Spaghetti and Meatballs


Yes, it was St. Patrick’s Day, and yes, we try to eat less meat these days. But, when my post stomach bug daughter said, “Mommy can we have spaghetti and meatballs” and my still not feeling quite right husband replies, “that sounds good” that’s all I needed. Sometimes you just have to go for a big family-style bowl of spaghetti and meatballs with the cheese left out to add more as you twirl your way towards the bottom of the bowl.

This straight-up gravy is from my friends Christine and Carla Pallotta. My guess is it is 100% Angie’s, their awesome mom, who I am lucky to have also spent some time with. The Pallotta’s have Nebo Cucina & Enoteca in Boston, an extension of their childhood kitchen and recipes. I haven’t been since they changed locations, but one day. And when I get there I will eat and eat some more!

The meatballs are not theirs to a T, but pretty close. They might not approve of my changes, but hey, sometimes you have to break some rules. I add a bit of milk because my grandmother did. (No Christine, she wasn’t Italian.) And, I have a soft spot for oregano. I pretty much always use all beef even if I prefer the beef and pork combination and I use Parmigiano-Reggiano where they use Pecorino Romano. Why? Because that’s typically what I have in the house. I like and buy the organic ground beef that is 85% fat from Costco and usually have it in the freezer. I always have a hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano in my refrigerator drawer. I can be out of almost everything else, but not the Parm.


Serves 4 to 6, depending on appetite (or how recently the bug hits your house)

Christine and Carla’s Gravy
42 ounces (1 large and 1 small can) whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 ¾ pounds ground beef (or 1 ¼ pounds ground beef and ½ pound ground pork)
¼ cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 garlic clove, grated with a Microplane
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Avocado oil or other neutral oil
1 pound spaghetti
A nice hunk of Parmigaino-Reggiano


To Make the Gravy
Blend the tomatoes and their juices in a food processor or blender.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon remove the onions from the oil and discard the onions or save for another use.

Add the tomatoes to the saucepan and season with the salt and pepper. Bring to a low boil. Cook at a simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. (Go ahead and start the meatballs. If you are still finishing the meatballs, turn off the heat for the sauce until you have.)

To Make the Meatballs
Put all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with your hands. At this point, if you like things a bit tidier, you can pinch the meat into 18 portions, form all of the meatballs, putting them on a lined baking sheet as you go, and have them ready to fry. I prefer to form them right in the bowl and then start cooking them. I give them a final roll right before they go in the pan. Saves on clean up.

Heat a film of oil in a large skillet. Add the meatballs and cook in batches to keep from overcrowding. Do not turn the meatballs until they are nicely browned and can easily be lifted. Repeat the cooking and turning on all sides, about 10 minutes in total. They do not have to be cooked through. Put them right in the Dutch oven with the gravy.

Once the meatballs are in bring the gravy to a low simmer and cook for about 45 minutes.

To Cook the Spaghetti and Serve
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Add the spaghetti and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions, about TK minutes.

Usually when I cook spaghetti and most other pastas I use a big metal strainer and go right into the gravy/sauce, but that’s tough with meatballs. First, scoop out about 1 cup of pasta water, set it to the side, and then drain the spaghetti. The spaghetti goes right back in the pot, then ladle in gravy, adding a little pasta water (you won’t use it all), tossing until the spaghetti is nicely coated.

Pour the spaghetti into a large family-style bowl or divide among individual bowls. Top with the remaining gravy and meatballs. Serve with the Parmigiano-Reggiano on the side.