Spaghetti and meatballs is the ultimate comfort dish, nothing lets someone know how much you care about them more than presenting them with a bowl of the homemade stuff. I am such a meatball fanatic, in fact, that I wrote my college admissions essay about them (not a joke).
Coming from a traditional Italian heritage, it is a time-honored tradition in the Aronica family to pass down this very meatball recipe from generation to generation -- my dad loves to tell the story of the day his father said to him, “Son, today you learn to make the meatballs”. The trick to making this meatball recipe is that the consistency is all about how it feels. The ratio of breadcrumbs and water to meat are difficult to quantify since it varies from batch to batch. Be conservative with both to begin with and then add more later if the consistency seems off.
For the meatballs:
For the tomato sauce:
Add oil to a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sautée until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Toss the red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, basil and oregano into the pot and cook with the aromatics for one minute. Slowly pour in the tomatoes, wine, and vinegar and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for at least 2 hours.
For the meatballs:
Place the beef, breadcrumbs, cheese, onion powder, garlic powder, basil, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. With clean hands, gently combine the ingredients just until they’re mixed together. Working slowly, add the water to the beef in a steady stream so that it is fully incorporated. The consistency of the mixture should be soft and wet, but not soupy. Cover the meat with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before cooking.
After cooling, the consistency of the mixture should be more solid, but still soft. When you’re forming the meatballs they should be able to maintain their shape, feel free to add more water or breadcrumbs a tablespoon at a time to reach your desired consistency. Add one teaspoon olive oil to a cast iron pan (or any other heavy bottomed skillet) over medium-high heat. Working with only a few at a time, add the meatballs to the pan and sear gently on all sides. Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for at least 1 hour.
When you’re ready to eat, cook the spaghetti according to the box’s instructions and serve immediately with the meatballs and sauce.