I grew up eating spaghetti and meatballs, and it remains one of my favorite comfort foods. I have no problem eating ready-made meatballs with jarred sauce, but gluten-free meatballs can be tough to find. And while you can adapt most meatball recipes by using gluten-free breadcrumbs, good luck finding those in your local grocery store.
I adapted this recipe for gluten-free meatballs and spaghetti from the fabulous The Best Recipe cookbook, which calls for yogurt to keep the meatballs moist. I subbed almond flour for the traditional breadcrumbs, which helps bind the meatballs without adding a bread-y or corn-y flavor. My one big gripe with the recipe mentioned above is the lack of multi-tasking. It suggests making the meatballs first and then using the meatball pan to make your sauce. But the sauce needs at least 40 minutes to cook (honestly, the longer, the better, up to 4 hours). I tried this, and we ate at 9 p.m. Not great.
I get wanting to incorporate all those delicious bits from the meatballs in the sauce, but starting the sauce right away is key. This allows the rich tomato flavor can develop while you work on the meatballs and the pasta. I didn’t want to miss out on those yummy meatball bits, so I simply cooked the onions and garlic in the meatball pan and added those to the sauce after it had been simmering for nearly an hour. Multi-tasking is a busy person’s friend!
These gluten-free meatballs are heavenly, so be sure to snag one or two after they’re cooked, while finishing the sauce. I call this the cook’s tax. After all, it’s always good to taste your food. You won’t be disappointed by these meatballs – they’re crusty on the outside and nice and moist in the middle. But the almond meal lends them sticking power, so they won’t fall apart in your sauce.
These gluten-free meatballs and spaghetti call for a glass of red wine, and maybe a simple salad beforehand, if you feel like it. Buon appetito!
Gluten-Free Meatballs and Spaghetti
For the sauce
- 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, diced (2 teaspoons if using dried)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon anchovy paste
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
For the meatballs
- ⅓ cup plain yogurt, preferably Greek
- 1 tablespoon water (exclude if using traditional yogurt instead of Greek)
- ¼ cup almond meal or almond flour
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- ⅓ pound mild Italian ground pork
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped fine (or 2 teaspoons dried)
- ¼ cup Parmesan, finely grated
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Canola or other neutral oil
For the spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 pound gluten-free spaghetti
- Grated Parmesan for serving
- Get the sauce started first so flavor has time to develop: Combine tomatoes, basil, salt, anchovy paste and sugar in a large pot and heat over medium. Stir well and allow it to simmer away. (For a simplified version with pre-made sauce, see notes.)
- While sauce is cooking, combine yogurt, water and almond meal/flour in medium bowl and stir well. Mixture should be the consistency of thin batter. If it seems too thick, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Add remaining meatball ingredients except the oil and mix with hands until mixture is uniform in appearance and parsley is visible throughout.
- Form meatballs about 1 ¼ inches in diameter with cupped hands in a rolling motion. You should end up with about 16 meatballs, but don’t worry if you end up with more or fewer – uniform size is the most important thing here.
- Take a minute here to check on your sauce – give it a good stir and reduce heat slightly if it’s bubbling too aggressively.
- Heat canola or other oil in a 12-inch cast-iron or saute pan over medium-high heat. The oil should completely cover the bottom of the pan, about ¼ inch deep. When oil starts to smoke, add in half the meatballs, taking care to space them evenly to avoid crowding. Cook about 10 minutes, turning meatballs with tongs roughly every 3 minutes to ensure an even cook. Meatballs should have a dark, crusty exterior. Set cooked meatballs aside on a paper-towel lined plate. Cook remaining meatballs in same oil (adding more if necessary) and set side.
- Reduce heat under meatball pan to medium and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat. Add onions and cook about 7 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the meatballs. When onions start to look translucent, add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add onions and garlic to sauce and stir. Taste sauce and add salt or pepper to taste. If sauce is too acidic, add a pinch of sugar. Add meatballs to sauce and stir carefully, ensuring each meatball is coated in sauce. Turn heat to medium-low to ensure meatballs stay hot while you cook the pasta.
- Fill a large stockpot with liberally salted water and cook spaghetti according to package directions. Once pasta is cooked to your liking, drain and give it a drizzle of olive oil.
- Taste sauce again and adjust salt, pepper or sugar if needed.
- Serve meatballs and sauce over pasta, and sprinkle a small (or large) heap of Parmesan on top. Enjoy!
Looking for more homey gluten-free dinners? Try my lemon basil risotto, spicy sausage Tuscan soup or saffron chicken and rice.