What's for Dinner: Spaghetti and Meatballs

Top Chef Antonia Lofaso shares a recipe from "The Busy Mom's Cookbook"

spaghetti and meatballs!

You may think you don’t have much in common with a Top Chef. Your challenges (getting your kids to eat anything) and their challenges (mise en place relays) aren’t quite the same.

But Antonia Lofaso (a season-four finalist and Top Chef All-Stars contestant) is also a mom. And her new book, The Busy Mom’s Cookbook, speaks to all time-pressed parents. Each recipe is interspersed with tips that help you navigate the instructions like a seasoned chef. Try out the one below and you be the judge.

For this recipe, I cook the meatballs in the oven rather than in the sauce. It’s much quicker, and these meatballs are so delicious you’re not sacrificing flavor. While the sauce simmers, you can get meatballs prepped and in the oven. The most important thing is not to overwork them. If you mix them too much, they become too dense — like little golf balls. Instead, put all the ingredients into the bowl and give it one good mixing.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Serves six to eight


For the sauce:
4 tbsp. olive oil
8 cloves garlic, chopped (about ¼ c.)
3 12-oz. cans peeled, whole plum tomatoes
2 pinches salt
4 pinches sugar

For the meatballs:
3 slices of bread, crusts removed, diced into ¼-inch cubes
1 c. heavy cream
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground veal
2 eggs
1/3 c. shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
4 tbsp. chopped fresh marjoram (or 2 tbsp. dried marjoram)
Dash nutmeg
1 tbsp. salt

For the pasta:
2 lbs. spaghetti

For the garnish:
¼ c. shredded or grated Parmesan
¼ c. chopped basil

The Busy Mom’s Tip: Lately I’m obsessed with perciatelli pasta. It’s a thicker spaghetti noodle with a hole running through the center. It’s hearty enough to stand up to this heavier dish. If you can’t find perciatelli, linguine also works well.

1. Preheat the oven to 400˚.

2. Heat the olive oil for the sauce in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic; just as the garlic starts to brown around the edges, throw in the canned tomatoes. (You don’t want the garlic to burn, so have the cans open and ready to go.)

3. Add the salt and sugar; whisk it all together. Let the sauce simmer on medium-low for 40 minutes while you prep the other ingredients. If foam rises to the top of the sauce, skim it off. That’s the acid from the tomatoes, and your sauce will taste better without it.

4. Cover the bread with the heavy cream and let it sit to absorb the liquid.

5. In a small saute pan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook it just enough to warm it through. Remove it from the heat.

6. Put the pork, veal, sauteed garlic, eggs, Parmesan cheese, marjoram, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. Once the bread has absorbed the cream, add it to the other ingredients. Mix it all with your hands, just until it’s well incorporated.

The Busy Mom’s Tip: I like to test my meatball mixture before I cook all the meatballs. How else would I know it’s well seasoned? I recommend cooking a small bit of the meatball mixture in a pan with a little oil. If the result isn’t flavorful enough, you might need to add salt.

7. Use an ice cream scoop to measure equal-size meatballs. (The scoops are usually 2 ounces, which is the perfect size.) After you’ve scooped out the proper portions, wet your hands to keep the meat from sticking to them, and roll the meat into balls.

8. Bake the meatballs on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes.

9. Cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain.

10. Combine sauce, meatballs, and pasta. Garnish with cheese and fresh basil. Enjoy.

The Busy Mom’s Cookbook is available at amazon.com, $17.50.

Photo: Courtesy of Avery