Spaghetti and Meatballs

Learn the secret of juicy and tender meatballs – your spaghetti and meatballs will thank you for it.

Spaghetti and meatballs on a white plate

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Cooking inspiration can arrive from anywhere as was the case last Thanksgiving when I asked my 13-year old nephew about his favorite things to eat. He answered, without much hesitation, “spaghetti and meatballs”.  Can’t blame him, right? I don’t know many people who would pass on a plate of tender and juicy meatballs nestled in a bed of pasta tossed in a tomato-y sauce.

The timing was perfect, really, because just a month later Santa was kind enough to bring me Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a hefty 688-page book filled with 500 recipes. It’s basically a bible for Italian cooking and, just like Julia Child introduced America to classic French cooking, Marcella Hazan is credited for doing the same for Italian cooking. The book is wonderful and I spent the better part of Christmas Day flipping through the pages to tag recipes with my trusty post-it notes for quick reference later. Let’s just say my must-make list of recipes from this book is deliciously long.

Meatballs and tomato sauce in a large skillet

With my nephew’s favorite dish in mind, I spent some time reviewing Marcella Hazan’s method for making meatballs. As with most of her recipes, it’s a simple process and I was interested in using one particular step she calls for in all of her meatball recipes – creating a sort of bread and milk mash to mix into the meat. As the meatballs cook the bread mash distributes much need moisture resulting in juicy and tender meatballs – prized qualities, for sure.

So, thank you, Kurt, for your dinner inspiration and thank you, Marcella, for your simple bread mash. It’s changed my spaghetti and meatball game.

Spaghetti and Meatballs on a white plate garnished with parsley and cheese

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Spaghetti and Meatballs

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5 from 7 reviews

For juicy, tender meatballs don’t skip the bread mash. It adds a little time to the prep, but you will make that time up with the incredibly simple sauce that has just one (!) ingredient – Crushed San Marzano tomatoes.

  • Author: April @ Girl Gone Gourmet
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Simmer
  • Cuisine: Italian


  • 1 slice of white bread
  • 1/3 cup 2% milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 of a small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
  • 1 pound 90% lean ground beef
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • olive oil
  • 1 (28) ounce can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 12 ounces spaghetti
  • 3 tablespoons butter


  1. In a small pot over medium-low heat, cook the bread and milk until the bread has absorbed the liquid. Remove the pot from the heat and, using a potato masher, mash the bread until it’s mushy. Let the mash cool completely.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, onion, parsley, parmesan, and the cooled bread mash. Add the ground beef and sausage and, using your hands, gently mix it all together until well combined. Roll 1 1/2 to 2 ounces of the meat mixture between your hands to form the meatballs.
  3. Coat the bottom of your largest pan with olive oil. Heat the pan over medium heat until the oil starts to shimmer. Carefully place the meatballs in the hot oil and let them brown on all sides. Depending on the size of your pan you may need to cook the meatballs in batches. Once browned remove the meatballs from the pan and place on a plate.
  4. Drain off most of the olive oil, leaving just a shine of it on the bottom of the pan. Add the crushed tomatoes and bring them to a low simmer over medium heat. Add the meatballs to the tomatoes and turn them to coat them in the sauce. Let it all simmer together for 20-30 minutes.
  5. While the sauce and meatballs are cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook it according to the package directions.
  6. In a large bowl, toss the hot spaghetti with the meatballs, sauce, and butter. Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.


Recipe adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan (Meatballs and Tomatoes recipe, page 399)


  • Serving Size: 1/6 of recipe
  • Calories: 781
  • Sugar: 8.5g
  • Sodium: 982.9mg
  • Fat: 43.7g
  • Saturated Fat: 17g
  • Unsaturated Fat: 23.2g
  • Trans Fat: 0.5g
  • Carbohydrates: 56.6g
  • Fiber: 4.6g
  • Protein: 39.7g
  • Cholesterol: 188.4mg

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  1. Even though the method is different, this brings back memories of dipping bread and milk and squeezing out the excess when making a huge pot of meatballs with my Italian father as a kid!! Such a classic, comfort meal! Love your photos! Will definitely have to check out that cookbook! Great recipe! 🙂

  2. Well, thank goodness for your nephew! That spaghetti and meatballs sounds phenomenal. I usually add some bread crumbs and milk to the mix but I like her idea of a mush. Easier to mix together. Bet you got a big hug for that dinner!

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