So you're wondering how to make spaghetti and meatballs. Try this easy and undeniably delicious version. Or don't. But then you'll be missing out on something realllyyyyyyy good.
I wanna talk about spaghetti & meatballs. Kind of because it's spaghetti & meatball season and kind of because I often want to talk about spaghetti & meatballs. Whenever there's a chance to work spaghetti & meatballs into a conversation I do. I suggest you do the same, for it will change your life; only and always for the better.
Take these conversations I recently made up, for example:
My mother: "I don't really like your hair that way, dear. You look like a squirrel.."
Me: "Do you like spaghetti & meatballs?"
My mother: "Oh my Lord! I LOVE spaghetti & meatballs. I remember this one time when your father and I ... is that a new hairdo? It looks sharp!"
Your Boss: "Did you finish that assignment I gave you today?"
You: "No. You can suck it. I'm taking a 5 hour lunch today that will involve eating spaghetti & meatballs, you miserable wound."
Your Boss: "Did you say spaghetti & meatballs? I LOVE spaghetti & meatballs. Hey! When's the last time I gave you a raise? Or a day off for no reason? And do you have a company car? You totally need a company car. Jeez ... I can't believe you love spaghetti & meatballs. I love 'em too."
There's just something about spaghetti and meatballs that brings out the best in us. And by "us" I mean human beings, dogs, cats, most other animals and the occasional stray from outer space.
There are a multitude of ways to cook spaghetti & meatballs including using fresh tomatoes, but my preferred way is to use tomato sauce that I jar in the fall.
The taste of this recipe completely changes according to how long you cook it. The longer you cook it the smokier and denser it tastes ... the less you cook it the more vibrant and bright it tastes.
As you can see from the recipe ... if you don't have a couple of quarts of homemade tomato sauce you can use the secret ingredient ... tomato juice. From the can. Yup ... that tomato juice. The kind you'd normally drink in a juice glass while lounging in the velvet booth of a 1970's steak house.
Make sure you get reduced salt tomato juice though, otherwise your spaghetti sauce will be too salty. Dead sea salty. Salt lick salty. Long Shoreman salty.
Here we go ...
If you're kind of a cooking expert who doesn't need photos you can jump straight to the printable recipe here.
Gather your ingredients and preheat the oven to 375 °F
Do NOT be alarmed! This is an old photo. I am not currently using decade old tomato sauce.
Pour all of your tomato juice (homemade or otherwise) into a roasting pan.
Add a full can of tomato paste. The recipe says a "large" can but I just add a full small can (the most common in stores)
Add your chopped onion and garlic.
Add in all of your spices and remember to crush them in your fingers to bring out the aroma and flavours of them.
Grate in about 2 Tablespoons of fresh parmesan cheese. Or used the stuff in a cardboard can. I won't judge or give a care.
Stir everything up and then set it aside because ....
It's time to make meatballs!!! I use 100% ground beef most of the time, but occasionally I'll mix things up and do a 50/50 blend of ground beef and ground pork. Also, judge for yourself how much bread crumbs you'd like to use. I find adding in a little extra bread crumbs tends to make the meatball less hard and dense. I like a slightly softer textured meatball. So I add extra bread crumbs.
Taking a large tablespoon of meat, roll it in your hands with medium pressure. Again, the harder you roll the meatball the more dense it will be. If you barely form it together it will be too soft and will fall apart. Medium pressure.
Once you have rolled all the meatballs ...
Throw em in the roasting pan full of sauce.
You may find they just sort of float on top of the sauce. Not to worry. This is how they brown.
Cover the roasting pan with a lid and put it in the preheated oven for half an hour to an hour. Once the sauce is bubbling and gurgling, you can remove the lid so the sauce will thicken. Cook for another 1 ½ - 2 hrs until sauce is thickened. Remember ... the earlier you take it out the sharper and more tomatoey it will taste ... the later you take it out the smokier and richer it will taste. I go for smoky and rich. Total cooking time ... around 3 hours.
Serve on a skillfully folded tea towel, placed in front of some artfully arranged parmesan cheese and shavings.
Spaghetti & Meatballs
- 48 oz tomato juice (1 large can, reduced salt)
- 12 oz tomato paste
- 1 onion diced
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon basil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 tbsps parmesan cheese grated
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 lb ground beef Or use ½ lb pork and ½ lb ground beef
- 1 egg
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F or 350 degrees F convection.
- Combine all the sauce ingredients into a dutch oven.
- Mix the ingredients for the meatballs and then form them. You'll get 15 smaller sized meatballs from 1 lb of ground meat or 8-10 larger ones.
- Add meatballs to the sauce allowing the tops to float out a bit. This will brown them.
- Put a lid on the dutch oven and put it in a 375 degree F oven for half an hour. After that time, remove the lid and continue to roast for another 2 hours.
- Stir the sauce occasionally to allow the meatballs to turn over and brown on various sides. (anything sticking out of the sauce will brown)
- The sauce is done whenever you want. The longer you cook it the darker and earthier tasting it will be. If you take it out early it will be brighter and more tomatoey tasting.
And the reason it's called "Gramma's Spaghetti & Meatballs"? Because when my niece first moved out of her parent's house I typed out a bunch of her/my favourite recipes to give her. (GREAT gift idea by the way)
And the originator of this recipe is ... her gramma. My mother. Betty. Who happens to like my hair ... at the moment.
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Grew up in Brightside - a working class multicultural neighbourhood in the north end of Hamilton. Where/when did the standard originate of pouring a dollop of sauce atop the mound of pasta? My Dad (Italian - always the one who made the sauce) poured it into the (drained) pot of spaghetti and mixed, before serving. Maybe not as artistic, but allows the flavour to be absorbed right into the noodles. We also enjoyed fried spaghetti leftovers the next day. And meatball sandwiches, of course. Thanks for the childhood memory!
I hear you and it makes sense! But this is how we've always done it. I like it. Once it's on your plate you mix it around a bit and then get to pick and choose how much sauce you have with each bite. :) ~ karen!
KAREN, ARE YOU USING "DRIED" BREAD CRUMBS ? THAT'S WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE BUT JUST CHECKING. ONE OF MY RECIPES CALLS FOR FOOD PROCESSING FRESH BREAD …. ALSO THE PASSATTA QUESTION: IT'S JUST SIEVED TOMATO JUICE FOR COOKING AS OPPOSED TO DRINKING. COMES IN GLASS JARS. JAMIE OLIVER USES IT A LOT.
Pasata is just uncooked strained tomatoes so it should work in place of tomato juice. It's what I always use for tomato sauce. Might reduce faster so keep an eye on it and add water if necessary.
Living here in the Northwestern US most of my life, I'd never heard of this method of roasting the spaghetti & meatballs, but it makes so much sense, I can't wait to try it! In the spirit of passing on our own cooking tips: This recipe calls for a full can of tomato paste, but so many things call for a tablespoon or so, and since I can never find the fancy paste in a tube like I've seen on TV cooking shows, I buy it in the can. I let numerous partial cans get to the science experiment stage in the fridge before I came up with this obvious solution I want to share. When I've opened a new can of tomato paste and don't use it all, I measure the remainder into tablespoon sized lumps on plastic wrap and freeze (wrapped well and zip lock bagged. Next time I need to add just a little tp to a recipe, I almost always have some stashed in the freezer door.
You can also buy tomato paste in a tube. You use just what you need & put the tube in the fridge.
To me "Dutch oven" means my cast iron pot. But I've always heard that it's not good to cook anything with a lot of tomatoes in an iron pot. Is this correct? Or maybe just being sure to wash the pot immediately after using it is what needs to be done?
Hi Nancy! I just noticed this comment of yours that I didn't answer! Not that you care about the answer now, lol, but a dutch oven is just any casserole type pot with a lid. Most of them now are enamelled on the inside and outside. As far as cooking tomatoes in iron, it's perfectly safe to do it, it's just that if the cast iron isn't seasoned well it can impart a slightly metallic taste into anything acidic you're cooking. Like tomatoes. But if the pan is well seasoned it's less likely this will happen. ~ karen!
I have a friend whose husband is the first person I ever saw make spaghetti sauce with tomato juice instead of sauce. He makes the meatballs giant size tho and fries them first to brown them. For hours. It takes him over a day to get everything cooked but it is to DIE for and he won't share his recipe. We begged him to make it for us but now I will try this one and see how it compares. His salad is plain leaf lettuce with regular white vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Soooo nummy with the spaghetti. Like eating chips but it's healthy!
My MIL taught me to make sauce and meatballs back in the 60's. And she started with tomato juice! The only time I EVER, EVER saw or heard of anyone using tomato juice as a starter. And your recipe for both sauce and meatballs is pretty much the same as hers down to the addition of some sugar!
My man friend puts cooked crumbled bacon in the meatballs before forming & cooks them raw in the sauce. The best!
Karen - This sounds great. I have never heard of meatballs cooked in the oven. I have to tell you, I have never even wanted to try meatballs since I am not too big a fan of meatloaf & think of them as almost the same. But your recipe sounds & looks great. For years I have made my spaghetti sauce with meat & mostaccioli sauce with meat in my slow cooker - different from a crock pot because the heat is only on the bottom. That way I can cook it all day long & never have to worry about it sticking or burning. I use my slow cooker for as many things as I can - soups - stew - chili - etc. I love it. When my son was little he once ordered spaghetti in a restaurant & boy was he disappointed - it didn't taste like mine & he would hardly eat it. This looks & sounds fantastic and since you love it & it came from Betty, I have to try it. Also, I have never heard of using tomato juice for the sauce but I will try it. I must have missed this post the first go-round or it was before I found you - so I am glad for the re-run.
Big day of cooking at my house. The spaghetti sauce with meatballs are in the oven now and the scent is unbelievable! Cannot wait for 6pm dinner time! I also made my second batch of antijitos today. I was going to make a double batch on Sunday but man that is a lot of chopping. Well worth the effort though, this next batch will go in the freezer. So damn good!
You're right, those antojitos take a LOT of chopping, lol! I hope the spaghetti and meatballs tasted as good as they smelled. :) ~ karen!
They tasted great! I just saw this comment and it reminded me i have antijitos in the freezer. My day just got better! :D
I. don't. know. My dad made spaghetti every Saturday with a meat sauce, and that's the way I've been doing it for the past 40 years. My husband asked for meatballs one time, so I just bought them already made and threw them into my meat sauce :)
From the comments, I'm very tempted to try this, even if it's just for the meatballs and him(!) We just had the rest of my sauce today, but I'll come back with a better comment once I try it.
Okey doke, lol. ~ karen!
Ok, quick question. How do the meatballs brown with the lid on?
I always make a loose meat sauce with precooked ground beef, but I really want to try this your way as my grown Son has asked for meatballs in his spaghetti forever.
The lid comes off after half an hour. The lid is just to help the sauce get up to temperature and bubbling more quickly. ~ karen!
Made this recipe last night...YUM. Meatballs were tender (added @ 1/4 cup more bread crumbs per your suggestion) and sauce was delicious. Thanks!
Having this for dinner. Perfect Sunday thing because it can simmer in the oven all afternoon. I just wanted to add my two cents to the comments because I've been making this since it was first posted. I don't know home many times, but lots. I have to say this...this recipe needs absolutely nothing to make it more fabulous than int already it. I am an inveterate tweaker, always adding or changing things up. This needs none of that. I have other amazing tomato sauce recipes in circulation by Jamie Oliver and Marcella Hazan. This one stands as an equal. If in doubt...make it.
Thanks Pat b. I'm so glad you've loved it over the years. ~ karen!
Finally made this for dinner tonight ... mind and tastebuds blown! Like a sucker, I've been separately browning meatballs for years. No more! This is now my go-to Spaghetti & Meatballs recipe. Many thanks Karen (and Betty)!
Excellent! I'd normally be a "YOU HAVE TO BROWN THE MEAT" person, but you really don't with this. Glad you liked it. :) ~ karen!
I gotta say, this was delicious and a HUGE hit at my house. With unanimous agreement from my husband and 12 and 15 year olds, we will be having "Karen's Balls" for supper often. Even better than Schwetty balls!
Hahahahaha! I'm glad and weirdly honoured. ~ karen!
I just made this last night for Festivus Dinner December 23rd!
IT. Was. Delicious! Everyone went back for more!
I actually doubled the meatball recipe and there was still enough sauce not doubling the sauce recipe!
Thank you for another amazing and EASY recipe!
As you see, I'm still catching up. But, as part of my New Year resolution, I am reading you new ones as they come up. I am one of those large amount of fans who read to the last of your blog and the comments also. I can't wait to see your new project.
The new project is up and running Jacquie! See the box on the top right of the blog. ~karen!