If you were to rave on social media about last night’s spaghetti with meatballs you twirled furiously at your favorite “Italian” restaurant, you’d likely be blasted with warnings from the Italian Food Purity Alliance. They’d fill your comment list with the likes of, “Spaghetti and meatballs doesn’t exist in Italy! It is not Italian food! You don’t know anything. You should be a politician!”
Yes, spaghetti combined with meatballs all thrown together on one plate is an American idea.
Italians, loath to cut pasta with a fork, would be aghast at the idea of tomato-moistened baseballs of meat resting on some defenseless strands of spaghetti. Any human of sound mind might be tempted to cut the Gigantic Meatballs of America with a fork, injuring tens of spaghetti strands in the process, collateral damage injurious to the Italian spirit and darned difficult to deal with for anyone trying not to make a scene. Double jeopardy if a white shirt is warn.
If you are typically American you might push back. Italians do, in fact eat spaghetti and (largish) meatballs! They just don’t eat them together. Ever. You cook the meatballs in a tomato sauce, separate the meatballs from the sauce if you like to be used on spaghetti or other pasta shape of your choice, and serve the naked meatballs as a separate dish, a main course or secondo piatto.
To fudge things even further, one could, with some searching and maybe the help of an Italian aunt, head off to Puglia and find a decent plate of Orecchiette maritate con polpettine. This is “little ear” pasta “married” with macaroni. The meatballs are maybe the size of walnuts. Still way too puny for Americans. Besides, you’d be lucky to find these in a restaurant.
Polpettine are indeed “little meatballs”. They are made with the addition of bread, just like the larger polpettone. But in Abruzzo you might come across the ultimate in meatball smallness: spaghetti alla chitarra con pallotine. Here the “ball” of meat is about the size of a ceci, or garbanzo bean. The ball has lost its bread filler because it’s not needed; the quickly cooked seasoned meat balls are tender enough as they are. they are served with a special kind of spaghetti called spaghetti alla chitarra, a pasta made from wheat more coarsely ground than the typo 00 normally used, so it’s more rustic and has more texture. The dough is rolled out and pressed through a series of steel wires that look like a guitar. Hence the name.
Now we have a manageable pasta/sauce/meat combo. Spear a ball and twirl. Delicious. No splash of red on the ol’ shirt.
The problem is that this is no normal pasta, it’s festa food, food of celebration. Not usually available in restaurants, but worth searching out.