Spaghetti and meatballs (cooked in sauce)

Spaghetti and meatballs (cooked in sauce) | Photo by Brave New Food

To brown or not to brown, that is (apparently) the question.

Until recently, I had zero knowledge of a big debate surrounding the making of Italian meatballs.

Whether to brown them in a pan before submerging them in sauce, or whether to let them cook (boil?) in the sauce.

It seems that people feel strongly about this. Very strongly.

The reasoning for browning in the pan is to hold the meatball intact, so that they don’t fall apart into the sauce. The reasoning for not browning them is to have them flavor (and some fall apart in) the sauce. Hmmm.

So, being the diplomatic Italian-favoring foodie that I am, I decided to straddle the fence on this one.

I’ll try straight-to-the-sauce this time and browning them another time and report back.

Very important stuff here, folks.

So, I’ll go ahead and tell you. This “submerge in sauce” recipe that I’m about to share with you was excellent.

I’m actually not a huge fan of meatballs. Round balls of beef? Eh. I’ll pass. But, really. These were delicious.

The downside: Holy splatter, Batman!

My stove (and most of my counter) was completely covered with marinara by the time it was over.

And, word to the wise, keep that heat setting lower. This recipe calls for medium high for simmering sauce. So, unless you have a pot shaped like a four-foot cylinder, I’d recommend a medium setting.

Wear an apron, too. Oh and a red shirt. And red pants.

Watch the bottom of your pot, too. I totally scorched mine in the 10 minutes I was supposed to let them sit “undisturbed.”

Give a little stir. It won’t hurt anything.

What you’ll need:

Serves 3-4

  • 10 cups of your favorite marinara, or store-bought pasta sauce (I made do with 5 cups, but I’d recommend at least 7)

For the meatballs:

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onions
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly chopped basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly chopped oregano leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Parmesan for topping

For the Spaghetti:

  • 1 pound spaghetti, cooked al dente according to package directions
  • Salt, for seasoning cooking water
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil


Place the marinara in a large pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.

Place all the remaining meatball ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir well with a wooden spoon to combine, then form the meat into balls by rolling about 2 tablespoons of meat between your hands. Place meatballs on a plate as they are formed.

(Hint: if your hands are slightly damp, the meatballs will roll more easily and will not stick to your hands.)

When all the meatballs are formed, gently place the balls into the sauce 1 at a time using a long handled spoon. Be careful – bubbling sauce splatters! Simmer the sauce uncovered, and allow the meatballs to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes before stirring. Stir the meatballs into the sauce when they rise to the top.

Simmer for an additional 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

While sauce is simmering, cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente.  Strain and toss with the olive oil. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Top each serving with freshly grated parmesan.

[Source: Adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s recipe found here.]


8 Responses to Spaghetti and meatballs (cooked in sauce)

  1. Rachel says:

    those sound really flavorful with the herbs and cheese. yum! and meatballs are a HUGE deal for italians. although this has nothing to do with the simmer/brown debate, the first time my dad ate meatballs with my mom’s (very italian family) he cut them into pieces and stirred them into his spaghetti like ground beef. i think they were a little offended.

  2. I’m firmly in the browning camp!

  3. plainjane says:

    I’m attempting to avoid carbs, and that looks soooo yummy.

  4. plainjane says:

    Me too. There are maybe a dozen carb-less things I eat. I’ll e-mail you.

  5. […] No. 4: Spaghetti and meatballs (cooked in sauce) […]

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