Spaghetti and Meatballs: Lemon Edition

This recipe is adapted from those wonderful people at Milk Street who bring the flavors of the Mediterranean into our own kitchens. Christopher Kimball has introduced me to a variety of new flavors and recipes including tasty sumac, eggah for breakfast and homemade pita bread. Sometimes spaghetti and meatballs can be a very heavy meal but this variation on the traditional recipe is incredibly light and refreshing. Even better, it’s two meals in one. Feel free to make just the meatballs and serve them with pita or a side of buttered pasta. They’re flavored with garlic, oregano, and a healthy dose of lemon juice. I often make the Lemon Pesto Spaghetti whenever I’m craving a quick meal. Spaghetti al pesto di limone hails from Italy’s Amalfi coast which is absolutely bursting with lemon trees. The Amalfi coast is also known for their limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur. Unlike traditional basil pesto, this recipe combines sliced almonds and lemon zest. Lemon zest is also added to the pasta cooking water so that oils from the zest imbue the cooked spaghetti with flavor and reinforce the lemony notes of the pesto. Make both the spaghetti and meatballs for a substantial meal or just one for a flavorful lemon-infused meal. 

Spaghetti and Meatballs: Lemon Edition

Serves 4-6

Adapted from Christopher Kimball’s Tuesday Nights: Milk Street Mediterranean

Meatballs with Lemon Sauce


  • 1 cup cooked long-grain white rice
  • 2 slices white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
  • 1 cup beef broth, divided
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley, divided
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, mash the rice with an avocado masher or a fork until grains are mushy. Add the bread, ¼ cup of beef broth, 2 tablespoons minced parsley, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Stir well. 
  2. To the mixing bowl, add the ground beef, 1 egg yolk, half of the garlic, and 1 teaspoon of dried oregano. Mix until blended. Divide the mixture into approximately 12 meatballs. Place on a broiler pan and brush each meatball with olive oil. Bake 15-20 minutes until an instant read thermometer measures 145 degrees. 
  3. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over med-high heat. Add the remaining minced garlic and 1 teaspoon of dried oregano. Cook for 30 seconds. Add ¾ cup beef broth. Cook 4-5 minutes until sauce has thickened. Stir 2 tablespoons of parsley into the sauce along with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper, to taste. 
  4. Place meatballs on a serving dish or place 2 meatballs on each serving dish over top of the Lemon Pesto Spaghetti. Spoon sauce over the meatballs. 

Spaghetti with Lemon Pesto


  • 4 lemons, zest removed in long strips (avoid the white pith)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • ½ cup sliced almonds
  • ½ grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
  • Salt and Pepper


  1. In a large pot, combine 2 quarts water, 2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, and half of the lemon zest strips. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the zest and discard. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Before draining the pasta, reserve 1½ cups of the cooking water.
  2. In a food processor fitted with a blade attachment, process the uncooked lemon zest strips, almonds, parmesan, ½ teaspoon sugar, and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Blend until finely ground. Add the oil and process until the olive oil is incorporated into the mixture. 
  3. Return the spaghetti to the pot in which it cooked and add the pesto mixture and ¾ cup of the reserved pasta water. Toss to combine. Add more reserved pasta water, if needed. Stir in the chives and season with salt and pepper, to taste. 
  4. Serve the pasta on its own or topped with Meatballs and Lemon Sauce. 

Related Recipes:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.