Spaghetti and meatballs is one of our favourite family dinners (‘spagerder!’). You just can’t beat tender, savoury meatballs in a silky tomato sauce with mounds of freshly cooked pasta. Of course, there are a hundred different variations out there: some meatballs use pork and beef, some add Parmigiano to the mixture, some bake, some cook in the sauce… the possibilities are endless. My take on it uses a pretty standard beef meatball, baked in the oven first, then cooked in a rich tomato sauce with a hint of sweetness from the balsamic vinegar and a hint of chilli spice too. Of course you can use a jar of tomato sauce, which I often do too, and linguine instead of spaghetti if you don’t have it. Here, then, especially for you, is my own, well-loved recipe for spaghetti and meatballs with tomato balsamic sauce.
Spaghetti and meatballs with tomato balsamic sauce
For the meatballs:
2 tsp salt
500g minced beef
1 red onion, very finely chopped
1 tsp dried basil
For the tomato balsamic sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tins good quality chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp dried basil
Salt and pepper
First, make the meatballs. I use frozen breadcrumbs, as whenever I have leftover bread, I whizz it up in the food processor and add it to a bag I keep in the freezer. But honestly, you could just break up a slice of bread and smoosh it into the milk with a fork. Let it sit for a few minutes while you get the rest of the ingredients ready.
Add in all the rest of the meatball ingredients and smoosh it together with clean hands until everything is really well combined. Place a sheet of foil onto a baking tray and give it a little brush with oil (they stick like glue). Then, with wet hands, shape the mixture into balls and place on the tray. As you’ll see here, I managed to make 23, which is a ridiculous quantity, but we think the best size is about golf ball-ish.
Now, you can either just loosely cover with some clingfilm and pop them into the fridge until you need them, or just get baking. Bake for 25-30 minutes at gas 4/180 C.
While the meatballs are cooking, heat the oil in a big, heavy pan and stir in the chopped onions. Cook them on a low heat until they’re soft, but don’t let them get brown. Then add in the garlic, just for a couple of minutes.
Add in the tomatoes, then stir in the balsamic vinegar, dried basil and chilli. Add plenty of salt and pepper too. Allow it to come up to a simmer (just until it bubbles around the edges), then turn it down and just leave it, stirring occasionally – for about half an hour or until the meatballs are ready. Once the timer goes on the meatballs, add them in to the sauce and leave it all to cook for another ten minutes or so.
Because I’m weird (and it’s aesthetically pleasing), I always cook the pasta in the pan I want to serve the dish in (I like the fact that the pasta can lie flat), but cook the linguine or spaghetti or whatever according to the packet instructions in a BIG pan with plenty of salted boiling water (remember to keep a bit of the cooking water). Drain, then mix with the sauce and meatballs. Toss everything together. If it’s a bit thick, you can add in some of the reserved pasta water.
If you’ve got fresh basil, chop or tear it up and sprinkle it over. Serve with something green and maybe a grating of Parmigiano. Enjoy!
If you want to make double and freeze a batch for another day, after you’ve baked them, allow to cool, then pop onto a baking tray covered in parchment paper and open freeze until they’re solid. Then you can pop them into a freezer bag or a plastic lidded box. To reheat, just pop them into your tomato sauce and bubble away gently for 15-20 minutes until they’re cooked through. Enjoy!
The veggie meatball option
Want to make a veggie option? Just replace the minced beef with a drained tin of lentils (give them a bit of a mash first). I’ve also done this with squished kidney beans and they work just as well. They’re not quite as robust, so handle delicately. Oh, and reduce the baking time to 10-15 minutes and remember they stick like glue so oil that tray!