OCTOBER 15, 2012



At home, Patrick McKee, executive chef at Paley’s Place in Portland, Oregon, works with a different kitchen brigade. His two children, Isabella, 12, and Henry, 8, often cook alongside Dad. Says McKee, “We’re like the Three Musketeers in the kitchen.”

One dish they make regularly is spaghetti and meatballs, a recipe that McKee, a Kansas City, Missouri, native who has lived in Portland, Oregon, since 1994, attributes to his mother. He shared all of his meatball-making secrets with Tasting Table, and gave us a spectacular workhorse recipe for tomato sauce that can be used on your next Big Night.



Patrick McKee's:
See Recipe See the recipe for Patrick McKee's Spaghetti and Meatballs



Mastering Meatballs

For his meatballs, McKee uses a recipe his grandmother adapted from a '40's era Woman's Day article. It contains ground beef, pork and veal but no breadcrumbs, so the meatballs are gluten-free. He browns his meatballs before adding them to the sauce, but in doing so, leaves them slightly underdone. Then he adds them to the hot tomato sauce to finish cooking.

Kids in the Kitchen

When it comes to cooking with kids, McKee encourages parents to “let your kids actually do stuff. Let them roll the meatballs. Let them chop the herbs. They’ll be more excited to eat something they helped cook.”

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Spaghetti and Meatballs


4 servings



Ground beef (80 percent lean), ½ pound

Ground veal, ¼ pound

Ground pork, ¼ pound

Large egg, 1

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, ¼ pound (finely grated)

Medium yellow onion, ½ (finely chopped)

Garlic, 3 cloves (finely chopped)

Flat-leaf parsley leaves, ¼ cup (finely chopped)

Kosher salt, ½ teaspoon

Freshly ground black pepper, ½ teaspoon

Extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons to ¼ cup


Extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons

Medium yellow onion, ½ (finely chopped)

Garlic cloves, 3 (thinly sliced)

Red pepper flakes, pinch

Dry white wine, ½ cup

Thyme sprigs, 3

Dried bay leaf, 1

Canned chopped tomatoes, one 15-ounce box or can (preferably Pomi or San Marzano)

Tomato paste, one 6-ounce can

Basil leaves, ½ cup (finely chopped)


Kosher salt, 2 tablespoons

Spaghetti, 1 pound

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, ¼ pound (finely grated)

Basil leaves, ½ cup (roughly chopped)


Mixing bowls

Microplane-style grater

Measuring cups and spoons

Chefs' knife

Cutting board

Large plate

Plastic wrap

Medium pot

Wooden spoon

Cast iron skillet


Large pot


Bowls for serving


1. Make the meatballs: In a medium mixing bowl, combine the

  • Ground beef
  • Ground veal
  • Ground pork
  • Large egg
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Finely chopped yellow onion
  • Finely chopped garlic
  • Finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Use your hands to mix the ingredients together until thoroughly combined, then form into 16 balls (each a little larger than a golf ball). Place the balls on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

2. Make the sauce: In a medium pot set over medium heat, add the

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Finely chopped yellow onion
  • Thinly sliced garlic
  • Red pepper flakes

Cook, using the wooden spoon to stir the onions often, until they are tender and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the

  • Dry white wine

Cook until the wine is nearly absorbed, 5 to 6 minutes. Then stir in the

  • Thyme sprigs
  • Bay leaf
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Tomato paste

Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for 1 hour, then stir in the

  • Chopped basil leaves

Turn off the heat and set aside.

3. Fry the meatballs: In a cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat, add

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Heat the oil until it shimmers, about 2 minutes, then add the shaped meatballs (you may need to cook them in batches and in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil depending upon the size of your pan) and cook until brown on all sides, 10 to 15 minutes total. Use the tongs to transfer the meatballs to the warm sauce. Once all of the meatballs are cooked, return the sauce to a simmer and cook until the meatballs are cooked through, about 10 minutes.

4. Make the pasta: Fill a large pot with water, add the salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the

  • Spaghetti

Cook until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes, then drain the pasta into a colander, saving ¼ cup of pasta water (to thin the sauce, if needed).

5. Divide the spaghetti into 4 bowls. Top each with a few meatballs and some sauce. Finish with the

  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Roughly chopped fresh basil
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