Spaghetti & meatballs

If detective stories set in New York are true, every second NYPD policeman lives on a diet of spaghetti and meatballs. This Italian-influenced American dish is one of the many examples of the internationalisation of food.

Spaghetti & meatballs
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 To make New York-style Italian-American meatballs and spaghetti for four, you will need:

For the meatballs

  • 600g minced beef
  • 500g minced pork
  • 2 slices white bread
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 egg
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 heaped tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
  • ½ cup plain flour

For the tomato sauce

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  • 2 cans of tomatoes (400g per can)
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 bay leaf (for traditionalists)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves 
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil on demand


  • 500g spaghetti or ribbon-cut pasta

We start with the tomato sauce. Peel and thinly slice the onions; crush, peel and mince the garlic. Finely chop the basil. Pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil into a saucepan and bring this up to medium heat. Sauté the onions and garlic until the onions are soft and translucent. Pour in the contents of the cans of tomato, including the juice. With a potato masher or similar squashing tool, mash the tomatoes in the saucepan into a pulp. Add the traditional bay leaf, then stir while the contents rise to a gentle boil. Stir in the freshly chopped basil. Remove from the hob and cover for later in the proceedings.

Next, the meatballs.

Discard the crusts from the bread and soak the remainder in a little milk or water for a few minutes. Mash into a paste with a fork. Pour this into a large mixing bowl with the minced beef and minced pork. Crush, peel and finely chop the garlic; add this to the bowl. Add the small quantities of salt and freshly ground black pepper, the freshly ground Parmesan cheese, and the egg. Mix all these ingredients vigorously to combine the various flavours and textures.

Flour your hands and press the mixture into meatballs roughly 40mm in diameter. Use some manual pressure while doing so to prevent disintegration while cooking. Dust the meatballs with flour on a flat chopping board. Select a heavy-based frying pan or cast iron skillet from your collection and heat up two or three tablespoons of olive oil. Depending on the size of the frying pan, cook the meatballs in batches to avoid overcrowding and undercooking. Brown the meatballs all over for about five minutes.

Bring the saucepan of tomato sauce back to medium cooking heat and add the meatballs. Let these lightly bubble away at a simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, inspecting from time to time to make sure that no adhesion occurs. Stir with care to avoid breaking up the meatballs’ integrity.

While this is going on, prepare the pasta following the instructions on the packet.

Serve the meatballs in tomato sauce over a generous helping of fresh pasta. Provide chopped fresh basil and freshly ground Parmesan separately for each diner.

This meal demands a serious Shiraz or maybe a couple of chilled Budweisers.