Date Night Eats: Spaghetti and Meatballs

Lady and the Tramp may have had the most iconic spaghetti and meatball date night in cinematic history, but don’t worry, you don’t need a back alley or a mischievous rat to enjoy this classic dish with your special someone. Just whip up some juicy meatballs, boil some spaghetti, and let the romance do the rest. Just be sure to share the last meatball, unless you’re going for the full Lady and the Tramp effect.

Since ancient times, meatballs have been a hallmark of Italian cuisine. The first meatball recipe dates back to the Roman Empire, when they were cooked with ground beef, bread crumbs, and spices. As Italians moved over the world, they brought their love of meatballs with them, and the meal grew to incorporate a variety of meats, spices, and seasonings.

Your Italian nonna might be the reigning queen of meatballs and spaghetti, but with this recipe, you’ll have her green with envy. She may have taught you everything you know about cooking, but this time you’ve outdone her. So go ahead and give her a taste, just be ready for her to ask for your secret recipe. After all, even nonnas can learn a thing or two from their grandkids.

How to make the best spaghetti and meatballs

The sauce

When it comes to the perfect meatballs and spaghetti, the sauce is everything. It’s the savory, tomatoey goodness that brings the dish to life. It’s the delicious complement to the tender meatballs and al dente pasta.

If you’re in a rush, a canned jar of marinara sauce will do. While canned marinara sauce may seem like a convenient option, nothing beats the flavor and aroma of homemade fresh marinara sauce. Canned sauces often contain preservatives and additives that can alter the taste and texture of the sauce.

On the other hand, fresh marinara sauce is made with high-quality ingredients and can be customized to your taste preferences. Plus, making your own sauce allows you to control the ingredients, making it a healthier option.

So don’t settle for a mediocre sauce, let this recipe’s blend of herbs and spices take your taste buds on a flavor journey to Italy. Get ready to say “delizioso” with every bite!

The meatballs

Just like the sauce, the meatballs also come with a speedier option – the frozen kind.

While frozen meatballs may seem like a convenient option, there’s no substitute for the flavor and texture of freshly made meatballs. Frozen meatballs can be loaded with preservatives, artificial flavors, and excess sodium that can affect the taste and quality of the dish.

On the other hand, fresh meatballs are made with high-quality ingredients, and you can control the seasoning, texture, and size. Making your own meatballs is easy, and the end result is a dish that’s healthier, tastier, and more satisfying.

Here’s the secret to top tier meatballs – The panade:

A panade is a mixture of starch (usually bread crumbs or stale bread) and liquid (often milk, cream, or stock) that is used as a binding agent in various recipes, such as meatballs, meatloaf, and pâté.

The starch helps to absorb moisture and prevents the meat from becoming tough and dry, while also adding a rich and tender texture to the final dish. The amount of panade used can vary depending on the recipe, but generally, it’s added in small amounts until the desired consistency is reached.

Panade is an important component in many classic meatball recipes, where it helps to create a moist and flavorful meatball that holds together well during cooking.

The Best Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe

These meatballs are so good, they'll have your taste buds doing the mambo! Made with a flavorful blend of meats, fresh herbs, and a secret ingredient – a panade made from bread crumbs and milk – these meatballs are tender and moist, like a warm embrace from your Italian nonna. And the sauce? Let's just say it's so good, you'll want to spoon it straight from the pot! So grab a plate, twirl some spaghetti, and get ready to enjoy a meal.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Course Main Course, Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4
Calories 1083.86 kcal


  • Pestle & Mortar


Tomato Sauce

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • 2 800g canned whole peeled tomato
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper


  • cup fresh bread crumbs 2-3 slices of thick white sandwich bread
  • ½ cup milk
  • cup parmesan cheese grated
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • cup whole milk ricotta
  • ¼ cup prosciutto finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley finely chopped
  • 2 large eggs


  • ¾ tsp fennel seeds
  • ¾ tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp finely ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp crushed red chili flakes
  • tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 450 g ground beef 20% fat content


  • 340 g spaghetti
  • 2 sprigs torn basil for serving (optional)


Tomato Sauce

  • Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-low. Cook garlic, stirring occasionally, until a few pieces are golden brown around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add basil sprigs and stir to wilt.
    Add tomatoes, crushing with your hands as you go, and their juices; season with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium-high; bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and flavors have concentrated, 60–75 minutes.
    The sauce can be made ahead, let cool, cover and chill. Freezing it for later is also an option!


  • In a small bowl, combine the fresh bread crumbs and milk. Mix well and let sit for 5-10 minutes, until the bread crumbs have absorbed the liquid and become soft.
  • Mix in a large bowl with eggs, garlic, ricotta, prosciutto, parsley, and ⅓ cup Parmesan
  • Finely grind fennel seeds in spice mill or with mortar and pestle; add to bread mixture along with oregano, nutmeg, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and 1¼ tsp. salt. Mix well (it should resemble a coarse, wet paste).

Meatballs & Assembly

  • Add beef and break up into small pieces (a couple of forks work well). Mix gently with your hands until smooth and ingredients are evenly incorporated; be careful not to overmix.
  • Lightly oil your hands. Working one at a time, scoop out portions of meat mixture with a ¼-cup measuring cup; roll gently between your hands into balls. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet.
  • This is the point where you should get the sauce reheating, if needed, so it’s warm by the time you add the meatballs.
  • Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium. Add half of the meatballs and cook, turning and rolling occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Add meatballs to warm sauce. Repeat with remaining 1 Tbsp. oil and remaining meatballs.
  • Cook meatballs in sauce (they should be mostly submerged) at a gentle simmer, carefully scraping bottom of pot and adding a splash of water if sauce begins to stick, until meatballs are cooked through and tender and sauce tastes rich and meaty, 40–50 minutes.
  • Transfer meatballs to a clean baking sheet; cover with foil to keep warm. Pluck out and discard basil from sauce. Use a potato masher or immersion blender to break up any large pieces of tomato and smooth out sauce. Transfer 2 cups sauce to a small bowl; set aside for serving.
  • Cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Using tongs, transfer to pot with sauce. Gently stir, adding pasta cooking liquid by the tablespoonful as needed, until sauce coats pasta.
  • Transfer spaghetti to a serving dish and top with meatballs and 1 cup reserved sauce. Sprinkle with more Parmesan and serve with some basil (if using) and remaining sauce alongside for topping.
Keyword meatball, spaghetti

Tips for Success

Here are a few tips to help you create the perfect meatballs and spaghetti for your date night:

  • Use high-quality ground beef that is 80% lean and 20% fat. This will ensure that your meatballs are juicy and flavorful.
  • Don’t over mix the meatball mixture. Over mixing can result in tough meatballs.
  • Be sure to brown the meatballs on all sides before adding them to the sauce. This will give them a nice crust and prevent them from falling apart
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