The way to a man’s heart….. (Teresa’s Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe)

When I was growing up, my dad liked the Kraft Spaghetti that came in a box.  The box contained spaghetti noodles, a spice packet, and a packet of Kraft Parmesan Cheese.  You had to add your own tomato paste and anything extra that you wanted in your sauce (Mom would brown some hamburger meat and add to it).

I never knew anything else.

When I became a young bride, I tried out my limited culinary repertoire on my new husband.  Paul had never had “box” spaghetti; the one time that I made it for him, he was NOT impressed.  I had just landed the man – I wasn’t about to lose him over something as simple as spaghetti!  So, I set out to find a recipe that he might like.

Now, in the days before the Internet, we savages in the wilderness got our recipes from family, friends, cookbooks (professional and local), and a couple of cooking shows on PBS.  Our local newspaper ran a “Food” section in the middle of the week, so I would routinely look over each week’s new recipes, and occasionally I would find one or two that I wanted to try (some of those yellowed, tattered recipes that I cut out of the paper are still in my recipe box).

One day, I hit the jackpot – I ran across a spaghetti recipe that looked really good.  By this time, Paul was used to being my culinary guinea pig, so I had him look at the ingredients to see if it looked like something he might like to try.  He didn’t see anything that looked objectionable, so I went ahead and made it.

Well, that was back in 1980/81 – to this day, this is the ONLY spaghetti recipe that ever found a permanent home in my recipe box.  And every time that I make this for friends or family, I am asked for a copy of the recipe – it is thick and rich and hearty, and the meatballs are out-of-this-world delicious. 

When the girls were growing up, they would have gladly eaten this every day of the week and twice on Sundays.  And now that they are starting to cook for themselves, this is the one recipe that each of them insisted I copy for them – I even had a request to e-mail a copy to Sarah while she was over in England, visiting her boyfriend and his family!  

Yeah, it’s that good….

THE Recipe – A family “classic” since 1980


Teresa’s Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs
(Printable Version)

(Note:  The pictures reflect a quadrupled recipe.  I always make extra, and preserve the leftovers – it makes it much easier to be able to just heat a jar in the microwave for a quick dinner!)

Spaghetti Sauce:

¾ cup olive oil
1 – 32 oz can crushed tomatoes
½ small white or yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp. oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1 – 12 oz. can tomato paste


1 lb. ground meat (at least 15% fat; 20% or more is better)
1 egg
½ cup whole milk
¾ cup fresh bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the tomatoes, garlic, onion, oregano, salt, and pepper together in a large pot.  Rinse out the tomato can with ½ cup of water and add it to the tomato mixture.

Okay, okay – I’m short; this is the best shot I could get…..

Bring to a boil and cook 1 hour, adding a little more water if it appears the liquid is evaporating too quickly.  Stir every 10 – 15 minutes, reducing heat if necessary.

While sauce is cooking, combine meatball ingredients together (you’re gonna have to mix this with your hands….) and shape into small-to-medium sized balls.

Meatballs – the best part of the sauce…..

Brown the meatballs on both sides in the olive oil, adding more oil if necessary (I like to let mine get a little bit “charred”, but not burnt).

It’s not as deep as it looks – probably should have used a saute pan….

After sauce has cooked for 1 hour, reduce heat.  Add the meatballs as they are done.

Not all of the meatballs make it into the pot – gotta make sure they taste OK!

Add all of the olive oil that remains in the pan, along with the drippings.  If you do not make meatballs, add the olive oil anyway – this ingredient is what makes this sauce so yummy!  (For the record, I have spotlessly clean coronary arteries…..)

My lovely assistant, Paul, demonstrates how to pour in the oil (actually, he did most of the work – I got to supervise this time….)

Spoon ½ of the tomato paste on top of the sauce to give it an extra rich flavor.  Partially cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 – 10 minutes to prevent burning.  The sauce will thicken considerably.

The “First String” – waiting for the call

After 30 minutes, add the remaining tomato paste.  Keep pot partially covered and simmer 30 minutes, stirring every 5 – 10 minutes.  The sauce will be thick and delicious.

The (Tomato) Blob(s) – Run for your Lives!

That’s it!  Scoop a generous portion of this sauce over spaghetti noodles.  Add some garlic toast and a light salad to make a satisfying meal.  Don’t count on having any leftovers…..


And there you have it – the recipe that has kept my man close to home all these years!
I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as mine does –

(Click Here for a printable version of this recipe)


– The secret to the delicious sauce is the olive oil, and the secret to tender meatballs is the milk.  If you use low-fat meat or milk, your meatballs will crumble, so it’s important to use the ingredients as they are listed in the recipe.

– I’ve found that commercially-prepared bread crumbs don’t seem to work as well in this recipe – if you have a food processor, it’s pretty easy to make your own using regular bread.

– When Rebecca was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I adapted this recipe for a Gluten-Free diet by using GF bread to make bread crumbs, and using GF spaghetti noodles in place of “regular” noodles.

– I’ve always used the Boiling Water Bath Canning Method to preserve this sauce; it appears that “Pressure Canning” is the preferred method for spaghetti sauce with meat.  FWIW, I have never had any problem with spoilage or contamination.

Now that the kids have moved out, this might actually last more than a month…..


About Teresa in Fort Worth, TX

A short, fat, over-the-hill, happily-married mother of 4 daughters. I know just enough to get myself in trouble....
This entry was posted in Family, Recipes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The way to a man’s heart….. (Teresa’s Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe)

  1. Kinley Ardal says:

    I intend to try this recipe tonight! D: I have never done well with meatballs, so I will give this a shot and hopefully not screw it up.


    • Please let me know how it goes! The combination of higher-fat meat, whole milk, bread, and eggs really helps to bind the meatballs together; that’s why I tell people it’s so important not to go “low-fat” on the ingredients (I found that out through trial and error….). But half-and-half and heavy whipping cream make them fall apart, too – go figure.

      Even if the meatballs fall apart (my low-fat milk/meat experiment), you’ll still get the meaty-tasting goodness (but don’t try sauteing the meat mixture up separately – trust me when I tell you it turns into a goopy disaster!). It is VERY hard to screw this recipe up – and Lord knows I’ve tried.

      You’ll do fine –


  2. I. Pulleine says:

    Great tips for any cook, young or older. When our children were young I was the cook, and all the other jobs that accompany that delegation of duties. Then, John’s retirement and my continued employment sponsored a role change in our household duties. It wasn’ very long before he had mastered presenting menus for two that were nutritious as well as being lower in calories. He advised our daughters that “Anyone who can read can become good cooks. It worked and now one of our daughters is teaching one of her granddaughters to cook during the time that she is living nearby.


    • Yep – I never understood why anyone thought cooking was so hard; just follow the instructions….

      Of course, The Food Channel has given us so many more options! It’s funny how many college-aged girls (mine included) just love to tune in and get ideas –


  3. kerry says:

    this sounds very similar to the recipe my mom always made when i was a kid except she didn’t use bread crumbs she just used a couple slices of bread. i think i will try adding the oil from the meatballs to the sauce the next time i make it.


    • Sliced bread works great with this recipe; it’s what we used for years before our youngest was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Now we use gluten-free bread – we found one that is very similar to “regular” bread. The taste is slightly different, but close enough that we don’t mind! (I found out that I am allergic to wheat, and hubs is gluten intolerant, so it’s worked out well)


  4. Bob says:

    Thanks Teresa — I’m going to try this!


  5. beasn says:

    Simple is best.
    A few weeks ago, we had a ton of ripe tomatoes from our garden that needed to get used pronto, and I found a recipe for spaghetti sauce that comes very close to yours. Though I prefer basil to oregano – and it didn’t call for paste. Very light and tasty.

    Since the fresh tomatoes are now gone, I’ll have to give yours a try in the next few days. I’ll have to tweak the meatballs. (no milk)

    Btw, have you ever heard of Great Depression Cooking on youtube? It is a series of cooking shows with 96 year old Clara sharing her stories and mother’s recipes from the depression. I think you’ll get a kick out of them. (this one is of her tomato sauce)


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