Rachel Allen shares her recipe for this delicious Italian-style treat


  • 100 g (31/2oz) gruyère cheese, grated
  • 400 g (14oz) spaghetti or other pasta, such as fettuccine, linguine or tagliatelle
  • 15 g (1/2oz) butter
  • for the meatballs:
  • 500g (1lb 2oz) minced beef or pork, or 250g (9oz) minced beef and 250g (9oz) minced pork
  • 1 small onion, peeled and grated or very finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely grated
  • 1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil, for frying
  • for the tomato sauce:
  • 1 x 400 g tin of chopped tomatoes, or 400g (14oz) ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tblsp sugar
  • 1 tblsp tomato paste
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 23 cm (9 in) diameter ovenproof dish


  • First make the meatballs. In a bowl, mix together the minced meat with the onion, garlic and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Set a large frying pan on a high heat, add a small drizzle of olive oil and allow it to get hot. Place a small amount of the meat mixture, about a teaspoonful, in the pan and cook. Then taste it for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or thyme to the meat mixture in the bowl if you think it needs it. When you’re happy with the flavour, roll the mixture into 24 balls.
  • Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil into the frying pan and place back on a high heat. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs or as many as will fit in easily with a bit of space in between. Cook, stirring or tossing frequently, for about 5 minutes or until well browned all over, then transfer to the ovenproof dish and set aside. Repeat with the remaining meatballs, if you’re cooking them in batches, adding more oil to the pan if necessary.
  • Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas mark 4.
  • As the meatballs cook, place all the ingredients for the sauce in a saucepan. Season with salt and pepper, then bring to a simmer and continue to simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened and the sauce thickened slightly.
  • Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs in the ovenproof dish and scatter over the grated cheese. Place the dish in the oven and cook for 15–20 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese melted and golden.
  • While the meatballs are in the oven, cook the spaghetti. Place a large saucepan of water on a high heat and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Add the pasta and cook for the length of time specified in the packet instructions or until al dente. Drain in a colander, retaining about 50ml (2fl oz) of the cooking liquid, then tip the pasta back into the pan with the reserved liquid and stir in the butter. Serve with the meatballs in tomato sauce.

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