A Writer’s Gotta Eat: Spaghetti and Meatballs with Squash or Pasta

“Will you bring your homemade spaghetti meatballs?”

The Academy Award of home cooks everywhere. I get this all the time because this recipe is that good. People assume I make it from scratch and I don’t correct them. The meatballs are from scratch; the sauce is not, but it’s close. Here’s the recipe along with a few tips.

Versatile, the recipe can be made with spaghetti squash or pasta; cooks choice. Pasta is faster (unless you make your own pasta, than it’s not.) And you can make lots of mistakes and still end with a great dinner.

A great way to  sneak vegetables into a meat eaters diet. You will see why.

The Meatball Secret

It’s the size. Most people make meatballs to large. The trick is get the perfect size to sauce ratio. Chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Emeril Lagasse say this over and over and yet those huge meatballs set in front of us by Olive Garden remain the benchmark.

Meatballs should be simple and small.

I have nothing against Olive Garden, I eat there often. The truth is, it is time consuming to make small meatballs and they must keep costs under a certain a margin.

Meatballs should be small enough to fit on a spoon or in the cup of your palm. 

Meatballs should be no bigger than this.

You can use ground beef and ground pork, ground beef and ground turkey or chicken or ground pork and ground turkey. If you use group beef and a poultry meat try to get the better ground beef chunk (no less than 20% fat.) If you get the leaner stuff the meatballs will be dry and have less flavor. Use equal portions of both meats one fatter and one leaner.

The better the meat, the better the meatball, so I buy mine from a butcher shop when I can.

I use the ground beef from chuck.

These meatballs freeze well so double the ingredients and use 2 pounds ground beef and 2 pounds ground turkey and make two meals at once. The pan’s dirty, you’re dirty; why not? The sauce and squash also freeze well.

I like to mix everything together and freeze it in single helping portions.

The Parsley Secret

Use Italian or flat leaf parsley. It is the key to a good meatballs and a great sauce. Do not use the curly leaf parsley; it is a decoration. Italian Parsley looks a lot like Cilantro so be sure you have the right stuff. Taste it if not sure. It’s the only way to know. I’ve seen them mislabeled at farmers markets. You do not want to use Cilantro. It is not the same thing or even close.

Italian or Flat Leaf parsley.

The Squash Secret

You can use any squash to make this, but spaghetti squash looks the most like spaghetti. Most recipes will tell you to cut the squash in half, clean the seeds out and place it cut side down on a foil covered baking sheet with a little water.

The squash is easier to cut and clean after it’s baked; and we all like less work, bake it whole. Use a medium to large spaghetti squash, poke a hole in it with a knife, place on baking sheet with or without foil, it’s up to you, and bake at 425 degrees for an hour to an hour and a half. Let it cool, cut and clean. Scrape out with a fork.


It is possible to use one pot and one pan to make this; I did it once. Usually, I use three pots, one colander, 5 prep bowls and a million spoons, but I’m a slob.

Use thick bottom pots. Pots sold at stores like Meijer and Walmart in sets generally are not thick bottom pots. Pots sold individually for a bit more, usually are thick bottomed. I use Faberware pots with the name stamped on the bottom. The pot should be bottom heavy, it is hard to put it on it’s side. I ordered mine on Amazon.

Farberware thick bottom pot.

A food processor is helpful but not necessary. You can use a chopper or chopping knife. A wooden spoon is helpful, but not necessary. It’s okay if it’s chunkier.

The veggie paste.

Adjustments and Mistakes

If there is something in this recipe you don’t like, like mushrooms, leave it out. If you like meat in your sauce, add it. You can use any cheese that will melt or any kind of bread crumbs. If you’re cutting down on sodium, don’t put it in. If you want more veggies in your diet, add them. This is a very forgiving dish.

I have made many mistakes making this dish; the first time I made it, I filled the 28 ounce puree cans with water and added it to the sauce. That was 56 ounces of tomato puree and 56 ounces of water. It turned out fine. If this should happen,  add a 6 ounce can of tomato paste and allow the sauce to cook down by simmering on low for about an hour. 

I have forgotten cheese, eggs, parsley, used plain breadcrumbs, used potato chips instead of breadcrumbs, used Panko, accidentally used cilantro, and it still can out good. 

The one thing that will ruin this recipe is burning the tomato sauce. If this should happen, do not scrape it off the bottom of the pot. Check the heat down and stir carefully or transfer to another pot.

You can avoid burning the sauce by using a thick bottom pot, keeping the heat low and stirring occasionally.

Spaghetti and Meatballs with Squash or Pasta

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Credit: The Food Network (Originally credited to Emeril Lagasse)


Medium spaghetti squash or box of pasta of your choice. Angel hair is my favorite.

Kosher salt (can skip if cutting sodium.)

3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 medium carrots, roughly chopped

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

6 to 10 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

1 cup or so of fresh parsley, chopped

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork, turkey or chicken

2 large eggs

1 cup breadcrumbs Italian-style, regular or whatever you got.

1 cup plus some extra for a topping of parmesan cheese

Two 28-once cans tomato puree

2 large sprigs of basil (or a tablespoon of dried basil. Fresh is better.)

1 teaspoon dried oregano or several sprigs of fresh. (Dried oregano is better.)

8 or 16 ounce container of mushrooms


Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

  1. Place spaghetti squash on a baking sheet in the center of the oven. Be sure to remove any stickers on it. Bake for an hour to an hour and a half.
  2. For Pasta; start a pot of water on medium high heat. Cook the pasta after you have added the meatballs to the sauce. (Tip: Turn the heat down to medium after adding the pasta to the water.)
  3. Make the meatballs. Brush a baking sheet with olive oil. In a food processor, pulse celery, carrot, onion, garlic and parsley until it forms a paste. (Use a chopper or chop by hand.)
  4. Separate half the paste and put it in a large bowl.
  5. Add 1 pound ground beef, 1 pound ground pork, 2 eggs, 1 cup bread crumbs, 1 cup parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt.
  6. Mix with hands to combine.
  7. Form spoon size meatballs. Makes about 24 meatballs. Place on oiled baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.
  8. Make the sauce.I know the recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of olive oil, but you need enough to cover the bottom of the pot you are using to make the sauce.
  9. Use a large thick bottom pot because tomatoes burn easily.
  10. Heat the oil on medium. It is ready when it becomes fragrant.
  11. Put the other half of the vegetable paste from step 2 in the pot and cook until it appears dry. About 5 minutes, but you will know because it will look dry. It will also stop steaming. This is the base for your sauce.
  12. Stir in the tomato puree rinsing the residue from each can into the the pot with a 1 cup of water each.  (Do not fill the can.)
  13. Check the heat down to medium low and bring to a simmer. When the sauce appears to thicken, add the meatballs and continue to simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes. Add the basil sprigs and mushrooms. Viola! Homemade spaghetti sauce.
  14. Cut the spaghetti squash in half and clean out the seeds. Use a fork to scrape it out of the skin. Serve like you would spaghetti.

What do you think? Let me know in comments below.

3 responses to “A Writer’s Gotta Eat: Spaghetti and Meatballs with Squash or Pasta”

Let me know in the comments below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: