• Time: 45 minutes prep, 45 minutes (see note on sauce) cooking, 1 hour and 30 minutes total

In February 2012, Tara called in to ask for a meatball recipe. She needed a special one, to use with a marriage proposal to her boyfriend, whose favorite dish is spaghetti and meatballs. Here’s the recipe we came up. (See update below.)

Cook to Cook: Just remember, meatballs beg for improvisation with vegetables, all kinds of breads, cheeses, and leftovers. Here is where to begin.

Note: You could have the sauce done two days ahead. The making the meatballs a day ahead not only releases you from last minute angst, it works magic on how flavors are exchanged between the meat and sauce.


  • Good tasting extra-virgin olive

  • 1 medium to large onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs (2 to 3 slices of white or whole grain Italian, French or artisan bread, cut up in the food processor)

  • 1/3 cup red wine

  • 3 tightly-packed tablespoons fresh basil leaves, or 1 heaping tablespoon dry basil

  • 2 to 3 tight-packed tablespoons fresh Italian parsley leaves

  • 3 large garlic cloves

  • 1 large egg yolk

  • 1 generous tablespoon tomato paste

  • 1 pound ground beef chuck (85% lean)

  • 1 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or a mix of Parmigiano and Pecorino Toscano or good quality Pecorino Romano, or Grana Padano, or aged Asiago

  • A Simple Tomato Sauce

  • 1 pound imported Italian spaghetti (De Cecco, Geraldo di Nola, Rusticella, Latini, cooked al dente and drained


1. Lightly film the bottom of a 10-inch skillet with olive oil and set over medium high heat. Add the onion, salt, and pepper and saute, stirring often, until the onion is dark golden brown (about 5 minutes). Turn the onion into a large bowl. Add the breadcrumbs and wine to the bowl.

2. In a food processor mince together the basil (if using dry basil, just add it to the bowl), parsley and garlic with the yolk and tomato paste. Scrape the mix into the bowl. Blend in the beef and cheese with a spoon or your clean hands until everything is well mixed. Chill the mixture for an hour or so.

3. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Oil a shallow baking pan. Have the tomato sauce ready to be warmed up to finish cooking the meatballs.

4. Take the meatball mixture out of the fridge. Roll the meat into small balls about 1 1/2-inches in diameter and put them on the baking pan, 1 inch or more apart. Roast them about 10 minutes, or until they are browned. You are not cooking them through, you’re just browning them.

5. Remove the pan from the oven. Let the meatballs cool for 15 to 20 minutes while you bring the tomato sauce to a slow simmer. Use a pancake turner to slip under the fragile meatballs and lift them into the sauce. Cook them at a very gentle simmer about 10 to 15 minutes, or until an instant reading thermometer inserted in the center of a meatball reads 160°F.

6. Carefully transfer the sauce and meatballs to a storage container and refrigerate overnight if making ahead.

To serve, toss the warmed sauce with the cooked pasta, then top with the meatballs. Serve with additional cheese at the table.

Update: Tara wrote in with this story of the proposal:

We sat down for dinner and right away he was asking me where I got the recipe. I said to him, "The Splendid Table. You'll have to read the recipe." After his first bite into the meatball, he said, "Wow, these are really moist. You must have added bread crumbs." And again, I said he'd have to read the recipe. We continued eating, and then I passed over the recipe that I printed off your website. He started to read it and was like, "Is this you?!" I let him finish reading. Then, when he looked up at me, I pushed the ring toward him and asked him to marry me.

He said yes and I gave him a big hug. He was so surprised and told him how important he is to me. Attached are a few pics of our night. I really appreciate the show and Lynne's help with this. It's made a very memorable moment even more special!

Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.