Donna B.’s Famous Spaghetti and Meatballs

Nov 10, 2014 | Recipes

Donna is my second mom. She started babysitting me when I was nine months old, and she’s been in my life ever since. This is her Italian mother-in-law’s recipe. Donna says Grammy B. never measures anything; ingredients go from the palm of her hand into the pot.

I made the sauce and meatballs a day ahead for our casual Sunday dinner party—a hit with everyone, including our guests under the age of three. Serve with a big red wine for the grownups.

For the Sauce:

1 can tomato paste
1 large can tomato puree
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 large can tomato sauce
2 large cans water
Small handful chopped basil
Small handful chopped parsley
Sprinkle of dried oregano
2 cloves minced garlic
Sprinkle of onion granules
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of baking soda
Spoonful of sugar

For the meatballs:

2 lbs ground beef
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Large handful of grated parmesan or pecorino
Small handful chopped parsley
1 egg
1/4 cup milk or water
Sprinkle of onion granules
Salt and freshly ground pepper


Olive oil
3 or 4 more cloves of minced garlic
2 sweet Italian Sausages
2 hot Italian sausages


1. In a large pot, combine the tomato paste, puree, sauce, crushed tomatoes and water. Heat on medium-low. When the sauce starts to bubble, add the pinch of baking soda and spoonful of sugar. (Sauce should foam.) This takes the bitterness out of the tomatoes.

2. For meatballs, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, cheese (be generous with the cheese), parsley, egg, milk or water, onion granules, salt and pepper. Mix together by hand. The mixture should feel soft. If it’s not, add more cheese and/or water or milk. Form the meatballs.


3. In a large skillet, heat a generous glug of olive oil and 3-4 cloves minced garlic. Fry the meatballs and Italian sausages until they’re cooked through. (You’ll need to do a couple of batches.) Add the meat to the sauce.

4. Add the basil, parsley, oregano, garlic, onion granules, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cook on low for at least four hours.

5. Before serving, remove the sausages and cut them into pieces. Serve the sauce with traditional al dente spaghetti. Also great with penne or rigatoni. The sauce keeps in the fridge for several days—if it doesn’t get devoured immediately—or freeze it in batches for later. Enjoy!

DSCF0602 - Version 2


Enter your email to sign up for Grappa Lane updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!