Spaghetti and meatballs, what's 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.
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.
I adapted the following recipe slightly from Rick's original, and we love it! My father even declared the other day that from here on out, this is how we are making meatballs.
Tips for Making the Best Meatballs
It's all about the meatballs, right? Here are some tips to ensure that yours are the best:
- Mix the meats: Use a combination of ground beef and Italian pork sausage for the best flavor.
- Include chopped mushrooms: Mushrooms release moisture while they cook, so not only does including mushrooms in your meatball mixture add flavor, it helps keep the meatballs from drying out.
- Use a light hand: Don't over-mix the ingredients, or the meatballs will be tough. Work the ingredients just enough so that the mixture comes together.
- Cook in batches: Rather than crowd the pan, cook the meatballs in batches in a single layer.
Why San Marzano Tomatoes?
Your tomato sauce will only be as good as your tomatoes! San Marzano tomatoes are an Italian variety of plum tomatoes (a.k.a. Roma tomatoes), with fewer seeds and thicker flesh, that are particularly well suited for tomato sauce.
Canned San Marzanos are pricier, but in my opinion, well worth it. If you can't find them, just use canned plum or Roma tomatoes.
Making and Keeping Meatballs
You can make the meatballs and sauce a day or so ahead of time if you like, and store them in the fridge in a covered container. Just reheat in a saucepan or in the microwave when it's time to make the spaghetti.
Spaghetti and meatballs will keep for 3 to 4 days (or longer), covered and in the fridge. The meatballs will freeze better than the spaghetti, but you can freeze both.
More Classic Pasta Dishes to Dig Into:
- Mini Ricotta Stuffed Shells
- Fettuccine Alfredo with Mushrooms
- Baked Ziti
- Spaghetti Pasta Carbonara
Spaghetti and Meatballs
- For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 chopped sweet yellow onion
- 3 cloves chopped garlic
- 1 cup very finely chopped carrots
- 1 cup chopped cremini brown mushrooms
- 2 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes (San Marzano, if possible)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan-Romano cheese blend
- Salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)
- 1/4 cup red wine
- For the meatballs:
- 1 pound ground beef (at least 16% fat)
- 1/2 pound fresh bulk Italian style pork sausage
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped basil
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
- 1/2 cup finely chopped cremini brown mushrooms
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan-Romano cheese blend
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Red wine
- For the pasta:
- 1 1/2 pounds dry 100% semolina spaghetti, thin spaghetti, or bucatini
Prepare the sauce:
Heat olive oil in 4 to 5 quart pot on medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds longer or until fragrant.
Add the carrots and mushrooms, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste concentrate, stir to blend, and cook for a minute longer.
Add the canned tomatoes, basil, and parsley. Mash and stir the tomatoes with a potato masher until the sauce starts to thicken, about 5 minutes over medium high heat.
Reduce heat to low and simmer gently while preparing meatballs, stirring occasionally.
Form the meatballs:
In a large bowl, mix by hand the beef, Italian sausage, basil, parsley, mushrooms, eggs, breadcrumbs, cheese, salt, and pepper. Do not over-mix or the meatballs will be tough.
Use small melon baller (or teaspoon) to form 1-inch round meatballs. Roll and compress into tight balls.
Brown the meatballs:
In a separate wide, shallow pan, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Brown meat balls on all sides, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Depending on pan size you may need to brown two batches of the meatballs. Cook them in a single layer; do not crowd the pan by stacking them.
Do not overcook the meatballs; they will continue to cook in the sauce. You just want to brown them on all sides. Towards the end of browning the meatballs, add a little bit of red wine to deglaze the pan.
Finish and simmer the sauce:
Add the red wine to the sauce and stir in the cheese. Add salt to taste. Add meatballs and gently stir. Simmer the sauce and meatballs for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Cook the spaghetti:
While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot with 4 quarts of salted water in it to a boil (1 tablespoon of salt for every 2 quarts of water). 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 to 10 minutes, or according to package directions for al dente pasta (cooked but still a little firm). Drain.
To serve, place thin layer of sauce on plate, add pasta, add sauce and meatballs, and then sprinkle with grated Parmesan-Romano cheese.