even the very serving of the spaghetti, trying to lift just the right amount from the bowl, these are some of my favorite memories from childhood. No, it is not an authentic Italian dish, but an American adaptation. Who cares? Certainly not I. This particular spaghetti and meatballs recipe was given to us by Rick Mindermann, of our local Italian grocery store Corti Brothers. Rick is one of these walking encyclopedias of food knowledge, whose enthusiasm for all things food and cooking is infectious.

For the following recipe, we adapted it slightly from Rick’s original, added salt to the sauce, cooked the onions before adding the garlic, but it is essentially the same recipe. We love it. My father even declared the other day that from here on out, this is how we are making meatballs.

Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 6.

Ingredients

Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ chopped sweet yellow onion
  • 3 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 cup very finely chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped crimini brown mushrooms
  • 2 28-oz cans Italian plum tomatoes (get San Marzano brand if possible)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste concentrate in tube
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan-romano cheese blend
  • Salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)
  • ¼ cup red wine

Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground beef (at least 16% fat)
  • ½ lb fresh bulk Italian style pork sausage
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped basil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • ½ cup finely chopped crimini brown mushrooms
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan-romano cheese blend
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Red wine

Spaghetti

  • 1 1/2 lbs dry 100% semolina spaghetti, thin spaghetti, or bucatini

Method

1 Prepare the sauce. Heat olive oil in 4-5 quart pot on medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add carrots and mushrooms, blend together for 2 minutes. Add canned tomatoes, stir together. Add basil and parsley, stir tomatoes with a potato masher until sauce starts to thicken about 5 minutes over medium high heat. Add tomato paste concentrate, stir to blend. Reduce heat and simmer while preparing meat balls, stirring occasionally.

2 Prepare the meatballs. Mix by hand in a large bowl beef, Italian sausage, basil, parsley, mushrooms, eggs, breadcrumbs, cheese, herbed salt, and pepper until well mixed. Use small melon baller, or teaspoons to form 1-inch round meat balls. Roll and compress into tight balls.

3 Heat frying pan on high heat. Add olive oil. Sear and brown meat balls on all sides. About 2-3 minutes. Depending on pan size you may need to brown two batches of the meatballs. Do not crowd the pan by stacking the meatballs. Cook in a single layer. Do not over-cook. As meatballs are finishing, add a little bit of red wine to de-glaze pan.

4 Add ¼ cup red wine to the sauce. Then stir in ¼ cup cheese. Add salt to taste. Add meatballs, gently stir. Simmer sauce and meatballs for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5 While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot with 4 quarts of water in it to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add 1 Tbsp of salt. When the water returns to a boil add the pasta to the pot. Leave the pot uncovered while you cook the pasta on high heat with a vigorous boil. Put a timer on for 8-10 minutes, or whatever your pasta package directions say is appropriate for al dente (cooked but still a little firm). Drain.

To serve, place thin layer of sauce on plate, add pasta, add sauce and meatballs, sprinkle with grated parmesan-romano cheese.

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39 Comments

  1. meg

    This looks absolutely delicious! Would it taste ok to use a ground sirloin or even ground turkey? Thank you for all your wonderful ideas!

    Rick’s original recipe actually calls for USDA prime ground beef. Sirloin tends to be lean, so if you can get prime sirloin, that would be better. Regarding ground turkey, you can use that too, it just won’t taste quite the same. Recipes are only guidelines, use what you want. ~Elise

  2. Andy

    I agree that spaghetti and meatballs are great. I use a recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook which is incredible. It starts off with white sandwich bread and buttermilk. I am not sure if that is the key or not, but they are delicious.

  3. Lisa_S.

    Ok, I’ll admit it, I lived off of spaghetti and salads my 4 years of college. It was the only palatable meal the dining hall served. And I managed my weight pretty well on the spaghetti diet too. [And I was never low on lycopene ;-) ]

    Irony: the banner ads on the page is an ad for Ragu. Why, after reading the recipe, would anyone run out and buy jarred sauce?

    Hey, don’t forget to toss in some kalamatas into the sauce – or green queens too.

    And if you have a Kitchenaid stand mixer, the “RVSA Slicer/Shredder Attachment for Stand Mixers” makes the BEST Parm/Romano brick cheese grater. Buy the brick cheese at Sam’s Club/Costco etc., and grate as needed. It beats those little cheese graters that give you carpal tunnel syndrome by the end of dinner.

    Hi Lisa, I think the most convenient tool for grating hard cheese is a Microplane grater. They make them in a size for zesting and also a larger size for cheese. Incredibly easy. No carpel tunnel. ~Elise

  4. Amy C

    Yum. I make a similar spaghetti sauce – except that I add the tomato paste at the beginning and “fry” it in the olive oil after the mushrooms and onions have softened a bit. For some reason, this seems to give the sauce a nice depth.

    Oh, I also add a pinch of sugar…it’s really good!

  5. Lisa

    Looks perfectly delicious, and I must try this recipe for meatballs. I loved the sly humor of the “On Top of Spaghetti” link. Really made me smile. I haven’t thought of that silly song for eons!

  6. Eric

    I always wondered about putting carrots in my meat sauce. I’ve never done it, but I understand the sweetness it adds to the sauce. I’ve just never done it. Also, I’ve seen several recipes lately calling for the San Marzano tomatoes… too bad I can’t get any here in the heartland. Maybe one day I’ll splurge and order a case or two mail-order.

    The sweetness of the carrots provides a good balance to the acidity of the tomatoes. ~Elise

  7. CJ

    To speed things up and make it easier for me, I always put my meatballs on a broiler pan and bake in a hot oven (450 deg.) until browned. (We make extra for meatball subs. mmmm)

    Either method– you’ve just got to love, love, love spaghetti and meatballs.

    Elise- your recipe is great!

  8. Gina

    Growing up in an Italian household, we never put onions in our sauce. Period! This looks really good though.

    I have a tip for anyone who gets heartburn… If you add 1/4 tsp of baking soda to any tomato-based sauce, you will cut down your chances of getting that nasty after-effect of eating spaghetti sauce. Thats grandma’s recepie. ;O)

  9. Robin

    This sauce is very similar to the one my mom makes… always delicious. Carrots and criminis are a must. As a busy mom of two, I wonder if I can double the recipe and freeze the extra meatballs for a later meal. Any ideas?

  10. Joanna

    Wow, this looks so good! I haven’t had spaghetti and meatballs in the longest time. My recipe is generally similar to yours, with 2 noticeable differences: using sausage and mushrooms in the meatballs. I can imagine the sausage adding a great flavor and the mushrooms providing a lot of moisture — I’ll have to include both next time!

  11. courtney

    So glad to see that you brown yours. I’ve never been a fan of meatballs that were only simmered. However I grew up with my dad (100% Italian) ALWAYS browning his meatballs, so they had just a hint of crispness on the outside, but never overcooked.

    I would say meatballs are one of the few things that I can cook perfectly everytime without thinking/paying attention.

    I too am my father’s daughter.

    PS I want to urge everyong to not make those awful oversized meatballs. They get dry on the outside before the inside is cooked, and the surface to center ration is knocked out of whack.

  12. Garrett

    Hmm, I’m betting these meatballs would be equally tasty in some Italian Wedding Soup. =)

  13. Sarah

    This looks really good, but I can’t eat pork so I was wondering what I could put in instead. Thanks so much!

    You can use ground turkey, if you can get the ground dark meat, or ground thigh meat. It will be tastier. ~Elise

  14. Andrew Knutson

    I Wonder, when you drain the pasta do you coat the pasta with a little olive oil then return it to the pot to remove the rest of the water?

    No. Coating the pasta with olive oil will make it harder for the sauce to stick to the pasta. ~Elise

  15. LiberalFoodie

    Great recipe. I love his tip about mushrooms, once in a while I’ll add them to my meatballs.

    For an earlier question about ground turkey- we are non pork and beef eaters so I don’t know what “classic” meatballs taste like, but ground turkey meatballs taste fantastic with spaghetti and sauce.

  16. Zee

    I use ground turkey for my meatballs, and no one even knows the difference. I add red pepper flakes for a little heat, not enough to make them spicy, but it gives them great flavor. I also add frozen spinach sometimes to sneak a veggie in. I like to brown them in olive oil in the pan before adding the sauce. It adds some nice texture and helps seal in moisture before I finish them off in the sauce. One of my go-to recipes, delicious!

  17. Linda

    Hi Elise,

    I make pasta sauce 4 to 5 quarts of pasta sauce for the week’s dinner in my crock-pot.
    Like you, I sauté the veggies before adding them to a sauce. I mince it all in the food processor at once then add it to sauté pan with evoo. I use basil, salt, pepper and a bit of oregano for seasoning.

    Great photo!

  18. merd

    Grampa would be proud. Wonderful recipe.

    I have not used mushrooms in meatballs before, but have used them in the sauce. But I will finely up green peppers and onions to add to the meat mixture. If I use unseasoned breadcrumbs (or just use old crusted loaves of bread and make it myself), I add oregano, basil, parsley also. I have been known to try searing them first on the outside and then dropping them into a big pot of chicken broth, or sometimes skipping the browning of the outsides entirely and just going straight to the chicken broth for a nice mellow and slow boil.

    G’pa makes them as big as baseballs. You never think that you can eat the whole thing, but you end up eating 2-3 of them. I always come home from visiting about 5 lbs heavier.

    Oh yeah… one of my favorite things to do to add just a tad bit of zing to the sauce is to drizzle in some pepperoncini juice straight from the jar. :drool:

    Great. Once again, reading your blog has me thinking about dinner. ;)

  19. JudiZ

    I just made this dish for dinner. First off, I have had to stand watch like a sentry over the meatballs because I allowed my husband and grown son taste “one”. Eight meatballs later what is left is simmering in the sauce which tastes outstanding. Frankly, I’m not sure this batch will see much pasta, they are clamoring for meatball sandwiches…seriously, best meatballs EVAH! Thanks for the recipe.

  20. Elise

    Hi JudiZ – Oh, those thieves! I had a hard time resisting these meatballs too. I think at least one or two were sacrificed to the tasting gods before the spaghetti was served. ;-)

  21. Bridget

    I have a hungry man at home and every time I get stuck for dinner ideas always come back to this recipe, delicious! Try adding some beef stock and peppers to the sauce, and the meatballs chilled always seem to hold together better, I also serve with home made garlic bread for a real feast!

  22. Cess

    I made this last night. Yum! I used ground turkey and turkey Italian sausage and the meatballs came out sooo good! The sauce was excellent as well. I used my mini food processor for the herbs, garlic and carrot. Thanks!

  23. Jessica

    I made this a few months ago and it has become a permanent part of our rotation. My brother in law said they were the best he’d ever tasted, and he loves meatballs. Thank you!

    (P.S. I sub in extra breadcrumbs instead of mushrooms and it works fine!)

  24. Lisa

    My favorite food to eat since I was little was and still is spaghetti. I’ve been trying out different sauce recipes for many years and decided to try yours. this is by far the most tastiest sauce recipe I have ever made. It is really delicious, I enjoyed making it and eating it.

  25. Missy

    I recently tried a a ground beef meatball recipe with fennel and it was amazing! Just add 2-3 tbsp or enough for taste.

  26. Stephany

    I made this and it was SO GOOD!! It’s a keeper for our family. The only thing I will change is the choice of noodles. The bucatini are fun for kids but even they were struggeling to get the noodles in their mouths. They are almost cumbersome and get a bit frustrating after a while. Other than that, I LOVE this recipe!

  27. Randi Lynne

    Yesterday I made this with slight variations and it turned out delicious!

    For the sauce I did not have mushrooms on hand and used 1 can of diced tomatoes and 1 can Italian stewed. I added 1/2 chopped fresh jalapeno pepper to the sauce.

    For the meatballs I used 1 lb of ground venison (the venison had some sausage mixed in) and 8 oz of regular breakfast sausage. Again, there were no mushrooms. I used panko in place of breadcrumbs.

    The sauce was so thick and complimenting to the meatballs. The slightly crunchy carrots gave the sauce great texture. The meatballs were very moist and tender inside. What a comforting meal!

  28. Kay

    When I want a great recipe, this is the first place I look. This spaghetti and meatballs recipe did not let me down!! My sweetie could not stop saying that it was the best spaghetti he had in his life. Thank you so much for your website. It has all but replaced my enormous cookbook library.

  29. Terri

    I started making these meatballs for my family several months ago. They absolutely love them. My 7-year-old son has a habit of eating just the meatballs and leaving the pasta. They don’t ever want me to make plain spaghetti with meat sauce anymore, just spaghetti and meatballs. I’ve wondered if they would turn out well if I baked them in the oven instead of pan searing them, because it seems to take so long to do it, and it’s my least favorite part.

    You could try baking them, but I think you’ll get better browning (and flavor) if you pan sear them. ~Elise

  30. Carl Kimball

    I wish we could post pictures…turned out fantastic. We used Dutch hamburger and pork, grass fed and organic which gives a stronger flavor. French olive oil, and tomatoes from Italy. Grana Padano parm is the best. Served it with a big Barolo. We’re lucky we have easy access to high quality ingredients.

  31. Terri

    I decided to bake the meatballs the last time I made them, and they turned out splendidly. My family said that they didn’t notice any detriment to flavor or texture. In fact before I told them that I changed anything in the way I had prepared them, my daughter and husband commented that they were the best batch I had ever made. They were still nicely browned, too.

  32. Sylvia

    What can I substitute for the bulk Italian sausage? I don’t think I can find that in my country.

  33. Jessie Sanders

    Just made this for dinner tonight and both my kids loved it! Thanks for the delicious recipe!!

  34. dunesgirl

    Fantastic! Most recipes call for pork which we do not eat, so I used chicken Italian sausages and the beef to make the most incredible meatballs. The sauce had a nice full bodied flavor too. I served this with angel hair pasta and a nice Ceasar salad, for a wonderful family meal!

  35. Hannna Sumpter

    Wonderful!!! I used this recipe from homework(writing it down, not making it. what a shame.:( )My teacher said it was perfect for a healthy meal!!!!!:)

  36. steve

    just made it last night. Kids went crazy. I added Salmon heads in the sauce and cooked all day. Great flav. make sure you take the heads out before serving.

    Well that’s an interesting addition. So glad it worked for you. ~Elise

  37. Alexis Ellington

    They did not work for me and the meat balls tasted weird but other than that thanks for the recipe .

  38. Jon

    Try rolling the meatballs in Italian Breadcrumbs and baking them, turning until evenly browned, rather than sauteing in olive oil. This gets rid of a lot of grease.

    You might try adding some chopped eggplant to the saute for the sauce and some sliced black olives

  39. Theresa

    Absolute Goodness! I’ve never wrote in to a site before, but I just made this tonight, with little variation as to what I had on hand, and OMG….sooo good. My husband is on his way home and he is going to love this! Wonderful sauce, and the meatballs….I am in heaven. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe Elise! Your site is great, and I will be returning for more ;))

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