Joseph O’Connor’s Spaghetti & meatballs

The tenth in a series of posts that bring together the two sides of my blog: Food and technology. I’ve asked the great and the good from the web standards community to share their favourite recipes. This beautifully written Italian recipe is from Joseph Karr O’Connor.


Enough for three people (for a week in my house).


Sauce ingredients

  • 3 28oz/795g cans tomato puree (pasata in the UK).
  • 1 28oz/795g can crushed/chopped tomatoes.
  • 1 12oz/400g can tomato paste (puree in the UK).
  • Pinch of sugar.
  • Pinch of salt.
  • 3tbsp Italian seasoning (equal measures of Basil, Marjoram, Thyme, Orregano and Rosemary.

Meatball ingredients

  • 1lb/450g ground/minced top sirloin.
  • 1cup/60g breadcrumbs.
  • 1 egg.

Josephe’s notes: In the USA top sirloin is below the sirloin and the tenderloin but above the bottom sirloin which is behind the short loin. I believe in the UK that would come somewhere in the rump. Pain in the rump you say? You just want 90 to 92 percent lean ground (minced) beef.

Other ingredients

  • 5 Italian sausages (hot or mild to taste).
  • Wedge of Locatelli Romano (Parmesan is the closest in the UK).
  • Angel hair pasta.

Josephe’s notes: you can use any pasta you like, sometimes I like to use shells, my wife, Linda, prefers full bore spaghetti. Advanced: make your own pasta.


Method for sauce

  1. Wash the can tops and dry, then open them and pour the crushed (chopped) tomatoes into an 8 quart/7.5l pot.
  2. Stir in the Italian seasoning, then place the pot on a medium-low heat and spoon in the tomato paste (puree), followed by the puree (passata).
  3. Add a bit of sugar and salt, taste and adjust. You want a bit of sugar to take the edge off the tomato tartness, but then you’ll need a bit of salt to
    keep it from being too sweet.
  4. Bring it to the boil with the lid ajar, then turn down the heat and simmer the sauce all day.

Josephe’s notes: I use a long handled wooden spoon to stir. If the sauce starts to stick to the bottom of the pot, reduce the heat some and use the spoon to scrape it back into the mix.

Steam will condense on the lid, pour that off into the sink. You want to reduce the sauce over a long cooking time so be sure to keep pouring the liquid off the lid.

Caution: bubbling hot sauce will spurt at you when you open the lid. That’s where the long handled spoon comes in handy. I stick the spoon in and start stirring using the lid as a shield.

Method for breadcrumbs

  1. Lay some bread on a cookie sheet (baking tray) and put it in a medium oven until it goes crunchy.
  2. Use a food processor to crush it up. You don’t want the breadcrumbs reduced to powder, stop when there are still pea sized chunks left.

Josephe’s notes: Once I have the sauce simmering I make the breadcrumbs. I use sourdough bread, you can use whatever you have around. I make sandwiches with the large pieces and breadcrumbs with the smaller end pieces. I store up the ends in the freezer until I’m ready to make a batch. Pro tip: I keep all my bread in the freezer and toast it when ready to use so it’s always fresh.

Method for meatballs

  1. With the meat at room temperature, place it in a bowl with a cup of breadcrumbs and mix them thoroughly (but not excessively).
  2. Crack the raw egg into the bowl, mixing it around until it’s absorbed. Don’t knead the life out of it, but mix it well.
  3. Scoop a small amount of meatball mix into your hand and roll it into a small ball, then repeat the process with the rest of the mixture.
  4. Fry the meatballs in a non-stick pan with some olive oil until they’re browned. You can tell when they’re done when they don’t have any soft spots. You don’t have to cook them through and through, they’ll continue cooking in the sauce.
  5. Put the browned meatballs into the pot of sauce, keep stirring and pour off the liquid from time to time.

Josephe’s notes: Store any leftover breadcrumbs in the freezer for next time.

Method for sausages

  1. Grill the sausages until browned. You don’t need to cook them thoroughly, they will continue cooking in the sauce.
  2. After grilling the sausages, let them sit for 10 minutes or so before cutting them up. If you used a mix of hot and mild sausages, you can differentiate them in the next step.
  3. Cut the sausages into serving sized pieces. I always cut hot Italian sausages on the bias, and mild ones across (this makes them Perceivable, Operable
    and Understandable).
  4. When you have your pieces of sausage ready, into the pot they go. Keep stirring the pot from time to time, and keep pouring off the steam condensing on the lid into the sink.

Josephe’s notes: In dry weather and in torrential downpours, at night and during the day, all year I use an outdoor propane grill. I grill the sausages, being very careful not to burn them. This requires constant turning. You may not have a grill for your sausages. Get one. Otherwise, use whatever barbarous method you may have of browning the sausages.

Method for pasta

  1. In a 4 quart/3.75l pot, put about 3 quarts/2.75l water with some salt.
  2. With the water boiling grab a handful of angel hair pasta (about half a 1lb/225g box).
  3. Put the end of the angel hair into the water, then whilst stirring with the pasta gently force it to bend into the water. Stir it with a fork to make sure it’s all immersed, and to keep it separated.
  4. Set the timer for 4 minutes, then drain the pasta into a collander and rinse immediately with cold water to stop it sticking together.

Josephe’s notes: A method for boiling pasta? Really? Yes, really. People use far too much water when boiling pasta. It doesn’t take much boiling to cook angel hair pasta, which is one reason I prefer it. After all, I’ve just spent the better part of a day preparing to eat, the last step needs to be fast!

Method for serving

  1. heap a mound of spaghetti into a large bowl such as a vegetable serving dish, cut up a meatball and a few sausage pieces onto it, then smother it with sauce.
  2. Onto this, grate some Locatelli Romano (Parmesan) using a coarse grinder for that rustic touch. Serve steaming hot.
  3. Congratulazioni! Beware of nocturnal meatball thieves.

Joseph’s notes: play the soundtrack by Nino Rota to Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits on your stereo.

Joseph’s notes: My parents emigrated from Ireland to New York in the late 1940s. The Italian women in the neighborhood took one look at my painfully thin dad and proceeded to teach my mom Italian cooking. You should have tasted her lasagna. Magnifico!

The first time my dad saw a dish of spaghetti he thought it was worms. This basic dish, spaghetti and meatballs, fed us all for days each time mom made it. Nothing beat a meatball sandwich the day after. It was, and still is, my ultimate comfort food.

My daughter, Siobhan, using her speech generating device, starts asking for spaghetti just before the fall weather begins. Then I truly know it’s that time of the year again.

1 comment on “Joseph O’Connor’s Spaghetti & meatballs”

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  1. Comment by Jake

    Bring me some of that spaghetti with meatballs por favor! Grazie, muchas gracias! With extra sauce and cheese! Okay okay, I actually found a link to this site in the Show Notes on . I have been listening to that podcast pretty much ever since Pete and Nancy started doing it, and they really do a good job. I have been a PC user since the mid-90’s and have developed a keen interest in accessibility issues both on land and online.

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