Spaghetti and Meatballs
This is a recipe that I’ve never, ever written down before. For many reasons, but mainly because I didn’t learn it from a recipe. I learned it by smell. I know how silly it sounds, but it’s one of the most foundational cooking memories I have!
My sister and I spent lots of time in the kitchen with our mom and Aunt helping out, learning and mostly just taste-testing. Sometimes with permission, mostly without.
Now, everyone in my mom’s family is a fabulous cook in their own right, but our Aunt Phyllis is on another level. She will spend days (and nights!) in the kitchen making bread, testing new recipes, perfecting old family favorites. She reads Cooks Illustrated cover to cover and when the conversation turns to food, as it inevitably does, she can out-talk me (that’s serious!). So when we visit her, that’s what we do, too. Over the years, my sister and I learned to make breadsticks, cookies, pie crust, lemonade (my Uncle has horror stories about that one), pasta, and just about every family favorite.
But the most memorable was the day she taught us to make meatballs. All the foundational ingredients went into the bowl—the meat, breadcrumbs, egg, spices, fresh garlic, salt, pepper—and then she told us to smell it. We didn’t really understand, but each did as we were told.
As we bent over the bowl, she asked us what was missing. We didn’t have a clue, but she gave us a hint by way of the nudge of the oregano bottle. Then she tipped some more into the bowl, mixed it slightly and asked us to sniff again. “Could we tell the difference? What else does it need now?”
And on and on we went until we have crafted the perfect meatball mixture with just our noses.
And to be perfectly honest, that’s exactly how I make my meatballs, and most other food, to this day. It’s actually the hardest thing about documenting recipes here—I don’t often measure ingredients as they go into the pan. I just kinda shake some in, take a sniff and repeat.
But since I can’t explain how to make meatballs by smell on the internet (one day…), I’m slowly learning to write down amounts as I go!
Every couple months, I make a big batch of these classic Italian meatballs, the way my Mama and Aunt taught me. Then I freeze most of ’em to have on hand for the next few weeks.
They’re quick to defrost and versatile—on nights when we just need a quick bite, they totally come to the rescue as a cozy bowl of pasta and meatballs or meatball subs.
Or if you’re me… just a quick snack.
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb spicy Italian sausage
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
- 3 garlic cloves crushed
- 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan
- 1 tablespoon dried parsley
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 2 teaspoons basil
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 lb spaghetti
- 1/2 jar of your favorite pasta sauce
Heat the oven to 425º F. Prepare a baking sheet by coating with bacon grease or olive oil.
In a large bowl, combine all meatball ingredients. Mix well with you hands until just combined. Don't over-mix or meatballs will get tough.
Roll into 1-2 inch sized balls and lay out on baking sheet.
Bake for 25 minutes, flipping at 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, boil a large pot of water and cook pasta according to package directions.
In a medium sized pot, add pasta sauce and heat to a simmer. When meatballs have almost finished in the oven (about 5 minutes after they've been flipped), add 4-6 meatballs to the pasta sauce. Allow to finish cooking in the sauce.
Serve pasta with meatballs on top and a generous sprinkle of parmesan.