Fun and revelry with Spaghetti and Meatballs

January was a wonderful month for Scott and I.  He was on an ambulatory rotation which means that he worked 8:00AM-5:00PM Monday through Friday and that he got weekends off!  Over Martin Luther King weekend, we even jetted up to New York City!  It was Scott’s first time there so I had to try to show him as much as possible!
A walk through Chinatown
Papaya King hotdogs, chili fries, and fruit smoothie--yum!  We really felt like New Yorkers after we had our hot dogs! ;)
The Cross discovered at Ground Zero

Scott next to Starry Night by VanGogh at the MoMA
We ate lots of amazing food (I super highly recommend 4 and 20 Blackbirds and Lombardi’s pizza!), went to two Broadway shows, three museums, and walked past or through many of the sites NYC is famous for.  
Four and Twenty Blackbirds is owned and run by two sisters from South Dakota, my home state!  I had the buttermilk pie (top right) which tasted like the custard of a french toast but with a slight tang, and Scott had the Black-Bottom Oatmeal Pie which was chocolaty, gooey, crispy all at once.
Me outside of "Mamma Mia!" which was one of the Broadway shows we went to. It was a great show!  

Our pizza at Lombardi's, the oldest pizzeria in the U.S., was some of the best pizza I've ever had.

We packed so much into three days that our comprehension could hardly keep up with all that our senses were taking in!  It was so much fun for us to explore the city together and delight in every new discovery and nuance that makes New York the great city that it is.
The lovely deli and bakery near our hotel where we ate breakfast (or dessert for breakfast) every morning

Walking through Central Park, looking back at the Upper West Side, on our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Times Square

We also managed to host a casual get-together with friends during a weeknight (usually out of the question with Scott’s schedule) during January.  Scott had been pining for a game night because he loves games and we hadn’t been able to play any of our favorite board games since we moved.  Meanwhile, I was yearning to cook a spaghetti and meatball recipe that had caught my eye months earlier, which I thought would be a perfect, effortless, yet delicious, meal to make for guests, and for which I had bought the ingredients weeks earlier so that indeed, I would be forced to follow through and make it someday.  I made the meatballs and sauce two nights before, intense cocoa brownies the night before, and did nothing but reheat and boil noodles the night of!  (See, I learned from my disaster last summer!)  The night was a great success with all the food tasting quite delicious and the game, Taboo, was absolutely riotous with “scandalous” words flowing innocently out of prim mouths and me shrieking “Wayne Gretzky!” at the top of my lungs when the epiphany hit, just as we were about to give up, that I actually knew a NHL hockey player’s name!  Sadly, the boys’ team ended up winning the game over the girls in a Sudden Death Showdown (boo!), but other than that the night was wonderful! After our guests had gone, Scott and I told each other, probably at least 20 times while we got ready for bed, how much fun we had that evening and we rehashed everything until we finally calmed down enough to sleep. 

I highly recommend hosting a game night with this Spaghetti and Meatball recipe to liven things up during this cold and dreary time of year.  It will surely be enough to snap you out of any winter dol-drums funk.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide what to do, but when you’ve made up your mind, the recipe is below.

P.S. If you need another endorsement for this sauce, Scott told me that night as we rehashed things, to never ever make another spaghetti and meatball recipe again, no matter how good or intriguing I thought another one might be.  This was the one that he wants “forever and ever.”  So, there you have it, I will now leave you to decide what to do.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Slightly adapted from Molly Wizenburg in Bon Appetit
Makes 6 main-course servings

A couple of important notes that will make or break this recipe.  The products you use 100% matter when you make this.  Canned tomatoes vary a lot in their taste and acidity.  San Marzano tomatoes (the expensive kind adored by Ina Garten) are hardly acidic--Scott even thought they tasted like V8 juice!  
This is an example of San Marzano tomatoes, ignore the fact that these are crushed (I used them for a different recipe), you want whole tomatoes for this recipe!
Other varieties, like Hunt’s for example are quite acidic.  The acidity of the tomatoes you use matters in this recipe because 1) there are only four ingredients in this sauce recipe, and 2) you add a good amount of butter to counterbalance the acidity of the tomatoes.  Some reviewers on Epicurious who had used San Marzano tomatoes found this recipe to be too buttery.  This is because there was little acidity for the butter to balance out.  So, the point is pay attention to what kind of tomatoes you are using, taste a chunk of one before you put it in the sauce to see how acidic it is.  When I made this I bought San Marzano tomatoes because I was making it for guests and wanted it to be extra good.  I ended up doubling the recipe and used three 28oz cans San Marzano and one 28oz can of Hunt’s that I happened to have in my pantry.  I added one stick of butter to the sauce, which, since I was doubling the recipe, was half the amount called for, and there I stopped because the acidity was balanced, the butter tasted beautiful in the sauce, and any more would have been overkill.  So, all that to say, get some good tomatoes (after doing some searching, Cook’s Illustrated ranks Muir Glen the best, San Marzano's are good too) and start by adding half the amount of butter, taste, and add more as needed.  With enough butter, you will find yourself with a sauce that is lovely in its silkiness, glorious in its velvetiness, and refined in its smoothness.   There will be no sharp acidic flavors, but only a wonderful richness.

Ok, so two other quick notes!  First, the texture of the meatballs is key so don’t use grated cheese when it calls for ground, and use your hand (the best tool) to mix everything until just blended, no longer!

The second note is that this sauce and meatballs taste great on crusty garlic bread.  So feel free use less pasta than called for so you’ll have extra sauce to wipe up with the garlic bread. Plop a meatball on top and you will have yourself a really good open-faced sandwich.

2 28-ounce cans whole* peeled tomatoes in juice, drained, juice reserved, tomatoes finely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (see notes above!)
2 medium onions, peeled, halved through root end
1/2 teaspoon (or more) salt

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French or country-style bread
1/3 cup milk
8 ounces ground beef (I used 90% lean)
8 ounces ground pork
1 cup finely ground (not grated) Parmesan cheese (Use the rasp side of a box grater to get the proper size and recruited Scott to help me, you may also be able to use a food processor)
1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 pound spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)

For sauce:
Combine tomatoes with juice, butter, onions, and salt in large wide pot. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard onions. Using immersion blender, process sauce briefly to break up any large pieces of tomato (or alternatively put he sauce in batches in a blender and pulse a few times). Season sauce with more salt and freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes for a bit of a kick. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.
For meatballs:
Combine breadcrumbs and milk in small bowl; stir until breadcrumbs are evenly moistened. Let stand 10 minutes.

Place beef and pork in large bowl and break up into small chunks. Add 1 cup ground Parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Whisk eggs to blend in small bowl; whisk in garlic. Add to meat mixture.

Using hands, squeeze milk from breadcrumbs, reserving milk. I tried to do this step but there was no milk for me to squeeze out.  If you try this I would suggest putting your bread crumb mixture in a fine mesh sieve and pressing down on it with your hands to release any excess milk.  Add breadcrumbs to meat mixture. Using your hands as “claws”, quickly and gently mix meat mixture just until all ingredients are evenly combined. Do not overmix!  Overworking the meat will give you rubbery meatballs.  Chill mixture at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Moisten hands with some of reserved milk from breadcrumbs, then roll meat mixture between palms into golf-ball-size balls, occasionally moistening hands with milk as needed and arranging meatballs in single layer in sauce in pot (with the sauce still in the pot). Bring to simmer. (I did this and my meatballs turned out great and imparted extra flavor to the sauce; I personally would not worry about browning the meatballs first before adding them to the sauce.)  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.  The meatballs and sauce can be made 2 days ahead! Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm while you bring your water for the noodles to a boil.

Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.
Using slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to platter. Add pasta to sauce in pot and toss to coat. Divide pasta among 6 plates. Top each serving with meatballs. Sprinkle meatballs with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

*If you buy diced tomatoes they generally have calcium chloride added to them, which maintains the firm texture of the dice. So, no matter how long you cook them, they will never break down to be as smooth as whole tomatoes that you chop yourself.


  1. It was a delicious meal for sure! And what great company!

  2. It was a delicious meal for sure! And what great company!