Perciatelli and Meatballs

April 5, 2011

My baby turned 3 the other day.  My sweet little bundle has grown into a big girl who loves to climb trees, care for her babies, and dance.  I am in awe.  For her birthday, we spent the day at the beach, digging, running from waves, and flying kites.  Marvelous.  For dinner, she asked for spaghetti with meatballs. (Much to my chagrin, my son asked to have hot dogs on his upcoming birthday.  Don’t expect a post about that.)

I recently acquired a meat grinder and have been making loads of sausage, so I decided to grind the meat for the meatballs myself.  Though it adds an extra step, grinding the meat at home allows you to control the quality of the meat.  At our local market, they have a wide selection of meat cuts from sustainably-0riented ranches, but less of a selection for ground meat products.  Also, you cannot beat the freshness of the meat when you grind it yourself.   I used beef brisket and pork shoulder, though you can adjust the contents according to your likings.

Once the meat is ground, making meatballs is a snap.  I sautéed onion, garlic, and spices then stirred in bread crumbs and white wine. Then the bread and meat mixture combine with fresh herbs, parmesan cheese, and egg.  Whip up the mixture to allow the meat to bind, then form into balls.  I use a scoop to help size them, then roll them in my hands to create a smooth ball.

To brown the meatballs, I space them out on a baking sheet and put them in a moderate oven.  This saves time and reduces the amount of oil used in the recipe.  The meatballs still brown up beautifully.  This step can be done a day in advance.  The meatballs simmer in a simple tomato sauce for 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld.

Instead of spaghetti, I used perciatelli.  This is a slightly thicker pasta with a hole through the middle, like a long straw.  The jury is hung on whether these noodles can be used as actual straws.  We all tried.  The perciatelli is more substantial than spaghetti and stands up very well to the meatballs.  I highly recommend using it if you can.  This is not a neat meal, especially with little ones are involved, but it made for a very happy birthday meal.  At the end of the dinner, the plates were clean (though not the floor).

Perciatelli and Meatballs

serves 8

the Meatballs- makes 50 1 1/4 inch meatballs

1 1/2 pounds  beef brisket (or 1 1/2 pounds ground beef)

1/2 pound pork shoulder (or 1/2 pound ground pork)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons fennel seeds, toasted in a dry pan for 5 minutes or until fragrant

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoons pepper

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup bread crumbs

4 Tablespoons parsley, minced

1 egg

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut beef and pork into chunks.  Grind.

Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  Sauté onion until translucent, but not brown, approximately 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Add garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.  Add salt, pepper, fennel seeds, and bread crumbs.  Stir to combine.  Add white wine, scrape up any bits stuck to the pan.  Stir until moisture is absorbed.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Combine ground meat, cooled onion mixture, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix with paddle attachment on standing mixture or your hands until the mixture is uniform and meat begins to stick to itself.  Using a portion scoop, spoon, or your hands, portion and roll out the meatballs.  It helps to have wet hands, so the meat will not stick.  Place meatballs on a baking tray.  Bake for  30 minutes, or until they brown and cook through.

If you are making the meatballs in advance, cool them, then place in a covered dish in the refrigerator until you are ready to make the sauce.

the Sauce

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1/2 onion, minced

1 carrot, peeled and minced

1 celery stalk,  minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-ounce can tomato sauce

4 Tablespoons fresh basil, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

salt and pepper

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion, carrot, and celery.  Season with salt.  Cook and stir until vegetables begin to soften, but not brown, 5-10 minutes.  Reduce heat if necessary.  Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more, until fragrant.  Add tomato sauce, basil, and wine.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.  Check for seasoning again.  If you prefer a smooth sauce, puree sauce in a blender or with an immersion blender.

Add meatballs and simmer for 30 additional minutes.

the Pasta

1 pound perciatelli (or spaghetti)

Cook pasta according to the package directions.  Pour sauce and meatballs over hot pasta.  Serve with parmesan cheese.

Here is a printer friendly version of the recipe:Perciatelli and Meatballs

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6 Responses to “Perciatelli and Meatballs”


  1. Looks great, I will give it a try. I am into trying a variety of meatballs. We just made turkey meatballs and they came out great. Naomi and Bobby’s recipe…

  2. Janice Says:

    I want this for my birthday! Do you cook for really big girls too?

  3. ken albala Says:

    What a fabulous story! My 11 year old son still asks for hot dogs on his birthday, even if he’s asked to help with making something extravagant. Adorable kids too. Ever want to trade a little girl for anothe boy, let me know!

  4. Scott Says:

    Still not sure how to pronounce the name of this noodle… but it is definitely winner, and held up very well with these tasty meatballs. I polished off two bowls… and was lucky enough to put together a scrumptious meatball sub for lunch!


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