International Recipes and Cooking Around the World

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Plate of spaghetti and meatballs

(American pasta with meatballs)

Image by Benimoto

Average: 4.8 (5 votes)

Spaghetti and meatballs has been a favorite of the Italian-American community since immigrants from southern Italy first arrived on U.S. shores early in the 20th century. Although the dish is no longer made in Puglia and Sicily, its popularity continues in the United States and it is now considered a thoroughly American dish.

6 to 8 servings


Tomato sauce (makes 2 quarts)

  • Olive oil -- 1/4 cup
  • Onion, minced -- 2
  • Green bell pepper, minced -- 1
  • Garlic, minced -- 6 cloves
  • Tomato paste -- 1/4 cup
  • Dried oregano -- 1 tablespoon
  • Red wine (optional) -- 1 cup
  • Tomatoes, chopped or crushed -- 2 (28-ounce) cans
  • Sugar -- 1 tablespoon
  • Bay leaves -- 2
  • Salt and pepper -- to taste

Meatballs (makes 8 large or 16 small)

  • Onion-pepper-garlic mix from above (see recipe) -- 3/4 cup
  • Ground beef -- 1 pound
  • Ground pork -- 1 pound
  • Breadcrumbs -- 1/2 cup
  • Grated parmesan, pecorino romano or asiago cheese -- 1/3 cup
  • Parsley, minced -- 1/4 cup
  • Eggs, beaten well -- 2 or 3
  • Salt -- 2 teaspoons
  • Pepper -- 2 teaspoons
  • All-purpose flour -- 1 cup
  • Olive oil -- 1/3 cup

To finish

  • Fresh basil leaves, shredded -- 1/2 cup
  • Spaghetti, cooked according to package directions -- 2 (1-pound) packages



  1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium flame. Add the minced onions, bell pepper and garlic and saute for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture is cooked through and the onions are translucent. Remove about 3/4 cup of this mixture and set aside to use in the meatballs.
  2. Add the tomato paste and oregano and cook for another 1 or 2 minutes. Then add the red wine and simmer until cooked down and mostly evaporated.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes, sugar, bay leaves, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 1 to 2 hours.


  1. While the marinara is simmering, add the reserved onion-pepper mix to a large bowl along with the ground beef, ground pork, breadcrumbs, cheese, eggs, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix together well.
  2. Form the meat mixture into balls, using 1/4-cup portions to make small meatballs and 1/2-cup portions for large meatballs. Set aside on a baking sheet.
  3. Place the flour on a plate, and roll each meatball in the flour to coat, shaking off any excess.
  4. Heat the 1/3 cup olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat and working in batches, brown the meatballs on all sides.
  5. Add the meatballs and shredded basil to the tomato sauce during last 30 minutes of cooking and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through.
  6. Adjust seasoning and serve the meatballs and tomato sauce over the cooked spaghetti and garnish with more grated cheese.

Spaghetti and Meatballs Notes and Variations

  • Sauce: Mincing the onions, pepper and garlic in a food processor works well and saves time. Try to use high quality canned tomatoes. The difference will be noticeable.
  • Meatballs: Try using different types and proportions of ground meat: ground veal, ground turkey. Or try removing fresh Italian sausages from their casings and mixing with ground beef. Just make sure you have 2 pounds of meat altogether. Be careful not to add too much salt to the meatballs. The grated cheese adds a fair amount of salt already.
  • Baking the meatballs: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. After rolling them in flour, place the meatballs on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, then transfer to the pot with the sauce and simmer another 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Meatball sandwiches: If you have leftover meatballs and sauce, try serving the meatballs and tomato sauce in heated Italian rolls. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese or shredded mozzarella.


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