The Best Ever Spaghetti & Meatballs

No kidding! A few simple tricks can take your Spaghetti and Meatballs to a new level.

This recipe is from Fine Cooking May 2005 edition, so I have been making these for quite a while!  An article by Frank Pellegrino shared his Nonna’s secret (segreto) recipes and it is the recipe they use in his family’s restaurant,  Rao’s in New York City.

Since my ‘Nonnas’ were Scottish and English I will have to appropriate his for this purpose!

This sauce is simple to make and at first I only made the meatballs (that are to-die-for).  Then one day I thought I should really make the sauce that is supposed to go with the meatballs.

Am I glad I did… the recipe is very simple but it packs real flavour!  It doesn’t take much hands-on time but you will need 90 minutes to cook it.

Chef’s Notes

  1.  The recipe calls for 3-28 0z cans of plum tomatoes either whole or crushed.  If you can find San Marzano they are the best of the best.  Pricey but good!  I used 1 can of San Marzano,  1 can Italian tomatoes and 28 oz of Passata.
  2. Kosher salt is much coarser than regular salt so it fills up a tablespoon with some air pockets. Do NOT substitute regular table salt at the same rate or it will be far too salty.  If using regular salt cut back to 1-2 teaspoons.
  3. If you can’t find ground veal use 3/4 lb each of ground beef and ground pork.
  4. The meatballs according to the original recipe are large- about 4 oz each.  If you prefer you can make them smaller.

Meatballs on a baking shet

  1. The combination of ground meats is classic Italian and makes the flavours more complex.
  2. The original recipe fries (almost deep fries) the meatballs.  I have added an option to oven bake them because you don’t risk them splitting or falling apart. You also save a lot of calories without the olive oil.
  3. Don’t skip the step of returning your cooked spaghetti to the pot it was cooked in and tossing it with some sauce.  I means that every bite of spaghetti has flavour.  Use 1/2-1 cup of sauce – just until each strand has a bit of colour. This simple step really takes the dish up a notch.

A bowl of spaghetti with 3 meatballs on top

If you are a fan of Italian food and spaghetti in particular, then you might also enjoy this Casa Rugantino Spaghetti Sauce recipe from another classic Italian restaurant.

Wine Pairing

This Chianti is a wonderful accompaniment to this recipe.

Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castiglioni  Tuscany, Italy   750 mL  bottle   |   VINTAGES#:  145920   $21.95
Here is another good bet.
Santa Cristina Rosso Toscana IGT   Tuscany, Italy  750 mL  bottle   |     
LCBO#:  76521       $14.85
Platter of spaghetti with sauce and meatballs

The Best Ever Spaghetti & Meatballs

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Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 1 hr 30 mins
Total Time: 2 hrs
Servings: 8 servings


Marinara Sauce

  • 3 28 oz cans whole or crushed tomatoes San Marzano if possible. If using whole, crush them with your hands in a bowl before you start.
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic pressed
  • 1 2/3 Tbsps kosher salt
  • 4 TBSP fresh chopped basil if using dried cut back to 2 Tbsps
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano


  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic 1 minced, 1 roughly smashed
  • 2 large eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano finely grated
  • 1 1/2 cups plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 lb dried spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil
  • Grated fresh parmigiano for garnish


  • Heat the oil in a dutch oven and sauté the garlic until light brown. Add the tomatoes and the salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Stir in the basil, pepper and oregano.


  • While the marinara sauce is simmering you can make the meatballs.
  • In a large bowl add the ground meat and work lightly with your hands to separate it and mix the beef and the pork together. Do not overwork or it will be tough.
  • Add the salt, pepper, minced garlic, eggs, grated cheese, breadcrumbs, water and parsley.
  • Mix it with your hands til it is all evenly mixed. Do not overmix.
  • Shape into 12 meatballs.
  • To fry: Add oil to a 10" skillet. Oil should come half way up the meatball. Add the smashed garlic and heat over medium heat. When the garlic is light brown remove the garlic. Set 6 meatballs in the oil and fry 5-6 minutes till the bottoms are light brown. Carefully turn them over and brown the other side another 5-6 minutes. Carefully move them to a paper towel to drain. Repeat with the remaining meatballs.
  • Add the meatballs to the Marinara Sauce and cover the pot. Simmer the sauce and meatballs another 30 minutes to let the flavours mingle.
  • While meatballs are simmering bring a large pot of water and salt to a boil and add spaghetti. Cook according to manufacturer's instructions to al dente. Leave the burner on.
  • Drain the spaghetti when done. Do NOT rinse. Return the spaghetti to the pot it was cooked in. Add the chopped fresh basil and a couple of ladles of the marinara sauce. With the pot on the burner toss the spaghetti with tongs until all strands are coated, about 1 minute.
  • Arrange the pasta on a platter and top with sauce and meatballs. Finish with additional grated cheese.



Calories: 784kcal | Carbohydrates: 54g | Protein: 40g | Fat: 46g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 18g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 139mg | Sodium: 2843mg | Potassium: 429mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 6g
The Best Ever Spaghetti & Meatballs

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