Spaghetti and meatballs is one of the most beloved and well-known Italian-American combinations. Our meatball recipe uses ricotta cheese which yields impossibly soft and pillowy meatballs, and our sauce is simple and straightforward. No need to empty your spice cabinet into this sauce.
Spaghetti and meatballs is a quintessential Italian-American combination that’s loved by the masses.
It can be found in nearly every Italian-American restaurant in the US, and in other non-Italian restaurants as well because of its appeal to young and old alike.
Our recipe includes ricotta meatballs, which are light, airy, and incredibly moist, thanks to the ricotta.
The sauce is simple, requiring just a few ingredients, like passata, crushed tomatoes, garlic, and fresh basil, plus 2 optional anchovy fillets for greater depth of flavor.
How to make spaghetti and tender meatballs
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below. Since the sauce is made with passata, it does not need a lot of simmering. Therefore, you can make the sauce or meatballs first. Your choice!
For the meatballs
- Turn 2 cloves of garlic into a paste with either your knife or a garlic press. Mince 1/2 cup of flat-leaf parsley. Remove the ends from 4 slices of white bread and cut into cubes.
- In a large bowl, mix the bread cubes with 1 cup of ricotta cheese. Mash it with a fork to break up the cubes and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes or until well saturated.
- Add 1 pound of ground chuck and 1 pound of ground pork to the bowl and sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt and a 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.
- Add the garlic paste, parsley, 1 cup of Pecorino Romano, and 2 large eggs and mix to incorporate and distribute the ingredients evenly, but don’t overmix.
- Place a bowl of cool water beside you to allow you to dip your hands in the water before rolling the meatballs to avoid sticking.
- With wet hands, gently roll the meat into 2-inch sized balls.
- Place the formed meatballs on a foil-lined baking sheet. Set the oven rack to the second highest level and turn on the broiler.
- Broil the meatballs for 5 minutes per side, or until well browned.
For the sauce
- Slice 8 cloves of garlic for the sauce and add to a large sauce pot over medium-low heat along with a 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, and 2 small anchovy fillets.
- Saute until the garlic is lightly golden, about 2-3 minutes, while mashing the anchovies with a wooden spoon so they dissolve into the oil. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Add a 1/2 cup of dry white wine and cook for 2 minutes while scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, then add 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes and 2 24-ounce jars of passata and bring to a boil.
- Once the sauce starts bubbling, turn the heat down and keep the sauce at a very low simmer, stirring often. Taste test and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Place the browned meatballs into the sauce pot to simmer and finish cooking. While the meatballs simmer, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Once boiling, cook 1 pound of spaghetti until 1 minute less than al dente.
- Place 2 1/2- 3 cups of sauce into a large pan and turn the heat to medium.
- Add the spaghetti and cook it until just al dente (about 30-90 seconds). If the sauce is too dry, add a splash of pasta water and toss again.
- Remove from the heat and taste test. Make any adjustments to salt and pepper, and add a 1/4 cup of hand-torn fresh basil leaves. Serve the pasta with meatballs and sauce on the side along with crusty Italian bread and grated Pecorino Romano. Enjoy!
A word on passata
We used passata for our spaghetti sauce because it requires less simmering yielding a tasty sauce that can be ready in less time.
Passata is pureed, strained tomatoes that are smooth which provides a nice contrast to the hand-crushed plum tomatoes also used in this recipe.
If you want to forgo the passata and use just canned whole or crushed plum tomatoes, make sure to simmer for at least 45 minutes to remove the excess water.
- Bread. We used 4 slices of white bread for our ricotta meatballs but if you prefer to use storebought breadcrumbs, you can do so. The amount to use for the recipe would be roughly 1 cup.
- Water. You may need to add a bit of water to the sauce if it’s too thick. Passata is a bit thicker than crushed or plum tomatoes so add water based on your preference for consistency.
- Don’t overmix! Be sure to just mix the meatball mix until the ingredients are distributed evenly. Overmixing can lead to tough meatballs.
- Meatball shape. Since we’re using ricotta, these meatballs are on the tender side. They may not form perfect balls, and that’s ok!
- Anchovy. We love the umami flavor anchovies impart on our spaghetti and meatballs, but if you prefer to skip them, you can do so and the sauce will still be great! Ditto for the wine.
More Italian-American favorites
Here are just a few of our very favorite, authentically Italian-American meals we think you’ll love.
- Lasagna – Italian-American style with meat sauce, ricotta, and mozzarella.
- Baked ziti – meatless baked pasta with ricotta and mozzarella.
- Meatball parm hero – this classic sandwich can be made from any leftover ricotta meatballs you have!
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Spaghetti and Meatballs
For The Sauce
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 8 cloves garlic sliced
- 2 small anchovy fillets optional
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes hand crushed or blender pulsed
- 2 24-ounce jars passata
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 packed cup basil hand torn
- 1 cup water optional, see notes below
For The Meatballs
- 4 slices white bread ends removed and cubed
- 1 cup ricotta
- 1 pound ground chuck
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 cup Pecorino Romano
- 1/2 cup flat leaf Italian parsley minced
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cloves garlic paste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
For The Sauce
- Heat a large sauce pot to medium-low and add the olive oil, garlic, and anchovies. Saute until lightly golden (about 2-3 minutes) while mashing the anchovies with a wooden spoon so that they dissolve into the oil. Add the red pepper flakes and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Next, add the white wine and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook for 2 minutes while scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon then add the crushed tomatoes and passata and bring to a boil.
- Once the sauce starts bubbling aggressively, turn down the heat and keep the sauce at a low simmer, stirring often, while moving on to preparing the meatballs. Make sure to taste test the sauce and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
For The Meatballs
- In a very large bowl, mix the bread cubes with the ricotta and mash it together with a fork to form a paste. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes or until well saturated.
- Next, add the beef and ground pork to the bowl. Sprinkle the salt and pepper all over the meat then add the garlic paste, parsley, Pecorino, and eggs and mix to incorporate. Try to evenly distribute the ingredients but do not aggressively overmix, so as to avoid making the meatballs too tough.
- With wet hands gently roll approximately 2-inch size meatballs. Place the formed meatballs on a foil-lined baking sheet. Set the oven rack to the second highest level and turn on the broiler. Broil the meatballs for 5 minutes per side or until well browned.
- Place the browned meatballs into the sauce pot to simmer and finish cooking.
- While the meatballs are simmering, bring a large pot of salted water (2 tablespoons Morton's kosher salt per gallon) to boil. Once boiling, cook the spaghetti until 1 minute less than al dente.
- Place 3 cups of the sauce into a large pan and turn the heat to medium. Add the spaghetti and toss or mix to coat well. Cook the spaghetti until just al dente (about 30-90 more seconds). If the sauce is too dry, just add a splash of pasta water then toss again.
- Turn off the heat and taste test making final adjustments to salt and pepper. Add the hand-torn basil and serve with the meatballs and sauce on the side. Make sure to serve with a loaf of crusty Italian bread and grated Pecorino. Enjoy!
- 1 cup of water is optional. You might need to thin the sauce a bit depending on how much evaporation occurs and how long it has cooked. Passata being thicker than crushed or plum tomatoes contributes to this.
- Note that in the video, Jim used equal parts ground chuck, veal, and pork. You can do that or just go with the 1 pound beef and 1 pound pork as shown above.
- You will have extra sauce with this recipe. That is a good thing! Use it for bread dipping or for serving in a bowl at the dinner table.
- It's crucial to not over-mix a meatball and to not form them too tightly. Use wet or oiled hands and roll the meatballs by hand until there are no cracks.
- This recipe uses 4 slices of white bread which equals about 1 1/2 cups of bread cubes. If using storebought breadcrumbs use 1 cup instead.
- Leftovers can be saved in the fridge for up to 3 days and can be reheated in the microwave. The sauce and meatballs can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.