Spaghetti with Meatballs

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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 5 hr 30 min
  • Prep: 30 min
  • Cook: 5 hr
  • Yield: 6 to 8 servings
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Yia Yia's Neapolitan Sauce:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 rack baby back ribs, separated (about 2 pounds)

1 large Spanish onion, diced

1 tablespoon kosher salt

6 cloves garlic, sliced

1 bottle dry white wine

Two 28-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional

1 fresh bay leaf

One 2-to 3-inch Parmesan rind

Meatballs and Sauce:

1/3 cup olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

1 1/2 cups diced day-old wheat bread (like from a pullman loaf)

1/4 cup whole milk

1 1/2 pounds ground beef (80/20 or 75/25)

3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg

Yia Yia's Neapolitan Sauce


Kosher salt

1 pound spaghetti

15 fresh basil leaves, torn

1 to 2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup grated Parmesan


  1. For the sauce: Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the ribs and brown evenly, about 4 minutes. Add the onions, sprinkle with salt and cook until translucent, 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until everything is soft but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the white wine, stirring to deglaze the pan. Add the tomatoes along with the oregano, red pepper flakes if using, bay leaf and Parmesan rind. Bring the sauce to a simmer, reduce the heat to its lowest possible setting and continue to cook until reduced by about a third, for up to 8 hours. 
  2. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Remove the bay leaf. If not using right away, let the sauce cool, and then cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 2 months. Makes about 2 quarts. 
  3. For the meatballs and sauce: In a small saute pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil, the garlic and shallots and sweat until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. 
  4. Soak the bread in the milk in a medium bowl. 
  5. In a separate bowl, combine the beef with the ricotta, basil, parsley, Parmesan, salt, egg and the cooked shallots and garlic. After the bread has soaked up the milk, remove it from the bowl and ring out the remaining liquid. Thoroughly mix the bread into the meat mixture. 
  6. Form the meat mixture into 2-inch balls using about 1/4 cup for each. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan and add the meatballs. Cook until golden on the outside, 2 to 3 minutes per side. 
  7. Place Yia Yia's Neapolitan Sauce in a large saucepan and add the meatballs. (Keep the frying pan for finishing the pasta.) Bring to a simmer and simmer about 30 minutes. 
  8. For the spaghetti: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti al dente, according to the package directions. 
  9. Add a cup or two of the sauce to the empty meatball pan over medium heat. Drain the spaghetti and add it to the pan, along with the basil leaves, Parmesan and butter. Toss to coat. Transfer to a serving platter, top with the meatballs and ribs from Yia Yia's Neapolitan Sauce and serve with the remaining sauce on the side.