Homemade Meatballs and Spaghetti Sauce

I wanted to take a better picture but this was all the spaghetti that was left after we ate.

You must all be wondering.

What is a third generation Japanese-American doing trying to make Italian meatballs?

It’s as if you saw John Wayne behind the sushi counter asking if you want yellow tail or halibut.


Well, the schedule has my kids staying this week for Spring Break…and they are bored.  They are so bored, they again asked, “What are we having for dinner tonight?  The same stuff, Papa?”


Made them my killer (but now boring) Fettucine Alfredo with prosciutto and green peas Monday night and beef stroganoff yesterday night (with Jack removing every last mushroom from his plate).

From scratch.  None of this sauce out of a bottle or Hamburger Helper stuff.

So….  My son Jack seems to like meatballs for some reason.  He gets it at Subway and at this Italian restaurant in Belmont Shores.  The last time he did, I told him I’d make it.

So I did.


Just wanted to throw in a random photo… but that pot does have the basil I keep growing for cooking use. When it’s growing good, I use it as a backdrop for my macro pics. BTW, its a picture of a picture of a picture…of chalk. 🙂

I had heard many horror stories about making meatballs.

They were hard like golf balls.

They were just round hamburgers.

So I went to my trusted cooking bible: Cook’s Illustrated.

Their recipes are the Triple T’s: tasty, tried and true and only (old) male buffoons like me can mess them up.  I’ve proven that.

But it turns out their secret ingredient was… buttermilk.  Crazy.  But it worked out wonderfully.  And you used only the egg yolk; using the whole egg does something to the texture, Cook’s Illustrated said.

The ingredients for the meatballs were:

  • 3/4 pound ground chuck (85/15 ground beef can be substituted)
  • 1/4 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • Two slices white bread (with the crusts cut off) cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano (my preference)
  • One minced garlic clove
  • Two tbsp minced parsley (I used the broad leaf Italian parsley to make up for my being Japanese-American)
  • One egg yolk
  • 3/4 tsp table salt
  • Pepper to taste

The ingredients for the spaghetti sauce were:

  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • One minced garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 tbsp minced basil
My rolled meatballs. In hindsight, they should have been a bit bigger… and if you’re wondering what the cardboard egg carton is for, it’s a great (disposable) way to drain your fried foods.

For the meatballs:

  1. Soak the bread in the buttermilk for 10 minutes, crushing the bread occasionally to break it down.  Do not drain.
  2. Combine all the meatball ingredients in large bowl.  (I slice through the mixture using a fork to bring it all together rather than using my hand to mix it.  Keeps the mixture loose.)
  3. Form meatballs (without compressing) about 1-1/2 inches in diameter, rolling mixture in hands.  Set aside.  Complete for remaining mixture.
  4. Heat 1/4″ vegetable oil in 10″ skillet.  (I don’t recommend non-stick.)
  5. Carefully drop meatballs one by one into oil; they should sizzle.  If your skillet is big enough, you may be able to do them in one batch.
  6. Adjusting the flame, keep them sizzling while making sure ALL sides are browned.  Perhaps ten minutes. (I made the mistake of having the heat too high and the meatballs too small.)
  7. Drain.

For the spaghetti sauce:

  1. Drain the oil from the skillet.  Return to range.  Pat away most of the oil BUT leave all the yummy crusty stuff on the bottom.
  2. Heat then pour in about a couple tablespoons olive oil and garlic.  Scrape up all the crusties on the bottom as best you can. Do not burn garlic; no more than 30 seconds.
  3. Carefully pour in the crushed tomatoes.  Continue to scrape up remaining crusties then bring to boil.
  4. Turn down heat then simmer for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add basil and meatballs then simmer for five more minutes.
  6. Adjust seasoning.

They suggested reserving a 1/4 cup of the pasta water.  After draining the al dente spaghetti¹ and returning it to the pot, add back the pasta water and a couple of ladles of the sauce.

Coat then portion out your spaghetti from the still warm pot onto dishes.  Pour a bit more sauce onto pasta, top with three meatballs.  Your kiddies can add Parmesan Reggiano to their liking.

Bon Appetit!

(No, I am not Julia Child.  You are sadly mistaken.)

Note 1: Use ample water; I use more than a gallon for a pound of pasta.  Also add one tablespoon salt immediately before adding pasta.  Stir to make sure they don’t stick together then cover to bring back to boil as soon as you can.  Uncover then rigorously boil for recommended time for al dente.

36 thoughts on “Homemade Meatballs and Spaghetti Sauce”

      1. Yes! I’d just eat more of the meatballs and less pasta but that’s certainly a dish I’d eat and enjoy! My boys would like it too.

      2. Why not the pasta, Dr. Lynn (only if you have the time)? My oldest son used to scarf down on spaghetti before his wrestling matches began for energy…

      3. I’m not against pasta, I just limit my intake. Most people have huge servings of the pasta and just a little protein. I like to do it the other way around, especially if I’m not working extremely hard in the gym. My body just functions better that way…high protein. lower carbs…

  1. Saw the email about this post before eating and couldn’t possibly read it then! Have now had a good perusal and am roaring to try it. Did the kids scrape up every last morsel?

  2. “It’s as if you saw John Wayne behind the sushi counter asking if you want yellow tail or halibut.” Pluperfect & hilarious!
    I’d be scared though if I saw Wayne at the Sushi counter, firstly because it would be so out of character, and secondly, albeit less importantly, because he is dead.

  3. Looks very tasty and I ought to know with my credentials of being married to an Italian who is a good cook. As for John Wayne, my wife has a cookbook signed by his wife, Pilar. I could look and see if he liked sushi and/or meatballs.

  4. So, did the children LIKE them? I hope so! Buttermilk’s new to me…soaked bread makes them ‘light’ but I don’t use it.
    It all sounded great and I think you can now call yourself “Japanese Italian American” 🙂

    1. Hahaha! The buttermilk added just a tad of tartness to it. You can substitute sweet milk and a couple of tablespoons of yogurt. And yes, out of 15, I think, only three were left… And you can also inform Mustang he gets NONE. LOL

    1. Thanks for the encouraging thought, sir! But if they did taste as good, I still wouldn’t open an eatery. It’s a REAL tough business to be profitable in as you can imagine…especially with all the California regulations, taxes and fees! LOL Even an Iron Chef’s restaurant failed horribly (although that was in NY)! 🙂

  5. Your kids eat very well when they’re with you! I’m impressed with your menus! i have never before heard about using buttermilk in meatballs and I will definitely try this recipe. I know my gang would devour this dish! 🙂

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