spaghetti & meatballs (with fennel)spaghetti & meatballs (with fennel)spaghetti & meatballs (with fennel)spaghetti & meatballs (with fennel)spaghetti & meatballs (with fennel)spaghetti & meatballs (with fennel)spaghetti & meatballs (with fennel)spaghetti & meatballs (with fennel)spaghetti & meatballs (with fennel)

This comforting dish definitely has the flavors of ITALY but isn’t Italian in its form nor presentation nor originally an authentic Italian dish at all from Italy but actually an adaptation of a dish by Italian immigrants in America in the early 20th century. And yet, like modern-day versions of lasagna and pizza, it provides complete comfort and almost gluttonous satisfaction on a rainy and cold weekend after months of confinement and a slow-paced and hesitant return to quasi-normality.  

Borders are (or will be) slowly and soon opening up between most  countries, at least neighboring ones. This dish is also about blurring borders between traditions and modernity and making allowances to satisfy most folks. Mixes and adaptation bring more people together and refusing them usually brings problems and unrest and unfair treatments of newer ideas and ways of living … Need I say more ?

Like this dish, you start off with good ingredients like the tonic beef and pork (or replace with veal) and grated fennel meatballs I made years ago and of which I often have a stock of in my freezer, and you layer the different elements and flavors with a home-made tomato sauce, later combined with pasta, to create something special.

Whether its original and authentic or not, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s good and can satisfy and feed many people all around the same table in a merrily fashion.

Concerning the fresh fennel bulb-flavored meatballs, I find it’s better to partly oven-bake them first, so they don’t break up while frying, since they’re relatively small (about 2 tbsp each) and then I recuperate the juices at the bottom of the baking dish, fry up the meatballs in olive oil in the large pan in which I’ll make the sauce, to develop a nice golden crust and then remove them to make the tomato sauce, in which I add those reserved  juices and fats to flavor the tomato sauce which is also accentuated with crushed fennel seeds, and finally I add the meatballs back in and let everything gently simmer until the pasta is ready. 

For the proportions, I like to have twice as much tomato sauce or 1 kg, as compared to the weight of the cooked meatballs or 500 grams and an almost equal weight or amount of cooked pasta, as compared to the sauce with meatballs. In this case, you’ll end up with almost 1,5 kg of prepared sauce (1 kg of tomato sauce and 500 grams of meatballs) and approximately 1,25 kg of cooked pasta, but you can make more or less pasta, depending on your preferences.

That’s the end of my spaghetti & meatballs story, so have a nice weekend and see you soon … :)

spaghetti & meatballs (with fennel)


4-6 servings (1,5 kg without the pasta)


meatballs (see tonic beef & pork & fennel meatballs recipe here, but make only half for this recipe) :

  • 600 grams raw meatballs (20 meatballs x 30 grams each)
  • 45 ml (3 tbsp) olive oil (for oven-baking and then frying)

tomato sauce : 

  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) red wine (to deglaze the pan)
  • 150 grams (½ cup + 2 tbsp) onions (and/or shallots), grated
  • 15 grams (1 ½ tbsp) garlic, crushed
  • 1,5 grams (3 whole) bay leaves
  • 50-60 ml (¼ cup) of cooking juices from oven-baked meatballs
  • 800 grams (1 large can or 3 ½ cups) crushed tomatoes (or a combination with half crushed tomatoes and half chopped fresh tomatoes)
  • 120 grams (½ cup) tomato paste, double-concentrated
  • 120 ml (½ cup) vegetable cocktail juice (or add more crushed tomatoes)
  • 10 grams (2 tsp) fine sea salt
  • 2 grams (2 tsp) dried oregano leaves
  • 1 gram (½ tsp) fennel seeds, ground
  • 1 gram (¼ tsp) black peppercorns, ground
  • 0,5 gram (¼ tsp) allspice peppercorns, ground
  • 0,5 gram (¼ tsp) coriander seeds, ground
  • 3 grams (4 tsp) fresh basil leaves
  • 1,5 grams (2 tsp) fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • optional : 0,5 gram ( ¼ tsp) dried chili pepper seeds

pasta :

  • 500 grams spaghetti (dry weight or 1125-1250 grams boiled weight)
  • 25 grams (4 tbsp) parmesan cheese, freshly grated


  • prepare the 20 meatballs (see the tonic beef & pork & fennel meatballs recipe here but make only half the recipe; or make the full recipe and freeze half)
  • preheat the oven to 200°C
  • place the 20 meatballs on a baking pan with baking paper brushed with 1 tbsp olive oil and bake for 10 minutes until firmer, remove and let partly cool and then strain the juices and fats on the bottom of the baking pan from the baked meatballs into a cup and reserve
  • *note : 600 grams of raw meatballs will yield 475-500 grams of partly oven-baked meatballs with 50-60 ml remaining liquid & fats …
  • add 3 tbsp of olive oil in a large pan and fry the meatballs at medium-high heat for 5 minutes, turning them over occasionally until they develop a golden crust, then remove and reserve
  • add 2 tbsp of red wine to the hot pan at medium-high heat and scrape the bottom of the pan to recuperate the caramelized juices from the meatballs and until most of the wine evaporates (add a bit more olive oil if necessary), add the grated onions and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the crushed garlic, the bay leaves, the salt and ground spices and simmer for another 2 minutes and finally add the reserved juices and fats from the oven-baked meatballs, stir well and add the crushed and/or fresh chopped tomatoes, the tomato paste, the vegetable cocktail juice and let simmer at medium-low heat with a cover for 15-20 minutes, then add the meatballs and fresh herbs and let simmer for another 15 minutes at medium-low heat, cover with a lid and keep warm at very low heat
  • boil the spaghetti in salted water (about 1 tbsp coarse salt per liter of water) until al dente or firm, then strain, reserve ½ cup of the pasta water and add to the sauce if too thick
  • when ready to serve, remove the meatballs (to avoid breaking them up while mixing the pasta with the sauce) and set aside, combine the pasta with the tomato sauce, serve in 4 plates, add the meatballs on top and sprinkle with more fresh herbs, freshly grated parmesan and dried chili pepper seeds …