Spaghetti and Meatballs – The Classic Pasta Dish

Spaghetti and Meatballs – The Classic Pasta Dish

Today was the first really hot day of the year in Toronto and people were goofy with sunshine and oxygen.   We packed like we were going away for a week – there’s no way around it now that we have two, what with bottles, diapers, snacks, sunscreen, sand toys, soccer balls, coats and hats that won’t be worn –  and hit Trinity Bellwoods for a picnic with a few other families.  We claimed a patch of grass, strollers around the perimeter, blankets on the ground for the smallest ones, good eye lines of the play ground to watch the bigger ones. The only thing missing was a bit of shade. Which is what happens when you jump from winter to summer – the trees don’t get a chance to catch up.

We came home after lunch and all four of us fell into sun-induced comas. I woke up first and decided to get a jump on dinner. Sometimes I like company in the kitchen but I also like cooking alone. The apartment is quiet. No one needs a new diaper or a bottle, no one  is asking for some t.v. (“Pretty please, Mum, with apple sauce on your head?” This is the funniest thing Esme can imagine saying. She can barely get through it without cracking herself up.).

I made spaghetti and meatballs. We’ve been trying to eat less meat these days but I knew it would make Esme’s day to find out we were having this for dinner. This recipe owes much to both Jamie Oliver’s version from his book Cook With Jamie and Goop’s version from one of their first posts. Both recipes are great and you should try them as they are – Jamie’s terrific with a very fresh and light sauce and the Goop meat balls are made from turkey and seasoned with fennel seeds. My version is a little saucier than either of these. I love recipes that have natural breaks in them if you need them. You could take this as far as forming the meatballs and then put them in the fridge while you ran to pick the kids up from school. Or you could cook the meatballs and sauce and stop before assembling it all and cooking the pasta.


photo by Maya Visnyei

Spaghetti and Meatballs


  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • pinch of chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 28 oz. cans of plum tomatoes
  • good splash of red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup panko or breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 lemon's worth of zest
  • 1 lb. ground beef


Saute onion in a glug of olive oil for 3 or 4 minutes.

Then add the garlic and the nutmeg, cinnamon, chili flakes and salt and pepper.

Cook for another couple of minutes until it all smells great and is soft

Take half of the onion and garlic mixture and put it in a large bowl.

To the sauté pan, add the tomatoes and a good splash of red wine vinegar and let it all simmer while you're preparing the meat balls.

Add to the onion mixture in the bowl: the panko, grated parmesan, egg, lemon zest, and the meat. Take your rings off and squish it all together with your hands to combine well

Form the meat into balls about an inch in diameter.

Put your pot of water on to boil for your pasta.

In a separate pan, cook the meatballs over a medium heat until browned on all sides. You'll probably have to do it in two batches unless you have an enormous frying pan.

Once they're all lovely and brown and cooked through, add them to the sauce and continue to let simmer

Cook your pasta to al dente and serve



Hands full of raw ground meat? Cue my kids waking up from their naps. Ah, well, what are you going to do? I got them settled and and luckily they were still a little spaced out from sleep and possibly a bit of sun stroke to be not too demanding.

Little meat balls are easier for kids to manage and faster to cook. Try as best you can to make them all the same size.

Serve over wholewheat spaghetti and a dusting of grated parmesan. Prepare yourself for your family’s adoration.

And a big mess.

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  1. Meredyth Young
    April 03, 19:43 Reply

    will try that one out, my tomato sauces always taste bland, no matter what I do, so I will try that. As for a frying pan. I'm addicted to my cast iron. I love it and won't use the non-stick because they scare me.

  2. Ceri
    April 04, 14:14 Reply

    Hmmm…. I love cast iron, too, but do you find you can cook everything in it? I guess you do if it's all you've got! Le Creuset is making non-stick now and I'm hearing good things about it. Pricey but may be worth it.
    Tell me how you like the sauce if you try it.

  3. Jenn
    November 21, 19:38 Reply

    Rarely do I truly love anything I make for dinner, and I really loved this one! (That’s quite an endorsement, as I hold myself to taste standards that I hardly ever meet). 🙂

    The only thing I found was that it took a (very) long time to reduce the tomato sauce – much longer than it says in your recipe – and it was still quite runny when I served it. One can of tomatoes also didn’t yield enough sauce to serve with all the yummy meatballs produced, so I may add an extra 1/2 cup to a cup of passata next time.

    The thinness of the sauce was not the end of the world but it could have used a thickening agent of some sort. Next time, I will probably try adding a tbsp of tomato paste at the beginning and some shredded Parm at the end.

    Great recipe overall, though. Thank you!

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