Perfect Meatballs and Spaghetti


  • 1 lb ground meat flexible; a blend of pork, beef, and veal is traditional
  • 1/2 cup panko-style breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley plus more to serve
  • 2 tbsp finely grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese plus more to serve
  • 2 tsp coarse or kosher salt divided
  • Red pepper flakes and/or freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cloves garlic minced, divided
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lb dried spaghetti
  1. Bring a large pot of very well-salted water to boil and heat your oven to 425 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup, and coat it lightly with a nonstick spray.

  2. Place meat, crumbs, milk, parsley, cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, onion powder, eggs, and one-third of your minced garlic in a large bowl, and mash everything together with a fork or potato masher until evenly mixed. Using wet hands if needed, form mixture into 2-inch meatballs (I used a 3 tablespoon scoop) and arrange on prepared tray. Roast for 12 minutes, until cooked through (you can cut one in half).

  3. Once water is boiling, cook spaghetti until one minute shy of tender. Set aside 1 cup of cooking water before draining pasta.

  4. In a deep sauteé pan or wide saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add remaining two-thirds of garlic and a pinch or two of pepper flakes and let sizzle until garlic is golden, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add tomatoes (beware the spatter!) and season with remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Let mixture simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, although longer will do it no harm if your meatballs aren’t ready yet.

  5. When meatballs come out of the oven, add them to the sauce and stir so they are coated. Reduce heat to a low simmer, put a lid on the pot, and simmer meatballs in the sauce for 10 minutes. At this point, should you not be eating them right away, you can remove them from the heat and set them aside.

  6. When you’re ready to serve: Return your spaghetti to its empty cooking pot. Push meatballs aside and grab a few ladles of their cooking sauce and pour over spaghetti. Add half of reserved pasta water and cook spaghetti and sauce over high heat for one minute, tossing the whole time. Use additional pasta water as needed to loosen. Use tongs to transfer spaghetti into a large, wide serving bowl. (If you give the bowl a little spin as you lower the spaghetti into it, you can make cute little piles.) Add the meatballs and their sauce on top. Garnish with parsley and additional grated cheese. Eat right now; do not wait.