June 17, 2024


Food never sleeps.

How to make the most effective Italian-American spaghetti and meatballs dinner

7 min read

My maternal grandmother, Nana, was a sauce aficionado. She could take in tomato sauce by the gallon. While not Italian by any suggests, she would heap spoonful right after spoonful around her pasta at Sunday afternoon dinners. 

Her plate normally much more so resembled soup with some pasta interspersed all through — the concentrate was on the sauce and the more, the greater. She handed this proclivity to my mother, who handed it to me. The loaded, thick sauce she manufactured was purely tomato. There was a little bit of seasoning, garlic and oil to gild the lily, but it was foremost tomato-ahead. The taste was pure and the style unlocks a world of recollections and nostalgia. 

These Sunday afternoon meals (and the subsequent leftovers) were an ongoing ingredient of my childhood, together with Whitney Houston and “The Wizard of Oz,” and I feel my Nana and my mother for instilling in me these a deep chuckle of pink sauce. Observe: we genuinely only ever referred to as it sauce or purple sauce, not marinara and certainly not “gravy.”

At its core, there could be no dish extra directly synonymous with the Italian-American ethos as the iconic, indelible spaghetti and meatballs. It comforts, it satiates and its redolent with taste, humor and illustrations or photos of cartoon couples amorously sharing a single strand of tomato-laced noodle. That reported, it is really not frou-frou. It is really just a practical, scrumptious full meal in a bowl. 

Want extra fantastic food creating and recipes? Subscribe to Salon Food’s newsletter.

It really is also a great symbol of the Italian-American sensibility there is no such point as spaghetti and meatballs in Italy, but it encapsulates the whole idea of the society. Even though other pasta styles have taken precedence in latest decades (remember the Good Bucatini Shortage of 2021?), spaghetti is eternally an legendary traditional. But how did it turn out to be 1?


Today’s contemporary Italian-American meatballs glance nothing like the originals. In accordance to Escoffier On line, the first meatballs could have been made in historic Persia and were being identified as kofta. If you’ve got ever experienced Italian Marriage Soup, the authentic meatball (or “polpettone”) was related in sizing. It was about the size of an olive and experienced scarcely any substances beyond meat. Severe Eats also references a miniscule, “marble-sized” meatball referred to as pallottine that was often eaten in Abruzzo along with tomato sauce and spaghetti alla chitarra. 

The Peterborough Examiner cites China as the origin-level of the dish, noting that Chinese meatballs appeared as early as 200 BC (though not commonly with beef). China is also reported to have mastered nodules — or an early variation of spaghetti — as effectively. Because of to this, the publication deems spaghetti and meatballs “the initial fusion meals.”

As time went on, extra and a lot more additions were being integrated in meatball recipes. The original polpettone was truly very rustic and served merely, almost never alongside pasta. Smithsonian Magazine notes that the very first polpettone recipe found in print was in a cookbook printed in 1891 by Pellegrino Artusi, named “La Scienza In Cucina E l’Arte di Mangiar Bene: manuale pratico for each le famiglie.” 

Once Italian-Us citizens emigrated, nevertheless, meatballs grew and were paired with pasta — the escalating staple of the Italian-American group — as perfectly as tomatoes, which experienced lately occur into recognition soon after currently being shunned for so extended (many thought they have been essentially toxic!). To set the sheer scale of the immigration into perspective, Smithsonian cites a statistic that notes that 4 million Italains immigrated to America involving 1880 and 1920.

The Atantic notes that a 1936 cookbook explained that meatballs could have essentially been adapted from the Greeks. For Italian immigrants recently living in the US, the shockingly affordable meat and tremendous-convenient canned tomatoes ended up mixed with the low cost pasta from their property state and voila, Italian-American spaghetti and meatballs had been born. This assisted change the “peasant food stuff” of polpettone into a substantial, hearty meal that could feed the full family. Quite a few retailers be aware the meatball dimension might have even been an indicator of a family’s wealth — the far more funds the relatives experienced, the bigger the meatball.

Soon immediately after, crimson-and-white checkered restaurant tablecloths splattered with sauce dotted the American landscape. What was the moment a food to be loved only at property — and typically without sauce or pasta — became a go-to meal at restaurants and a Sunday (and often Wednesday) staple in the households of Italian-American cooks. In 1955, the burgeoning reputation of the cuisine took a flip for the mainstream as it appeared onscreen in the now-legendary scene in “Woman and the Tramp.” The rest is background. 

As time has long gone on, however, some argue that we’ve reached a stage in which the “Italian” ingredient of the Italian-American cuisine can even be dropped from the categorization, lionizing spaghetti and meatballs as the epitome of correct “American cuisine.” As The Washington Write-up states in this piece, spaghetti and meatballs is now the epitome of American foodstuff, a dish that has nourished and satiated for in excess of a century, a confluence of Italian ingenuity and (recently) American customization. 

Regardless of what the style, spaghetti and meatballs is, and always will be, legendary. And I will make red sauce with reckless abandon for all of my times, thanking my Nana every action of the way. 


Some fun facts about my meatball tastes: I’ve in no way been a proponent of applying stale bread soaked in milk in my meatballs, which is occasionally termed a panade I never come across nearly anything appetizing about that. To that conclusion, I’ve essentially never ever been a lover of specially tender meatballs. I locate a “mushad,” tender meatball alternatively unappealing. I know that’s most likely weird for a lot of to listen to, but I’m much more dedicated to the deeply crisped, unbelievably browned exterior — and a appropriately seasoned inside of. Last of all, I really don’t bake my meatballs and I absolutely you should not toss raw meatballs into a cauldron of effervescent sauce, in its place preferring to saute them. 

For the sauce, use the Common Marinara recipe from this piece to get your spaghetti & meatballs up another notch solely.

Recipe: Spaghetti and Meatballs

  • 1.5 lbs . ground beef, combination of beef/veal/pork, ground lamb or plant-dependent ground “meat”
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 egg
  • Handful chopped parsley
  • ⅓ cup bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup ricotta
  • ⅓ cup grated Parm.
  • Handful shredded mozzarella
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly floor black pepper
  • Neutral oil, for frying
  • Box of spaghetti, whichever your beloved brand 


1. In a substantial saucepan, warmth olive oil over medium-reduced warmth. Insert onions and prepare dinner until translucent. Insert garlic and toast for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Get rid of from heat and allow neat. 

2. In a huge bowl, combine floor meat or plant-based mostly meat of preference, cooled garlic-onion combination, egg, parsley, breadcrumbs, ricotta, parm, mozzarella, salt and pepper. Mix very well, but not way too a great deal, and make a very small polpettone “exam patty” to make sure the seasoning is to your liking: heat a touch of neutral oil in a modest pan and prepare dinner right until deeply browned and crisp. Clear away from pan, drain on paper towel, and time with flaky kosher salt. If nicely-seasoned, part meatball combination into golf ball-sized balls. If needing everything, re-time, re-combine, and then part.

3. In a large, major skillet, include a couple tablespoons neutral oil and heat over medium or medium-high heat. Add portioned meatballs and cook — not relocating or turning — right until the bottom is very browned and crisp. Flip and cook dinner until eventually the reverse facet is crisped in the same vein, and continue on to flip and change meatballs till they are super browned on all sides. Be careful not to group pan or else the meatballs may steam as an alternative of browning. Also, depending on which meat you used, be conscious of the excess oil. If the meatballs are drowning in oil and grease, drain continuously through the system. It really is a sensitive dance. You will not want the pan to be dry, but you happen to be also not deep-frying. 

4. Eliminate to a draining rack about a sheet tray or a paper towel-lined plate, time with flaky kosher salt, and allow drain.

5. Meanwhile, boil water in a big pot and prepare dinner spaghetti in accordance to package deal recommendations until al dente.

6. In a significant pan, toss sizzling pasta, incredibly hot sauce, and meatballs collectively, incorporating grated Parmesan and a contact of higher-excellent olive oil, tossing until finally spaghetti is evenly coated and all flavors are married. Serve with extra greeted Parm and aspect salad (recipe subsequent).


To help split through the heaviness of the iconic traditional, I have also involved a salad recipe that is dazzling, pungent and downright mouth watering. The plums are an awesome inclusion!

Recipe: Plum, Pistachio, and Arugula Salad with Ricotta Salata

  • 2 company, just ripened plums, any selection, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup child arugula
  • ½ cup roasted and salted pistachios (if not roasted, just toast in a dry pan until eventually aromatic)
  • 1 bulb fennel, core eliminated, extremely thinly sliced (preferably – thoroughly – on a mandoline)
  • 4 ounces ricotta salata, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon za’atar
  • 4 tablespoons large-good quality olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly floor black pepper


1. In a tiny bowl, whisk honey and sherry vinegar until finally homogenous. Insert za’atar, salt, and pepper, and stir. Incorporate olive oil, whisking until finally emulsified. 

2. In a huge bowl, toss plums, arugula, pistachios, fennel, and ricotta salata collectively. Drizzle half of dressing oer leading, toss, and taste. You never want this salad to be drenched in dressing, but feel free of charge to insert more, if required. 

3. Best with far more crumbled ricotta salata.

Additional by this writer: