In my family, it is almost universally agreed upon that “Grandma Melone” was the best chef in town. After a lifetime of cooking using old world Italian techniques passed down for generations, Grandma Melone nearly perfected a number of recipes. Among these recipes was her famous spaghetti and meatballs.

One of the problems with Grandma Melone’s recipes was that she never really was a fan of putting down the measurements (in this recipe, the water was measured by filling up the tomato sauce and tomato paste cans).  This recipe lived on verbally until my mom studied its creation and was able to pass it down to me.  I have to give special thanks to my mom for not letting this recipe get lost to the sands of time.

This recipe is the perfect Sunday family meal, requiring a bit of work up front and a long simmer time to develop the flavors. Our version is heavily based on my grandmother’s recipe with a few modern twists. We added spicy Italian sausage to the meatballs, added sautéed shallots and garlic, deglazed the pan with red wine, substituted fresh herbs for dried herbs used in the sauce, and added the bay leaves and optional parmesan rind. Hopefully Grandma wouldn’t be too mad if she found out!

The most important part of this recipe is the long simmer time. To develop that rich meat sauce flavor, this sauce should be simmered without a top for around 5 hours. During this time, the water added to the recipe slowly displaces some of the flavor in the meatballs before evaporating out, leaving a thick and rich meat sauce.

My Grandmother's Spaghetti and Meatballs

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

A rich, savory, and complex meat sauce your family will love

The long simmer time is crucial in this recipe. The sauce should be simmered without a top for around 4-5 hours to enable thickening.

If possible, use San Marzano tomatoes for the tomato sauce and tomato paste. San Marzano tomatoes are grown in Italy and have a flavor that is much more conducive to Italian recipes.

The parmesan rind is optional, but adds a bit of extra richness and complexity to the sauce.

Ingredients

Meatballs

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound spicy Italian sausage
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • Canola oil (or other oil with a high smoke point)

Meat Sauce

  • 1 head of garlic, minced coarsely
  • 4 shallots, minced
  • (1) 28 ounce can of tomato puree
  • (1) 6 ounce can of tomato paste
  • 6 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup Chianti wine
  • 1 parmesan rind (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Fresh basil and oregano, chopped just prior to use
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 pound spaghetti

Directions

  1. Start the sauce. In a large pot over low heat, combine tomato puree, tomato paste, bay leaves, and water. If you are using a parmesan rind, add it now.
  2. Make the meatballs. Combine ground beef, Italian sausage, egg, bread crumbs, garlic powder, dried oregano, and dried basil in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Form into meatballs.
  3. Add canola oil to a large frying pan over medium high heat. The oil should be able to cover a significant portion of the bottom of the pan.
  4. Sautee minced garlic and shallots until browned. Once browned, transfer just the garlic and shallots to the pot with the sauce.
  5. If necessary, add additional oil to the frying pan to cover a large portion of the bottom. Add meatballs and brown outside. The inside of the meatballs can be a bit raw – they will be simmered in the sauce for hours and will cook through.
  6. Once browned, add meatballs to the pot containing the sauce. Increase the temperature of the sauce pot to high.
  7. Add the Chianti to the frying pan and deglaze the pan, using a utensil to remove remnants from the garlic, shallots, and meatballs. Add the wine to the pot with the sauce
  8. Once the pot with the sauce begins to boil, reduce temperature to let the sauce simmer. The sauce should be slowly bubbling.
  9. Keep the sauce simmering without a top for the next 5 hours
  10. Prepare spaghetti per instructions on the box
  11. About 5 minutes prior to serving, add the chopped oregano and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you used a parmesan rind, remove the remainder of the rind from the sauce prior to serving.

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