Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mom's Spaghetti & Meatballs Recipe

As promised, here's the recipe for making spaghetti, as adopted from my mom. My mom's spaghetti has always been my favorite food, period, so learning to make it was high on my priority list ever since I started cooking for myself. Somehow, though, I never really got it right until a few weeks ago.

I'm cooking it again tonight to make sure I got it down, and this time I'm documenting the process. Hopefully, this blog post will serve as a reference for myself in the future in case I forget something. Alternately, this post may document a failed attempt to recreate my previous success. Either way, this ought to be useful:


The ingredients I used, which worked out last time.
  • 1 medium-sized onion
  • 1lb ground beef
  • 15oz can of tomato sauce
  • 6oz can of tomato paste
  • Some olive oil
  • Some ketchup
  • Some Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning
  • Worcestershire
  • A standard package of spaghetti noodles
  • Bread crumbs (optional)
  • Garlic powder (not pictured)
This stuff is all pretty standard, but please feel free to ask any questions if you're a total cooking newbie. Likewise, if you're a pro cook and see me giving bad advice, please comment and let me know so I can correct myself.

I used a yellow sweet onion, but as far as I know the type of onion doesn't matter. I like to use ground beef with more lean and less fat, but more fat is cheaper and some people prefer the taste more. For the noodles, I like thin spaghetti as a happy medium between regular spaghetti and angel hair, but that's all a matter of preference.

The cooking process has three legs that all come together more or less near the end:
  1. Preparing and cooking the meatballs
  2. Making the sauce
  3. Cooking the noodles.
The meatballs are pretty straightforward and don't require much supervision after a certain point, so I'd take care of those first:


Step 1: Preparation

First, preheat the over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you look carefully, you can see the ingredients still posing for that picture above.

Then, dump out your ground beef on a clean working surface. I like to use a sheet of aluminum foil to make cleanup easier, but some people prefer bowls and the like.

The basic ingredient to most of my favorite meals.

Flatten out your meat and apply some Worcestershire and Tony's, working it into the meat. I also added bread crumbs to the meat at Laura's suggestion, though that's not part of the original recipe. Apparently that might make for a better meat ball texture, so I'm giving it a shot. I went with 1/6 cup of breadcrumbs because it felt right.

That's breadcrumbs. The Tony's and Worcestershire are already mixed in.

Kneed everything for a while until the meat and its seasonings are all pretty much blended together.

Step 2: Ballin'

Find a nice, deep cookie sheet and layer it with aluminum foil.

Then, pull off chunks of meat and form them into balls, placing them into the cookie sheet. I ended up with 15 meatballs.

If you do this right, you shouldn't need to wash the pan afterward.

Step 3: Cooking and Browning

Cover the cookie sheet with aluminum foil, sealing the meatballs inside. Put them in the oven and allow them to bake for 50 minutes. You'll probably want to start the sauce-making process during that time.

Rack placement isn't really relevant, I believe.

Once the 50 minutes are up, remove the aluminum foil covering and put the meatballs back into the oven to brown for 5-7 minutes.

Step 4: Toss Them In

Once the meatballs have finished browning, take them out and set them aside.

Once the sauce is ready, toss the meatballs in while the sauce simmers.


Step 1: Chop Onions

An onion, naked.
Onion chopping in progress.

While the meatballs are cooking in the oven, start chopping onions. I prefer relatively finely chopped onions but, again, it's a matter of preference.

Step 2: Brown the Onions

Browning onions is a time-consuming process. Don't rush it, though, or else you'll end up with burnt onions rather than brown ones.

Mine is an electric stove. I think gas stoves are hotter, so a lower setting may be appropriate.

Toss the onions into a sauce pan with the stove set to Med-Low and add a little water. From here, you'll need to keep an eye on the onions, stirring them occasionally and adding water as it gets boiled away. The goal is to keep the water level extremely low without allowing the pot to go dry. You can usually hear the onions sizzling louder when the water is gone or nearly gone.

Keep stirring and adding water until the onions are visibly brown. How brown is up to you: lightly brown onions are still kind of crunchy, if you like that sort of thing. I prefer the onions to be a deeper brown, when they get soft and lose their crunch.

These onions are pretty brown.

Step 3: Sauce and Paste

Add the tomato sauce and tomato paste to the sauce pan, then stir.

Tomato sauce, tomato paste, and onions.

Again, you'll be doing this for a little while: stirring occasionally to keep things from burning. No adding water this time, though. Instead, the goal is to let the heat slowly boil away most of the water in the tomato sauce until the mixture is more of a blob than a soup.

Getting pretty blob-like.

Step 4: Just Add Water (and Seasoning, and Meatballs)

Once the sauce is cooked down to blob form, add water to the sauce pan. The exact amount depends on how watery you like your spaghetti sauce, but probably at least two cups. If you accidentally add too much water, you'll just need to have the sauce simmer longer to boil out the excess.

Season to taste. I added some Tony's, some garlic powder, and ketchup. Once you add ingredients, stir the mixture and give it a taste to see what more it might need.

Sauce with garlic powder, ketchup, and Tony's.

You can go ahead and add the meatballs to the sauce at this point. I like keeping the meatballs whole, but if your meatballs are a bit dry you can chop them in half before putting them in the sauce. Halved meatballs absorb the sauce flavor faster and makes them less dry.

In hindsight, this is when I should have done a taste test.

Step 5: Simmer

Turn the heat to its lowest setting and start cooking your noodles. Stir the sauce occasionally as it simmers. The longer the sauce simmers the less watery it'll be, and the more the meatballs will absorb the sauce flavor.


Generally, noodles comes with their own set of directions on the box. It's generally some variation of:
  1. Fill a pot with water
  2. Bring to a boil
  3. Add noodles
  4. Boil noodles for X minutes (probably ~6 minutes)
  5. Drain water.
If you can make instant ramen, you can cook spaghetti noodles.
The noodles are boiling while the sauce simmers. The heating element looks way cooler in this picture than in real life.
This is a really good strainer.

There are two things I'd add that aren't generally on the box. First, I like to add salt to the boiling water to give the noodles more flavor. Second, adding olive oil to the boiling noodles will help them to not stick together so much.


Once you've got your noodles cooked, your sauce will probably be done simmering. Get a plate, grab some noodles, and ladle some of that sauce on top of it. If you're sharing, don't get too greedy with the meatballs. Share them things. Serves 4-6, I think, and it reheats well.

This was too much food, it turns out.


Eh... It's okay, but the sauce turned out a bit bitter. Not sure what I did differently this time. Maybe I didn't cook the sauce long enough? Or did I not season it enough? I'm not sure. It was close, though.

UPDATE: When I ate the leftovers, I added more water Tony's to the sauce, and it came out pretty much perfect. The "season to taste" step is crucial, but very difficult to describe. It's literally seasoning it until it tastes right, which isn't an exact science for me yet.

The meatballs came out okay, but were probably cooked too long. I'd maybe reduce the cook time to 45 minutes instead of 50.

1 comment:

  1. I'm the same way with my dad's Gumbo. My absolute favorite food, and even though he taught me how to make it, I can taste the difference.

    Man, my spaghetti feels so inferior to this. We just cook the meat, strain it, and add Prego sauce from a jar.