Spaghetti and Meatballs
Our recipe for spaghetti and meatballs is an old family favorite that's easy to make and loaded with flavor. For the meatballs we combine ground sirloin, soft breadcrumbs, fresh oregano and basil, garlic, onion and a splash of balsamic vinegar, then brown them lightly and finish the cooking in a delicious marinara sauce that gets a fabulous flavor boost from a very special ingredient (see notes).
For the meatballs:
- 1-1/4 lbs ground sirloin
- 1 cup coarse, fresh breadcrumbs (see notes)
- 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
- Olive oil
For the marinara sauce:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
- 3 cups diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 cup strained tomatoes or tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 2 teaspoons dried)
- 1/4 cup chiffonade of fresh basil (or 2 to 3 teaspoons dried)
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 or 2 Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds (optional)
For the spaghetti:
- 1 lb thin spaghetti
- Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating
Prepare the sauce:
- Start by preparing the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and sauté until soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
- Stir in the diced tomatoes, strained tomatoes, oregano, basil and balsamic vinegar and cook, stirring occasionally for 3 to 4 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper, add the Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds, cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, while you make the meatballs.
Prepare the meatballs:
- Using a wooden spoon, break up the ground sirloin in a large mixing bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, onion, oregano, basil, salt and a few grinds of black pepper until well blended. Scatter the mixture over the meat.
- In the same small bowl, whisk together the egg, balsamic vinegar and garlic, then add to the meat mixture.
- Using your hands, gently combine the meatball ingredients until well mixed, then form it into 20 meatballs, approximately 1-1/2-inches in diameter.
- Film the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan, brown the meatballs lightly, about 1 minute per side, then transfer them to the sauce to finish cooking.
- Turn the meatballs several times to coat them with sauce, then cover the pan and simmer until cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Prepare the spaghetti:
- While the meatballs cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook and drain the spaghetti according to package directions.
- To serve, plate individual servings of spaghetti, top with meatballs and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
How to make soft, fresh breadcrumbs:
Tear a few thick slices of crusty Italian or French bread into 1-inch pieces and add them to the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped.
About Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds:
The hard rinds of this classic Italian cheese should never be discarded because they make a fabulous addition to sauces, soups and stews. True Parmigiano-Reggiano is unwaxed and the rinds are perfectly safe to use in this way.
Some cheesemongers sell them separately just for this purpose (check your local Whole Foods), or, you can save them yourself and store them in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Please note: We don't recommend freezing Parmigiano-Reggiano or any other cheese - just the rinds.