If you’re looking for a recipe for spaghetti and meatballs and you check out a standard cookbook or look online you’re probably going to find hundreds of variations on Italian-style beef meatballs with pasta strands and red sauce. And that’s fine.
But ask a food professional and you’re in for a surprise. We food writers, recipe developers, personal chefs and so on, are always thinking “out-of-the box.” The term “spaghetti and meatballs” might mean, well, let’s see about that:
Faye Levy, noted food writer, cookbook author and James Beard Foundation award winner says she never liked meatballs as a kid. Her mother made the classic version often and urged Faye to eat “just one more,” mentioning the kid next door who could eat six of them! But, years later, while living in Israel, Faye changed her mind about the stuff, thanks to her mother-in-law, who introduced her to the “proper Yemenite spice blend” that she now adds to the meat mix. And that meat? Faye prefers ground chicken, not beef, because it’s healthier and more tender. As to the pasta, for Faye, it’s orzo, not spaghetti strands, because “the meatballs are easier to eat with small pasta shapes.”
Beef meatballs are just fine for Melinda Strauss, whose blog, Kitchen-Tested is filled with recipes that are designed to expand the boundaries of kosher cooking. She enhances the beef with spinach, for extra flavor and vitamins, but, like Faye, she doesn’t serve them with spaghetti – not pasta spaghetti anyway. She uses spaghetti squash, which may sound odd but there’s a good reason. Melinda has type-1 diabetes and avoids carbs. The no-pasta part makes her recipe a perfect answer for anyone who’s on a gluten-free or low-glycemic diet. Melinda cooks all the ingredients in a slow-cooker, but the recipe can be prepared the usual way, separating meat, sauce and “pasta” and putting it all together at the end.
Spaghetti squash (and other vegetables such as zucchini strands) seems to be a handy go-to for many who want to cut down on carbs. Whitney Fisch, food blogger and co-author of 4-Bloggers Dish: Passover: Modern Twists on Traditional Flavors uses it for her recipe too. What’s more, her meatballs are …. meatless! That’s because she loves “a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese,” with the dish. Of course, she says, “one could always substitute real meat” but in her kosher home she makes “plant-based, vegetarian meatballs” based on quinoa. There’s a bonus here too: although it is suitable any time of year, this version of “spaghetti and meatballs” is also kosher-for-Passover.
Of course, if you’re looking for plain-old Italian-style spaghetti and meatballs, we can help here too. My recipe is the classic. I make beef meatballs, although sometimes it’s a beef-turkey-veal combo. I like to poach the meatballs in the red sauce because they come out softer and make the sauce richer. But you can roast the meatballs and cloak them with sauce if you prefer them crusty. You can also freeze the meatballs separately or with the sauce, so they will be ready anytime you want to cook up some pasta and have a traditional meatballs and spaghetti dinner.
Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford. She is the author of The Modern Kosher Kitchen and Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com, friend on Facebook at RonnieVailFein, Twitter at @RonnieVFein, Instagram at @RonnieVFein.