Spaghetti and Meatballs combines two classic Italian (and now somewhat Americanized) items: spaghetti noodles and “polpette” (meatballs). The origin of this oft-considered family staple actually begins with Italian immigrants who arrived in the United States in the early 1900s. From that point on, this comforting, hearty meal has become an essential Italian-American dish and one that knows many, equally delicious varieties. Here at Plated, we’re always looking for ways to reinvent the classics, while still appreciating that sometimes, the original is much-adored for a reason. So, we’re presenting to you three twists on classic meatballs: a beef version, one made with turkey, and an entirely vegetarian variety that will entrance even the staunchest carnivore. We’re also giving you three sauces to choose from (all made from a classic Marinara), along with some suggestions for spaghetti substitutes. Buon’ appetito!
For the meatballs:
This classic version is everything you imagine of when meatballs come to mind. Ricotta cheese adds fluffiness to the meatballs, while sautéed garlic and shallot give them even more depth and flavor. Remember to add the meatballs to the sauce before you plate the dish so they soak up all that goodness! (All meatballs are 2 servings).
Classic Beef Meatballs
2 cloves garlic, minced
2.5 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1.5 tablespoons breadcrumbs
⅛ teaspoon parsley, minced
12 ounces ground beef
– Pat beef dry with paper towel. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large high-sided pan over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add shallot and garlic and sauté, stirring, until shallot is softened, 2–3 minutes.
– Transfer to a large bowl. Add ricotta, breadcrumbs, beef, parsley, 1 egg, .5 teaspoon salt, and pepper to bowl with aromatics. Line a baking sheet with foil.
– Using your hands, mix beef mixture well, then form into 10 equal balls about 1.5-inches thick. Arrange on prepared baking sheet, spacing apart as much as possible. Bake until slightly browned and cooked through, about 18 minutes.
Sicilian Turkey Meatballs
Inspired by the Mediterranean flavors of Sicily, this meatball recipe gets sweetness and texture from dried currants and aromatic pine nuts. The turkey makes for a lighter, yet still substantial meatball which will hold up to a variety of sauces.
12 ounces ground turkey
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
2 ounces milk
2 tablespoons Pine nuts
2 tablespoons dried Currants
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
.125 ounce parsley, minced
– In a large bowl, combine breadcrumbs, pine nuts, currants, garlic, parsley, turkey, half of milk, and all but 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Season with .5 teaspoon salt and pepper as desired.
– Using your hands, mix well, then form into 10 equal balls. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add meatballs in a single layer and sear, flipping occasionally, until browned on all sides, 10-12 minutes total.
– Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Vegetarian Eggplant Parm Meatballs
These eggplant parm-inspired meatballs were a serious WOW moment in the Plated kitchen. The eggplant turns soft and chewy and binds with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan for a toothsome and delightful meatball that’s entirely…meatless!
Parsley, finely chopped
7 tablespoons Parmesan
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 Eggplants, cut into .25-inch dice
⅓ cup Flour
2 teaspoons Tomato paste
1 yellow onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
– Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and eggplant and sauté, stirring frequently, until eggplant is soft and no longer spongy, about 15 minutes (see Recipe Tip).
– Add tomato paste and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Season with .5 teaspoon salt and pepper and transfer to a large bowl. Add breadcrumbs, parsley, parmesan, and 1 egg to bowl with eggplant. Season with 1/8 teaspoon salt and pepper as desired.
– Using your hands, mix well and roll tightly into 10 equal balls about 1.5-inches in diameter. Add flour to a small plate and season with .125 teaspoon salt and pepper as desired. Roll eggplant meatballs in flour to fully coat.
– Wipe pan from eggplant and onion clean and add 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, add eggplant meatballs, shaking off excess flour, and brown on all sides, flipping occasionally, 6–8 minutes total.
– Once browned, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
For the sauce:
Below we’ve got the classic Marinara recipe, for when you’re looking for a more simple dish.
1 minced garlic clove
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
– Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium high-sided pan over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add garlic and oregano and sauté until fragrant, 1–2 minutes
– Add crushed tomatoes to pan with garlic and stir to combine. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors are melded, about 7 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
This spicy version is easy to prepare, and has a little extra kick.
Add ¼ cup chopped onion, ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, and ¼ teaspoon each of dried Italian herbs—oregano, basil, parsley.
For a decadent, creamy (and a little boozy!) version, consider adding vodka and heavy cream to your Marinara.
Add ½ cup vodka and ⅓ cup heavy cream.
The simple Puttanesca exemplifies the brininess of the sea by adding anchovies, kalamata olives, and capers.
Add 1 tablespoon capers, 2 tablespoons chopped Kalamata olives, 1 chopped anchovy fillet, and ½ teaspoon dried oregano.
For the Pasta:
For a lighter take on “spaghetti,” swap in spaghetti squash instead!
1 large spaghetti squash
– Halve squash lengthwise, and using a large spoon, scoop out seeds and discard. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over cut sides of squash and season with .5 teaspoon kosher salt and pepper.
– Place cut-side down on a foil-lined baking sheet, transfer to oven, and roast until tender, about 25 minutes. Using a fork or tongs, pull roasted squash flesh to create spaghetti-like strands (see Recipe Tip).
– Toss in sauce and serve with meatballs.
If you’re sticking with real wheat noodles, we recommend two of our favorite spaghetti alternatives: linguine and bucatini. For more options, check out our pasta guide.
Leah Bhabha is a cookbook co-author, recipe tester, and food writer who has written for numerous publications including Food & Wine, Marie-Claire, The Guardian, and Food52. She is a recipe editor at Plated.
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