Spaghetti and Meatballs – An Italian Family Tradition!

Growing up in an Italian/Irish home in New York, a constant staple food in our fridge at all times was spaghetti and meatballs.  With four kids in our family, it was the one thing that my mom always made loads of because she could make a lot of it, and it stayed well for a few days.  I think it’s usually a staple in most homes back East.  However, you don’t need to be Italian to make it.  Most people probably aren’t.  When I became an adult and moved out on my own and began really cooking for myself, I wasn’t making this meal, mostly, because I didn’t know how to make my mom’s recipe.

About 4 years ago, I went back to visit with my family and friends in New York, and my best friend invited us over for dinner.  We had rigatoni and meatballs.  Sunday family dinners, where this meal is typically served, is a very common practice there.  That night, we sat around her big dining table and had such an enjoyable meal.  It was that moment that encouraged me to learn how to make my mother’s recipe.  What if something happened to her and I never had the chance to taste her sauce or meatballs again?  No bueno!

Upon my return home from New York, I told my mother that I wanted her to walk me through every step of how she made this meal.  She agreed to it!  My mom has always been a fabulous cook!  She’s not the “follow a recipe” kind of cook either.  She’s a “little of this, and a little of that” kind of cook (now I know why she never uses any of the recipe books I’ve given her over the years).  This is the type of cook that I am as well.  And this actually works really well for me because I’m awful at following directions.  Somehow, I always leave something out and the only time I will follow a recipe properly is when it comes to baking!  Even then, I usually find myself substituting things.

I just can’t get enough of this meal, but I also love that it can be served as a number of different dishes throughout the week.  So, this is a perfect example of how you can make the main dish on Sunday and save time the rest of the week!   Here I’ll show you how to do that.  I am sticking with our tradition of altering recipes (yes, I am going to alter my mom’s recipe, but it’s to keep my waistline a little slimmer and to keep me and my family around a little longer!).  But then again, my grandfather did live to be 91.

Ok, let the fun begin!

Quick Start Instructions: (This is the order that I make everything.  It makes the process much faster)

1) Spray a bit of non-stick spray in a frying pan and start cooking your sausage.

2) While sausage is cooking, soak your bread in a bowl.

3) Start your sauce – by the time you’re done with this, your sausage should be complete.

4) Start making your meatballs.  NOTE:  If you’ve used turkey sausage, they may not have produced enough grease to cook your meatballs in.  Therefore, add some oil to your pan.  Roll meatballs and add to pan as you go.  Once your pan is full, then roll the rest of the meatballs and leave on a plate.  As you finish the first batch, then add the rest of the meatballs.  NOTE:  For the second round of meatballs, add some more oil to the pan.

Tomato Sauce:

2 cans of 23oz crushed tomatoes (industrial size from Costco is optional – if you use this, then you need to use 1 can of chicken broth instead of a 1/2 can)

A little onion (this doesn’t need to be finely chopped)

1 clove garlic chopped

Salt and Pepper


1/2 can of chicken broth (this is so it doesn’t need to simmer all day)


Saute onion and garlic in a little Olive Oil

Add crushed tomatoes

Add salt, pepper and basil.

For an added touch, after cooking meatballs, scrape the crust from the pan and add to the sauce (these are the little touches that make this sauce so delish).

NOTE:  If you’re sauce isn’t thick enough, you can add a can of tomato paste to it.  Add a little at a time until you reach the desired thickness.

Simmer  for 1 hour

After you complete your sauce, cook a package of Italian Sausage.  Keep the leftover grease in the pan (you’ll be using this to fry your meatballs).

Once these are done, then lay them on a paper towel to soak up some grease.  Then slice them at an angel to get several pieces out of one.  Then add them to the sauce.



1lb ground turkey meat (if you want to use ground beef use 80% 20%)

2 slices of bread (for 12 meatballs)

1 egg

Salt and Pepper (eye ball it)

1/3 finely chopped onion (I use a food processor to get this fine)

1 clove finely chopped garlic

A little Parsley

A little Oregano

A little Parmesan Cheese

Mom’s Special Touch:  If you’d like to make these “extra special” as my mother calls this, then open one sausage and add this to the meat mixture


1) Put two slices of bread at the bottom of a big bowl.  Cover with water.  Soak in water till mushy.  Squeeze water out with your hands.

2) Add egg, Parmesan, finely chopped onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper.

3) Mush the mixture together then add meat and mush together.  (this is the yucky part)

4) Roll into balls, add to the frying pan of sausage grease (doesn’t sound good for the heart, I know, but it’s so good for the meatball’s flavor!!!)

Add cut sausage to sauce

Add meatballs to sauce

Meal One – Spaghetti

Boil water, cook spaghetti, and then add the goods!

Meal Two – Grilled Portabella Mushrooms and Meatballs

This is super simple and a good substitute for Eggplant Parmesan, which I LOVE!  I picked up some Portabella Mushrooms in the clearance section in the produce department.  I decided to grill them and make my own version of Eggplant Parmesan, minus the melted Mozzarella Cheese.  Next time, I think I’ll add the cheese for even more deliciousness.

Coat mushrooms with Olive Oil and salt and pepper them. 

Grill in a grill pan. 

Layer mushrooms on a plate, add meatballs and sauce!  Sprinkle with Parmesan Cheese.  Enjoy! 


Meal Three – Meatball Sub 

Need I say more?  If you know how to make a sandwhich, you can do this one! 

Slice open a good, fresh roll, spoon some sauce on the bottom, put meatballs on top, sauce on top of meatballs, sprinkle a little Parmesan Cheese, add some Mozzarella Cheese, broil for 4 minutes or until cheese is melted and bread is crispy!  Then once it’s complete, use a fork to push down the meatballs so it closes just right!  Then enjoy the heck of this bad boy!!!  Yum!!!

Meal Four – Spaghetti Squash & Meatballs

If you’ve never made Spaghetti Squash, it’s amazing and super easy to make.  My mother in-law turned me on to it.  And I love it!  It’s delicious, good for you, and is extremely low in calories.  Now who doesn’t like that combo?


Halve squash lengthwise and discard the seeds.

Rub with Olive Oil and salt and pepper them.

Turn them face down on the pan and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until tender.

While your squash is cooking, I took a frozen batch of sauce out of the freezer.  I didn’t leave it in the fridge all day to defrost.  Instead, last minute I decided that I wanted to have this for dinner.  I put my Tupperware in warm water for a minute until it loosened away from the sides.  Then I poured it in a big boiling pot and let simmer, occasionally flipping and breaking up a bit until it’s heated through.  Then serve over your Spaghetti Squash and sprinkle with Parmesan Cheese.

At this point, my sauce looks more like meat sauce, than sauce and meatballs.  But it still tastes just as good!

I’ve tried to implement the Sunday family dinners in my house, but it just didn’t stick.  Maybe my husband doesn’t fully understand the meaning of it.  For him, it might be more work than he cares to do.  After all, it would mean that he would have to clean up the dog poop in the backyard and help out around the house to prepare for company.  And in our house, Sunday is really a day of R&R.  So, I don’t blame him for wanting to be lazy!  However, if your significant other doesn’t mind getting up off the couch, then you might want to implement this tradition in your home.  At the very least, you can take this recipe/s for a good test drive and see what all the hype is about.  That’s if you’re up for a good ole Italian dinner!






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5 Responses to “Spaghetti and Meatballs – An Italian Family Tradition!”

  1. Keri says:

    Looks delicious and now I’m starving! Thanks, Christine!



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