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Spaghetti and Meatballs

In many homes, Monday-night supper calls for comfort food, as folks try to ease back into the workweek. A heaping plate of spaghetti crowned with plump meatballs is the perfect dish to serve. Make a double batch of the marinara sauce, so you have a container in the freezer, ready at a moment’s notice.


For the marinara:

  • 2 cans (28 oz. each) plum tomatoes with purée, preferably San Marzano
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large finely diced yellow onion
  • 2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup hearty red wine
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lb. ground beef round
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
  • 1/2 lb. ground veal 
  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving 


Pour the tomatoes and their purée into a large bowl. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes between your fingers. (Don’t squeeze too hard or you’ll be squirted with tomato juice.)

In a large, heavy nonreactive saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the crushed tomatoes and their purée, red pepper flakes and bay leaf. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching and adding water if the sauce thickens too quickly, until the sauce has thickened, about 1 1/2 hours. During the last 15 minutes of simmering, stir in the basil.

Discard the bay leaf. Set the sauce aside.

Preheat an oven to 400°F. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet. In a small frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool to lukewarm.

Meanwhile, place the bread crumbs in a small bowl. Add the milk and let stand for 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a sieve and drain, pressing hard on the bread to extract the excess milk. Add the soaked bread crumbs, egg, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper to the onion mixture and mix well. Add the ground meats and mix with your hands just until combined. Do not overmix, or the meatballs will be dense.

Using wet hands, shape the mixture into 18 meatballs, and arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the tops are browned, about 20 minutes, then turn and bake until cooked through, 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven.

Bring the marinara sauce back to a simmer over medium heat. Add the meatballs. Discard any fat on the baking sheet, add 1/2 cup boiling water to the baking sheet, and use a wooden spatula to scrape up any browned bits. Pour into the marinara sauce and stir. Simmer until the flavors are blended, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the spaghetti and stir occasionally until the water returns to a boil. Cook according to the package directions until al dente. Drain in a colander. Return the pasta to the pot. Add about half of the sauce to the pasta, without the meatballs, and toss to combine. Divide the pasta among individual pasta bowls, and top each serving with more sauce and an equal number of the meatballs. Serve hot, with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serves 6.

Variation: For a great baked dish, substitute ziti for the spaghetti and undercook it slightly. Toss the drained pasta with the meatballs and sauce, transfer to a baking dish, and top with 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven until the cheese is browned, about 15 minutes.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Comfort Food, by Rick Rodgers (Oxmoor House, 2009).