Traditional Italian Meatballs in a rich Tomato Sauce
Spaghetti and meatballs is now a popular dish, particularly in the United States, but in Italy, meatballs are NEVER eaten with spaghetti. The meatballs are cooked in the tomato sauce but then removed and the sauce is served first mixed with spaghetti or other pasta. The meatballs are then served, on their own, as the main course.
We have a slightly adapted recipe here for the traditional meatballs, the tomato sauce is authentic and we are including the spaghetti. Serve it as you like best.
Serves 4 - 6
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 100g carrots
- 50g celery
- 1 onion weighing around 150g
- 2 x 400g tins good quality plum tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree
- 200ml water
- 300g spinach leaves
- 600g lean minced beef
- 100g white bread
- 30g Parmesan cheese, finely grated, plus extra to serve
- Large pinch of chilli flakes
- A good handful of Italian flatleaf parsley
- 1 medium egg, lightly beaten
- 400g spaghetti
To make the Tomato Sauce:
- Top and tail the carrots and celery and peel the onion. Wash and then chop them into large chunks before placing them in a food processor and chopping very finely.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the carrots, celery and onion. Cook over a low heat for around 15 to 20 minutes until they are softened but not browned.
- Put the two tins of tomatoes into the processor and pulse until pureed and then add to the saucepan with the vegetables. Rinse both of the tomato tins out with the 200ml of water and then add that to pan, along with the tomato puree.
- Stir well, bring to the boil and then reduce to a very low heat, cover with a lid and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add a little salt and pepper if desired although this is not necessary.
To make the Meatballs:
- Wash the spinach well and then using a pair of scissors cut off all the stalks and cut the leaves into chunks before placing in a large colander.
- Pour boiling water over the spinach to make it wilt and then leave it to cool.
- Meanwhile, place the bread into the food processor to make breadcrumbs.
- Wash the parsley and remove the larger stalks.
- Add the parsley to the breadcrumbs in the processor and pulse until the parsley is chopped and mixed in with the breadcrumbs.
- Tip the breadcrumbs and parsley into a large bowl.
- Wring the excess water out of the spinach and place in the food processor. Pulse until it is finely chopped and then add to the bowl with the breadcrumbs and parsley.
- Add the minced beef, grated Parmesan cheese, beaten egg and the pinch of chilli flakes and mix with your hands until all is combined.
- Make the mixture into walnut sized balls using your hands. You should end up with around 36 balls.
- Carefully add the meatballs to the tomato sauce but do not stir. The meatballs are delicate at this stage and will fall apart if touched. Instead, 'shake them down' by gently shaking the saucepan from side to side and banging it up and down several times.
- Cook on a low heat for between 40 and 50 minutes, occasionally shaking down the meatballs into the tomato sauce.
- The sauce should diminish slightly and thicken but should not dry out.
- Cook the spaghetti or linguine according to the instructions on the packet.
- Serve the meatballs and tomato sauce on top of the pasta and sprinkle with the extra Parmesan cheese.
This dish will freeze for up to three months but only if it is complete, the meatballs will fall apart if they are frozen independently of the sauce. Thoroughly defrost and then heat up on the hob until the meatballs are piping hot right through to the middle.
If you are entertaining you can make the meatballs, cover them in clingfilm and leave them in the fridge for several hours. The tomato sauce can be made and left to cool in the saucepan. About an hour before you want to eat, boil the sauce up add the meatballs and cook as above.
More about meatballs
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- Province of Grosseto
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- Regional Food of Abruzzo
- Province of Livorno
- Province of Genova
- Province of L'Aquila
- Umberto Eco
- The Temple of Valadier