Mark Bittman’s Spaghetti and Drop Meatballs With Tomato Sauce

Meatballs with Tomato Sauce

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Makes servings


2 Tablespoons olive oil

12 ounces ground beef

6 ounces Parmesan cheese (1 1/2 cups grated)

1 bunch fresh parsley

1/4 cup bread crumbs

1 egg


1 large onion

3 garlic cloves

Two 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes

3 bay leaves

1 pound spaghetti


The most time-consuming part of making meatballs is rolling them. The solution? Don’t. Just use two spoons to drop little mounds of the mixture into the hot skillet. (Skipping the rolling also prevents you from overworking the meatballs until they get tough.) Leave them alone to brown beautifully on the bottom while you start building the tomato sauce around them.


1. Bring a stockpot of water to a boil and salt it.

2. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, put the ground beef in a medium bowl. Grate 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese and add 1 cup to the bowl. Chop 1/4 cup parsley leaves and add to the bowl.

3. Add 1/4 cup bread crumbs to the bowl, crack in the egg, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Gently mix together until everything is just combined.

4. When the oil is hot, use 2 spoons to drop rounds of the meatball mixture into the skillet (without touching if you can help it).

5. Once you’ve used up all the mixture, let the meatballs cook, undisturbed, until they’re nicely browned on the bottom, 5 or 6 minutes.

6. While these are cooking, trim, peel, and chop the onion; scatter it around the meatballs. Peel and mince 3 garlic cloves; scatter them on the onions.

7. When the meatballs are browned on the bottom, add the tomatoes and their juice to the skillet, along with 3 bay leaves and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently, then cover the skillet and cook, undisturbed, until the meatballs cook through, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove the lid and let the sauce bubble to thicken it while the pasta cooks, 5 to 10 more minutes.

8. When the water boils, add the pasta and stir occasionally. Start tasting after 5 minutes.

9. When the pasta is tender but not mushy, drain it, reserving some cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot. Discard the bay leaves and spoon about half of the tomato sauce into the pasta pot, leaving the meatballs behind. Toss the pasta, adding a splash of cooking water if you want to make it saucier.

10. Divide the pasta among 4 plates or bowls; top with the meatballs and the remaining sauce, sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over the top, and serve.


Spaghetti and Pork Drop Meatballs with Tomato Sauce: Use ground pork instead of beef and add 1 tablespoon fennel seeds in addition to the parsley.

Spaghetti and Lamb Drop Meatballs with Tomato Sauce: Substitute ground lamb for the beef and 2 sprigs fresh rosemary for the parsley.

Spaghetti and Drop Chicken Meatballs with Tomato Sauce: Use ground chicken instead of beef and fresh basil instead of parsley.

Spaghetti and Drop Turkey Meatballs with Tomato Sauce: Substitute ground turkey for the beef and 2 sprigs fresh sage for the parsley.