Food That Loves

Oh, the rain. How I love it. The smell, the sound, the fact that I don’t need to water my garden: I love it. I’ve had fires roaring in the fireplace for the past two nights, jazz playing loudly, and cooking lots of food that just hugs you all over.

A few days back I was reading Orangette’s column in Bon Appetit, and remembered how I really wanted to try my hand at meatballs. They fall into that category of food that I’ve not experienced much in my life – kind of like the meatloaf or "Taco Night". And when dining out I will almost always order Pasta alla Carbonara or Penne alla Vodka over Spaghetti and Meatballs. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever ordered Spaghetti and Meatballs.

So, back to the column. I have followed Orangette for years now. Since before her fancy and exciting column in a fancy and shiny magazine. I like her writing, I like her photography, and I almost always like her recipes (of which I have made my fair share). This particular recipe not only caught my eye for its meatball factor, it also caught my eye because it originally came from Carla Leonardi and Jordi Viladas, owners of Café Lago in Seattle.

Before you ask, no, I have never been to Café Lago. Nor have I been to Seattle, actually. But I did make their recipe, Pomodori al Forno, after reading about it in Orangette’s column in the Fall of 2008. Both Chris and I loved it and I have made it many times hence. Anyway, meatball excitement overcame me so I jumped in the car to wrangle up ingredients smack in the middle of the afternoon. I then spent the remainder of the day and night preparing enough spaghetti and meatballs for 10 people. I was all by myself. (Note: Much later that night Maggie ate some. The next day Chris and Maggie ate some more. The day after that I made a meatball sub with some more, and later that night Brandon took the rest home in Tupperware. So it all worked out.)

I had so much fun making these meatballs. I usually hate making a mess and wash my hands constantly. But realizing that there was no way around it, I embraced this tactile experience. With my fingers separated and immersed in the milky, meaty, eggy, bready mess, I melded the ingredients to their proper consistency. By the time I finished rolling them all into perfect golf ball sized spheres and dropped them in the sauce, I was filled with a child-like glee. Bring on the mess!

Then I sat on the couch, in front of the fire, with Ahmad Jamal melting my ears with his beautiful, jazzy mastery on the piano. And waited.

And then, with much anticipation, I served myself a heaping pile of spaghetti and meatballs. I poured a massive glass of Dolcetto. And I very much enjoyed my perfect Fall evening. I may have been the only dinner guest, but I felt entirely embraced by this dish.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
(Recipe from Molly Wizenberg in Bon Appétit October, 2010)

For the best texture, don't overwork the meat mixture and use Parmesan that's ground to a fine powder (use the processor or the rasp side of a box grater). For more heat, add 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper to the sauce.

6 main-course servings


2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes in juice, drained, juice reserved, tomatoes finely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 medium onions, peeled, halved through root end
1/2 teaspoon (or more) salt


1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French or country-style bread
1/3 cup whole milk
8 ounces ground beef (15% fat)
8 ounces ground pork
1 cup finely ground (not grated) Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 pound spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)


Combine tomatoes with juice, butter, onions, and salt in large wide pot. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard onions. 

Using immersion blender, process sauce briefly to break up any large pieces of tomato (texture should be even but not completely smooth). Season sauce with more salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Remove from heat.


Combine breadcrumbs and milk in small bowl; stir until breadcrumbs are evenly moistened. Let stand 10 minutes.

Place beef and pork in large bowl and break up into small chunks. Add 1 cup ground Parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Whisk eggs to blend in small bowl; whisk in garlic. Add to meat mixture.

Using hands, squeeze milk from breadcrumbs, reserving milk. Add breadcrumbs to meat mixture. Using hands, quickly and gently mix meat mixture just until all ingredients are evenly combined (do not overmix). Chill mixture at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.
Moisten hands with some of reserved milk from breadcrumbs, then roll meat mixture between palms into golf-ball-size balls, occasionally moistening hands with milk as needed and arranging meatballs in single layer in sauce in pot. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. 

DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before continuing.

Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.

Using slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to platter. Add pasta to sauce in pot and toss to coat. Divide pasta among 6 plates. Top each serving with meatballs. Sprinkle meatballs with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve.


  1. I love the rainy weather. It's one of the only signs of the season change we get out here in LA. Also, that's what I love about cooking...as long as you have the recipe, you don't need to travel! You can just go to Seattle in your dining room :)

  2. Bianca,
    I agree on the weather and its significance in seasonal transition. Try the meatballs and let me know what you think!

  3. oh damn, your tomato sauce has butter?!

    The meatballs sound delish.

  4. Hell, girl... I rarely cook anything without butter! The sauce was pretty amazing, actually.
    Let me know if you try the recipe, and how it turns out...