An old standby dish, but a delicious one.
I suppose it is really a retro-Italian dish from the days when all Italian restaurants in the UK were called Trattorias and had red-and-white checked tablecloths and red candles stuck in empty, straw-covered Chianti fiasche.
Anyway, the meatballs are made from a mixture of minced beef and minced pork, with chopped parsley and thyme, grated lemon zest and some black pepper.
The mixture is simply rolled into balls and set aside to firm up. You can bind them with breadcrumbs, but I like them as pure meat. You can also add other flavourings, like some crumbled up dried red chilli, Parmesan cheese or even chopped black olives, but I prefer to keep them simple.
There are plenty of ways of making a tomato sauce but my favourite involves a soffritto of diced onion, celery, carrot and garlic, softened in olive oil, plus a tin of chopped tomatoes, a big squeeze of tomato purée, salt and pepper and some water. This is just simmered until reduced over a low heat. Again, you can add herbs and other flavours, anchovies or olives maybe, but for this dish you want to keep the flavours clean and not overpowering.
The meatballs are fried in some oil, drained and added to the sauce to finish cooking while the spaghetti cooks.
Once cooked, the pasta is drained and dressed with some unsalted butter and the meatballs and sauce are served on top of a bed of spaghetti and finished off with black pepper and Parmesan cheese.
An Italian red is clearly the classic accompaniment here; Valpolicella, Chianti, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or Barbera d’Asti will all go well. We drank a Chianti with ours because I think that a Sangiovese-based wine really works here.