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Spaghetti with Meatballs

Spaghetti with Meatballs

Fresh marjoram has a delicate floral flavor that blends beautifully in many Italian dishes. It is cousin to oregano, which is sometimes called wild marjoram, but its flavor is more subtle than oregano's. Both herbs are traditionally paired with tomatoes in Italian cooking. While meatballs in tomato sauce are a traditional Italian dish, in Italy they would always be served as a second course. Spaghetti with meatballs has become a classic combination among Italian Americans.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 lb. pork sausage, casings removed
  • 3/4 lb. ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • Fresh marjoram leaves, chopped, plus whole
      sprigs for garnish
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large can (35 oz.) plus 1 small can (12 oz.)
      plum tomatoes, chopped, with juices
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 lb. spaghetti

Directions:

To make the meatballs, in a large bowl, combine the bread crumbs and milk and mix well. Add the sausage, beef, egg, ricotta, one-third of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, the shallot, nutmeg, cloves, a good sprinkling of marjoram and 1 garlic clove, minced. Mix briefly with your hands just until the ingredients are well distributed. Season well with salt and pepper. Form the mixture into small balls 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter.

In a large fry pan over medium heat, pour in the olive oil to a depth of 1/4 inch. When it is hot, add the meatballs (in batches, if necessary) and brown well on all sides. Transfer to a paper towel-lined tray to drain.

Discard the oil in the fry pan and wipe out any burned bits. In the pan over medium heat, warm 3 Tbs. olive oil, add the onion and sauté until soft and lightly golden, about 4 minutes. Slice and add the remaining 2 garlic cloves and sauté about 1 minute more. Add the wine and simmer until it is almost completely evaporated. Add the tomatoes and juices. Then add the broth and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the meatballs, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the meatballs are cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Generously salt the boiling water, add the pasta and cook until al dente (tender but firm to the bite), 7 to 9 minutes. Drain the pasta well and put it in a warmed large, shallow bowl. Add a sprinkling of chopped marjoram to the sauce, remove the bay leaf and pour the sauce over the pasta. Drizzle with olive oil and toss gently. Garnish with the marjoram sprigs and serve immediately. Pass the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at the table.
Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Pasta, by Erica De Mane (Simon & Schuster, 2001).