Spaghetti and Bulgur Meatballs | frites & fries

A couple years ago, my friend Victor and I used to live stupidly close to each other in Murray Hill so we would sometimes call each other up to cause trouble. By trouble, I mean eating. One night we had huge craving for spaghetti and meatballs but we couldn’t find any good recommendations for Italian-American places. Not the places in Little Italy (Torrisi and Parm weren’t open then!) and definitely not the Olive Garden in Times Square.

Between a spoiled chef’s girlfriend and a culinary school graduate, we were food snobs who were too lazy to make the trek to Arthur Avenue. We finally remembered this Italian restaurant that was not too far from us that we were very curious about; we had walked by it enough times to notice that no one ever went in…or out. We had wondered if it was, well, a little mob-ish but we were so desperate and hungry. We stuck to each other side-by-side like glue and went in. Like a mob movie, the only person in there was an older gentleman in a booth, speaking loudly in a heavy Italian accent before he started angry-whispering to his lady companion when we walked in. Stereotypes aside, things only got worse from there: we walked out of there with $25 less in each of our pockets for sub par spaghetti and meatballs. Lesson learned: I’m going to make it myself from now on.


This version of spaghetti and meatballs has one interesting twist to it: there is bulgur, a cereal often used in tabbouleh, in the meatballs.


For 6 servings (adapted from Eating Well):


  • 1/3 c. bulgur
  • 8 oz. ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1 c. breadcrumbs

Sauce & Spaghetti     

  • 4 c. prepared marinara sauce
  • 1/2 c. chopped basil leaves
  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan (optional)*
  • Additional Italian basil leaves, to garnish (optional)

Soak the bulgur according to package directions. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine ground beef, onion, egg, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs and the soaked bulgur in a large bowl; mix well. Form the mixture into 24 1” meatballs. Place the meatballs on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Let the meatballs rest for five minutes.


In a saucepan, bring the marinara sauce to a simmer. Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in basil. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a serving bowl. Top with the sauce and meatballs and serve with the grated cheese.


P.S. Smithsonian has a great article on the history of spaghetti and meatballs on their blog. Saveur Magazine has an interesting one too on the history of Italian-American cuisine.

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