Spaghetti and Meatballs with Fresh Tomato Sauce & Pecorino Cheese
My daughters and I prepared spaghetti and meatballs one night a couple of weeks ago when my wife was out for a business dinner.
Making both the meatballs and the sauce from scratch in under an hour was a challenge, and I'm sure not the way my friend Chef Ricco would prepare them, but they turned out great. It's a quick tomato sauce and not an all-day "gravy" that many of you have experienced yet it worked.
We served the pasta and started eating when my oldest daughter Nell said it was missing something. She went into the kitchen and came back out with the red pepper flakes. We both added some to our pasta, looked at each other, and agreed it was the right choice.
Be sure to check out my 10 Pasta Cooking Tips to help you make perfect pasta every time.
Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons Italian spice blend dried oregano, thyme, coriander, fennel seeds
- 1 large yellow onion peeled and diced
- 8 cloves garlic peeled & minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 large tomatoes diced
- ¾ pound cherry tomatoes cut in half
- 1¼ pounds ground meat some combination pork, veal and/or beef
- ⅔ cup Pecorino cheese grated
- 4 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- ¾ pound spaghetti
- 1 bunch basil leaves removed and saved
- hot pepper flakes optional
Prep the Ingredients
- Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and dice the whole tomatoes.
- Peel and mince the garlic, then peel and dice the onion.
- Remove the basil leaves from the stems, keep the leaves, toss the stems.
- Combine the spices.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
Cook the Ingredients for the Meatballs
- Heat up a large sauce pot over medium heat until warm. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and when hot, add the Italian spices. Cook for about a minute until the spices become fragrant. Stir the spices continuously so they don’t burn.
- Add half the onion and sauté for a minute or two and then add half the garlic. Keep cooking for another minute or two and again, keep stirring to prevent burning.
- Season with salt and pepper and when the onion starts to soften, remove these aromatics from the heat. Transfer to a plate in a single layer and place in the refrigerator to cool.
Make the Sauce
- Back in the same pot you cooked the meatball ingredients, add another tablespoon of olive oil and heat up but don’t let it smoke. Add the remaining onion, stir to combine with oil and cook over medium heat for a minute or two.
- Add the remaining garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook for 4 to 6 minutes until the onion softens up.
- Add the diced tomatoes (not the cherry tomatoes) along with ¾ cup of water. (I like to use some of the pasta water). Let this cook for 10 minutes or more until the tomatoes complete soften. Be sure to stir the sauce every once in a while so it doesn’t burn.
- Add the cherry tomato halves, stir to combine with the rest of the sauce and remove from heat. The cherry tomatoes will cook in the heat of the sauce but you want them remain intact.
Prepare the Meatballs
- While the sauce is cooking, mix together the ground meat, the cooled onions and garlic from the refrigerator, half the Pecorino cheese and all of the breadcrumbs. Use your hands to gently combine all these ingredients and then begin the process of making meatballs about the size of a golf ball.
- In a medium sized fry pan, heat up the remaining tablespoon of olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the meatballs and cook until browned. This will take about 10 minutes. If your pan isn’t big enough to cook all the meatballs in one shot, by all means, cook them in two batches. You don’t want to crowd them or they will steam and not brown.
- At this point, add the pasta to the boiling water. It should take about 10 minutes to cook or as long as it takes the meatballs to complete the next step.
- When the meatballs are browned, transfer them into the sauce pot and heat for about 10 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through.
Finish & Plate
- When the sauce and meatballs are done cooking and the pasta is a perfect al dente, drain the pasta and add to the sauce pot. Combine the sauce and pasta until the pasta is well coated. I like to use kitchen tongs but any utensil will do.
- Coarsely chop the basil leaves and add it to the pot with the remaining Pecorino cheese. (Keep some of the basil and cheese on the side to use as a garnish when platting)
- Remove the pan from the heat. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Put some pasta onto plates, add a few meatballs and if you have any remaining basil and/or Pecorino cheese, use it to garnish the plate. Serve immediately.
- The hot pepper flakes are optional but if you like it spicy, they are a great addition.