Roman Holiday Spaghetti and Meatballs with Rich Tomato Sauce


On a recent trip to San Francisco we took a side-trip to Sonoma and fell in love with the beautiful town of Healdsburg. While there we went to the super cool Scopa restaurant for dinner and had the most amazing meatballs. Amaze-balls! So amazing that they keep popping back into my head (sounds weird but they did) and I finally took the opportunity to make my version of them last weekend to share with friends who came for dinner. The meatballs are beautifully seasoned with garlic, oregano, parsley, zesty lemon and a bit of chilli grunt then stuffed with mozzarella  which melts wonderfully during cooking. They were totally delicious teamed with a simple, rich and smooth tomato sauce. Served with spaghetti and plenty of Parmesan I was transported back to Scopa - what more could I ask for? (Apart from the fact that you can completely make them ahead which makes them ideal when you have guests). I served them with a very simple rocket salad with a white balsamic and olive oil dressing - perfect. This recipe makes 45 decent-sized meatballs and easily feeds 10 for a dinner party. If you don't have that many to feed, you can freeze the extra mix to roll later - obviously you'll need to thaw it well before rolling into balls. The tomato sauce freezes very well too and is also great with pasta and seafood like mussels or prawns. Alternatively, cook the lot and enjoy the left-overs the next day...we did!

1.2 kilos pork mince
600g beef mince
3 eggs, whisked
1 cup whole milk
200g (for me this was 8 slices) white toast bread, crusts removed
6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
300g ricotta
1 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley
2 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper
grated zest of a large lemon
 150g firm mozzarella, chopped into 1cm cubes

olive oil spray
(or 1/4 cup olive oil)

1/3 cup grated Parmesan extra

Tomato Sauce
2 x 400g tins pureed tomatoes
3 x 400g chopped tomatoes in juice
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp chilli flakes

500g dried spaghetti
 1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan to serve

Get out your biggest mixing bowl and put the two minces in that.  Stir through the whisked eggs to loosen it up a bit. In a food processor put the milk and the roughly torn up bread. Let it soak for a bit while you add the garlic, Parmesan, ricotta, chilli flakes, parsley oregano, salt, pepper and lemon. Pulse it all until the mixture is well chopped, squishy and combined. Plop the whole lot into your mince, gird your loins, then get in there with your hands to mix it really well together.

"The meatballs were really yummy" - Richie (son who hijacked computer)

Now - get out at least two big baking trays (that's cookie sheets to you my American and Canadian friends) and line them with baking paper. I used a medium ice-cream scoop to guarantee even-sized balls (even cooking-times you see, not just my nerdy perfectionist side). Scoop out a ball, poke a cube of mozzarella into it, then roll between your hands to make it firm and smooth. Repeat. You will end up with about 45 small apple/ big plum sized balls (could not think of an equivalent size!!! Smaller than a tennis ball, bigger than a golf ball...) which shrink a little during cooking. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour before cooking.

While they are chilling bung all the Tomato Sauce ingredients in a big pot. Bring to the boil then simmer for half an hour. Leave to cool for ten minutes then either blend with a stick blender or whizz in a food processor. Taste and check for seasoning. You can make this several days ahead and store in the fridge if you fancy.

Now - call me weird, but I like a two step cooking method for the balls - you can cook them all one way or the other, but I felt the best results were with the combo. Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C (400˚F) and line two roasting dishes with baking paper. Distribute your balls between the two and give a quick spray with olive oil, or you could brush very sparingly with a bit of olive oil. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, turning once after 15 minutes. Pour half of the tomato sauce into a large oven-proof serving dish. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan and fry meatballs over a medium heat for a few minutes (in batches), turning frequently to give them a nice crust and colour. As they come out of the pan, line them up on the tomato sauce in your serving dish. Half an hour before serving turn the oven down to 180˚C (350˚F), and bring a large pot of well salted water to the boil. Spoon half of the remaining sauce over the meatballs and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake for 20 minutes to heat through. While they are heating cook the pasta, drain, drizzle with olive and stir through half of the parsley. Serve the meatballs with the spaghetti, sprinkled with the last of the parsley and seasoned with an extra good grinding of black pepper. I heated the last of the sauce and served it in a jug for 'top ups' with a side of grated Parmesan. Yuuuuum. Serves 8-10 (depending on your appetites) I worked on 3 meatballs per chick and 5 per bloke. (If you cook the meatballs completely in the oven allow 35-40 minutes total cooking time.)

If you want to make the meatballs the day before stop after the frying bit and refrigerate then continue with putting the sauce and meatballs together half an hour before serving and continue as above.


  1. Fantastic post! Amazing pictures too. Cant wait to give these a go :) Enjoy the food styling workshop, I wish I was going! :)

  2. Hi - thanks so much Matt - looking forward to the workshop! :)

  3. I will have to try your meatball cooking method. I am partial to just poaching them in the sauce--I think that is a technique I got from Bittman's original edition of How to Cook Everything, and have found that they stay much more tender that way, although they can fall apart a bit. I am not sure if their being stuffed with cheese (GENIUS!) would have an impact on that or not.

  4. Hi - I'll be interested to see how they work out if you give them a go like that - I think it might be worthwhile just baking them in the oven for 15-20 minutes first so that there is a a bit of a seal/crust around the outside of the meatballs before finishing them off in the sauce...let me know how you get on! :)