The Vintage Chef Olivia Potts

The ultimate spaghetti and meatballs

The ultimate spaghetti and meatballs
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Spaghetti and meatballs is an iconic dish: whether it’s Lady and the Tramp that springs to mind at the name, cosying up over a shared bowl of the stuff, facilitating their canine kissing, or Henry Hill describing the prison meatballs that they make to remind them of home in Goodfellas, while Paulie slices garlic paper-thin with a razor blade, there’s no denying that this pasta dish is one which has taken on significance beyond the sum of its parts.

I rather hope that I never find myself in the position of either Henry Hill (imprisoned for mob crimes) or either of the romantic leads in Lady and the Tramp (snogging a dog), but I understand the impulse to create romance or nostalgia with food – and spaghetti and meatballs feels like the kind of dish your Italian-American grandmother would serve, even if you don’t have one.

I make no attempt at authenticity here, either Italian or Italian-American: these are just really great meatballs – dressed in what is probably my number one tomato sauce. The tomatoes are simmered with half an onion and a handful of garlic cloves until all are soft enough to be blitzed into a smooth sauce. The meatballs themselves are a blend of beef and pork mince, which give both the punchy flavour and texture you’re looking for; I’ve skipped the Goodfella’s veal ('Veal, beef and pork… you gotta have the pork.') as it’s slightly harder to get high quality veal mince in the UK, but if you have it, use equal quantities of all three minced meats. I’ve also skipped the breadcrumbs which are often used; bound with just an egg and a good measure of grated parmesan, the meatballs shine through.

Spaghetti and meatballs

For the meatballs

200g beef mince

200g pork mince

75g parmesan, grated

1 egg, beaten

For the tomato sauce

1 tin plum tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

½ onion, peeled

4 cloves of garlic, peeled

Salt, to taste

300g spaghetti

Olive oil, for frying

Makes: Serves 4

Takes: 40 minutes

Bakes: No time at all

  1. Using your hands, mix the two meats together with the parmesan, egg, a little salt and a generous amount of pepper. Form into small balls, about 20-24, place on a tray, and refrigerate to firm up.
  2. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Put all the sauce ingredients in a medium-sized pan. Squish the plum tomatoes against the side of the pan with a spatula. Bring up to a gentle simmer, and cook for half an hour to an hour – however long you have. Use a stick blender to blend the sauce with the onion and garlic cloves. Season to taste.
  3. Remove the meatballs from the fridge, and heat a frying pan to medium heat and add a little olive oil. Fry the meatballs until golden-brown on all sides. Pop a lid on the saucepan, lower the heat, and continue cooking the meatballs until completely cooked through.
  4. While the meatballs are cooking through, cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.
  5. Toss the spaghetti and meatballs through the tomato sauce, and divide between four plates. Grind black pepper and grate a little extra parmesan over the top, and serve immediately.

Written byThe Vintage Chef Olivia Potts

Olivia Potts is a former criminal barrister who retrained as a pastry chef. She co-hosts The Spectator’s Table Talk podcast and writes Spectator Life's The Vintage Chef column. A chef and food writer, she was winner of the Fortnum and Mason's debut food book award in 2020 for her memoir A Half Baked Idea.

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