Classic Spaghetti And Meatballs For A Crowd -- Or The Freezer

The holidays are coming, and I know we're all all over the fancy meals we're going to make, the parties we're planning to throw, and the extravagant desserts we're going to bake. But what about those in-between meals? Are you having many house guests during the holidays? If you are, I suggest a family-style meal like spaghetti and meatballs.

If you're not having many guests but you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands, the meatballs and sauce freeze really well. That's actually what I did. I made this for dinner one night and then filled three freezer bags with meatballs and sauce for future dinners.

Now, I know everyone has his own go-to sauce recipe and a good fallback meatball recipe, but I urge you to give this one a try. For starters, it uses buttermilk. Maybe it's just me, but I've never seen a recipe for meatballs that uses buttermilk. The tanginess of the buttermilk provides additional flavor. There's also gelatin in these, which is supposed to help plump up the meatballs. Who doesn't love a plump meatball? And lastly, there's one more secret ingredient in these meatballs: prosciutto. Try to refuse now. (I mean, as long as you're a meat eater.)

Ok, now that you're on board, there are a few things you should know. This recipe makes a ton of sauce. I thought I'd be fine using my 7.5 quart Le Creuset bouillabaisse pot, but I was wrong. I ended up having to divide the sauce between that and my French oven. Keep in mind that the meatballs and sauce cook together in the oven, so you need an oven-safe pot that is large enough to hold everything but not so large it doesn't fit in the oven. I ended up simmering some of the sauce on the stove in the French oven and then putting whatever fit in the bouillabaisse pot in the oven. And let me tell you, that bouillabaisse pot was so heavy when filled with the meatballs and sauce that I had to transfer it to the oven and then place the cover on it once it was in the oven. I enlisted Jeff to remove the pot from the oven for me when the sauce was done.

Was all this effort worth it? I say yes. We both loved the sauce and meatballs, and as I mentioned above, we now have some meatballs and sauce in the freezer waiting to become a future dinner. You and all your house guests are sure to love it.

Classic Spaghetti And Meatballs For A Crowd (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)



2 1/4 cups panko bread crumbs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
1 pound ground pork
6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped fine
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin, dissolved in 3 tablespoons cold water
Salt and ground black pepper


3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated onion from 1 to 2 onions (I used the grating blade on my food processor)
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
6 cups tomato juice (bottled)
3 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
6 tablespoons dry white wine
Salt and ground black pepper
Spaghetti (3 pounds if cooking for a crowd, otherwise just make what you need)
1/2 cup minced fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
Granulated sugar
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving


Make the meatballs: Place wire racks in 2 foil-lined rimmed baking sheets. Adjust oven racks to lower-middle and upper-middle positions, and preheat oven to 450 degrees. 

Combine bread crumbs and buttermilk in large bowl and let sit, mashing occasionally with fork, until a smooth paste forms, about 10 minutes.

Add eggs, beef, pork, prosciutto, Parmesan, parsley, garlic, gelatin mixture, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper to bread crumb mixture. Gently mix everything with your hands until thoroughly combined. 

Spray the wire racks with nonstick cooking spray (or rub them with olive oil). Form meatballs using about 1/4 cup of meat mixture per meatball, and space the meatballs out on the racks as you form them. You should end up with about 40 meatballs.

Roast until browned, about 30 minutes, rotating trays from front to back and top to bottom halfway through.

Make the sauce: While the meatballs roast, heat olive oil in a LARGE Dutch oven or other pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden around edges, 6 to 8 minutes. 

Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano, and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 

Stir in tomato juice, crushed tomatoes, wine, 1½ teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.

Remove meatballs from oven, and lower oven temperature to 300 degrees. Add meatballs to sauce, cover pot, and place in oven. (At this point, I separated the sauce into two different pots, added meatballs to both, and kept one on the stove. This is a good option if you don't have a big enough pot to fit everything in.) 

Cook until meatballs are firm and sauce has thickened, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. (I actually used linguine fini because I don't love the texture of spaghetti. I also recommend thin spaghetti and angel hair.)

Serve: Stir the basil and parsley into the sauce, and add sugar, salt, and pepper, as necessary. 

Toss the pasta with a little bit of sauce to coat it. Top pasta with meatballs and extra sauce. Sprinkle grated Parmesan on top, if desired.

The sauce had so much flavor. I had been a little leery of the recipe when I saw that it called for tomato juice, but as usual, Cook's Illustrated can be trusted to use the most interesting ingredients to turn out a spectacular end result. (I actually even used a little of the remaining tomato juice to thin the sauce a bit when we reheated some for dinner the next night.)

And the meatballs are definitely the best meatballs I've ever made. The only meatballs better than these are my mom's.

What dish do you like to make for a crowd? And what do you like to make large batches of to  fill your freezer for future meals?