This is a family recipe via my mother, via her grandmother, aka my great-grandmother (yes, it skipped a generation: my grandma Clara). It's a saucy soupy thing with two parts: First, the sauce and meatballs, which are a classic Sunday supper staple. The second, a soup you can make with any leftover dregs of aforementioned sauce; it lays on the comfort (and packs plenty of cheese). I'm giving you the whole lot here on this recipe page: both epic sauce and humble pantry dish, i.e. Spaghetti Soup. You could very well cut the sauce recipe in half if what you're really after is the soup; or if you're lazy and only want the soup and nothing but the soup, then maybe use your favorite jarred tomato sauce where it calls for "Sauce." The joy of making your own sauce, though, is that you end up with meatballs. My nana's meatballs are special because there's no chopping whatsoever—she came up with these in an admittedly more austere age, but they still hold up. So much flavor, lots of bread crumbs, and pantry staples alone make for meatballs that are, for me, peak family comfort food. —Celeste Scollan
Test Kitchen Notes
Featured in: Nana's Spaghetti Soup: Not Your Typical Italian Grandma Story.
"The spareribs are a nice chef's treat." —Josh Cohen
- Prep time 40 minutes
- Cook time 2 hours 30 minutes
- Serves 6 to 8
- Spaghetti Soup
broken-up spaghetti pieces (if using thicker-cut noodles such as ditalini, then you might want to scale back on the pasta or up the water amount)
Sauce, recipe below (plus more as needed; see Note)
Pecorino Romano, plus more as desired
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Italian sausage, left in casings (sweet or spicy, dealer's choice)
medium-sized yellow onion, peeled
(28-ounce) cans San Marzano tomatoes, either crushed or whole (if whole, whiz in a blender first)
dried parsley (you can use fresh, too, but Nana always used dried)
ground beef (90/10)
Italian bread crumbs
freshly ground black pepper
- Spaghetti Soup
- In a large pot, bring water to a boil (note: this will serve as part of the soup base, not to be drained at the end!). Once boiling, season generously with kosher salt and add the spaghetti. Cook 2 to 3 minutes short of al dente (the pasta will sit in the hot water for a bit and continue to cook in its own heat). Remove from the heat but DO NOT drain.
- To the pot, add the Sauce, Pecorino Romano, salt, and lots of pepper. Serve immediately (or freeze some for later; it's a cozy treat).
- Note: If you want a more robust, saucy flavor, feel free to add more, well, Sauce! I like it when it’s a creamy pink—the more sauce you add, the darker it’ll be.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Once it’s just shimmering, cook the ribs and sausage in batches, until they’re golden on the outside. It’s okay if they’re not totally cooked all the way through—they’ll simmer for an hour later.
- Remove the meat from the pot and set aside to cool, then add the onion to the pot, whole. Let it brown on one side for a couple of minutes (you can do this on multiple sides if you'd like; this is just to get a little color on the onion before it floats in the sauce for the rest of the time). Once the onion’s light-medium brown on one side, add the crushed tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Leave on medium heat until it starts to bubble, then lower it to a simmer and let it go. The sauce will simmer like this for 1 hour.
- While you wait for that to simmer, make the meatballs: In a bowl, mix together the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, 1/3 cup dried parsley, Pecorino Romano, salt, and pepper with your hands until it makes a homogenous mixture. Using your hands, or a 1-inch ice-cream scoop, form the meatballs (if using your hands, about the size of a golf ball) and place them on a baking sheet.
- Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes. Set aside until the sauce has finished simmering for an hour (if the sauce goes over an hour while waiting for meatballs, that’s okay! It just needs a minimum of 1 hour).
- Once the sauce has simmered for an hour, add the meatballs, sausage, spareribs, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup dried parsley and simmer 30 minutes more.
- Serve with pasta or turn into Spaghetti Soup.