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Does authentic Itallian spaghetti sauce (w/meatballs) have wine in it?

I recently found a new recipe for spaghetti and meat balls thats really tasty from gourmet magazine. The sauce is really basic, whole tomatos, garlic and onion, but is really really good. The one thing that suprised is that there is no wine in it. I was always told that authentic Itallian spaghetti sauce always had wine in it. I'm going to make it again, should I try it with some wine this time?

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  1. Spaghetti and meatballs is not a classic dish.

    It's more like a dish one makes to use up meatballs from the dinner before.

    But, yes, usually, meatballs with tomato sauce has wine.

    1. For anyone to say something is "authentic", there will somedody that will say it is not.

      1 Reply
      1. I believe spaghetti and meatballs is more of Italian American creation...
        My family is Italian American, and we never put wine in any of our red sauces while growing up. Probably for economic reasons! I never felt anything was missing, so
        It took me a long time before I started adding wine in to my sauces.

        The thing about "Italian" recipes is that there is no "one" recipe for anything! different family's have different recipes for each and every sauce or dish.
        There is no right way or wrong way...you tweak it to your own taste.

        And adding a bit of wine to the recipe you have certainly can't hurt!

        8 Replies
        1. re: NellyNel

          Not being even remotely Italian on either side, except by sentiment, I'll just say that if I'm cooking a tomato sauce for pasta, meatballs or no meatballs, and I have a glass of wine in my hand at the time (a frequent occurrence), I am very likely to say Oh the hell with it and dump it into the sauce. Can't hurt, usually helps, and it gives me a good excuse to pour myself another. A winner on all counts.

          1. re: Will Owen

            Will Owen, I am with you. Same goes for german sausage, braised cabbage and beer. Adds a whole new dimension.

            1. re: Will Owen

              Here here, I'm with you Will. If it goes with my food then it should go with my food. Bottoms up!

              1. re: Will Owen

                Love that Will. Great way to cook.

                As has been said above, there's no real "Authentic" Italian other than use as fresh ingredients as you can get. Italians don't plan dinner and buy groceries. They buy groceries and then plan dinner. If they have some wine on hand, they'll put it in, if not, no.

                Tomatoes have some alcohol soluble flavours so adding some wine will open up the tomato flavour. Much like salt will. So in theory it will produce a better sauce.


                1. re: Davwud

                  I like this answer, Davwud. I cook Italian food about 4 times per week, and might splash some red wine in a tomato sauce or some white wine in an oil-based sauce once or twice per month just for something different, and because I've got it handy and open. I tend to be more of a purist when it comes to simple tomato sauce, and I like to allow good Italian tomatoes to be the star. I would not say that wine is a necessary part of red sauce for meatballs.
                  Of course there are many sauces/dishes I make that absolutely require wine, but that's a separate discussion.

                  1. re: Davwud

                    I'm going to confess something here: my most likely moment for using wine is when I'm adding some store-bought sauce to my own combination of soffrito and tomatoes, something I do frequently. After I've emptied the jar I pour in some wine, put the lid on and shake it well to rinse it out, then add that to the pan. The long cold rainy days I require to spend all day making a marinara from scratch just don't come around too often here in LA County...

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      Will, marinara from scratch takes ten minutes. Gleep! Americans don't know what a marinara is.

                      1. re: Father Kitchen

                        I'm sure you're right about that, and I'm actually talking about something I cook sometimes that is like what I get in jars otherwise. Whatever you call THAT (I like either Classico or Newman's Own) emphatically does not take ten minutes. What does take ten minutes is the one I had repeatedly in Puglia, and finally got the method from two sisters from Bari I sat with on the plane:

                        Peeled, seeded tomatoes (canned or fresh), squeeze very dry. Heat olive oil, throw in chopped garlic. Cook until just fragrant, then add the tomatoes, chop and cook until you're happy with it. I usually splash a little wine into that along towards the end, just 'cause that's the kind of guy I am...

              2. The way i learned to make meatballs and sauce was to brown the meatballs on all sides and then add crushed tomatoes (fresh when in season) salt, pepper and fresh basil and simmer the meatballs in the sauce for 20 minutes.

                1. Having been raised with much time devoted to various kitchens within our family, much of it involving cooking with the Italian members of the family, I would first raise the point that Italian "sauce" (that red stuff you see on spaghetti) is called gravy; not sauce. Most of the "authentic" Italians I've cooked along side of (several from the "old country") would never put meat balls in their gravy. They might serve the meat balls and offer gravy on the side if the guest wished to pour it on their serving, but never drowned in a pan of the gravy prior to serving. Meat balls cooked in sauce is more traditionally a German style of cooking. But we are the world's cultural melting pot so we can be forgiven for our adaptations of foreign cooking styles.
                  Is wine used in making the gravy. Some of it gets into the gravy, the rest of it is shared among the cooks and their helpers. I've often wondered if that was borrowed from the French. One never knows. ;=}

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: todao

                    Well, also coming from a long history of, you know, I beg to differ. Small meatballs were always part of the Sunday gravy (along with everything from beef and pork chunks to ribs, pork and beef braciole, dry and sweet sausage, the piece of pork skin called coutenna for smoothness, and sometimes a piece of chicken and a hard boiled egg). We'd rarely have meatballs in gravy alone. In no case was wine a part of the sauce. Or gravy. Onion, garlic, tomato paste, whole plum tomatoes hand crushed, basil, parsley.
                    I do make meatballs in sauce now, and enjoy them like this immensely.

                    1. re: todao

                      My family calls it sauce, but we're not from Sicily, and it seems descendants of that region are the ones that often call it gravy. But isn't that only the English translation anyway?

                      Meatballs we cook in the sauce, but serve separately.

                      Wine is used in our family to deglaze the pan after frying the meat, and then just a little more to get the extra tomato out of the cans. It's a great excuse to open a fresh bottle anyway!

                      1. re: coll

                        coll, do you have a favorite red to use with your Italian sauces?

                        1. re: Val

                          Cheap chianti style would be fine, nothing too expensive, whatever I'm sampling at the time. Mom in law exclusively used Gallo Hearty Burgandy, and she was my mentor, but I stopped stocking that long ago. It's really just a splash into a giant pot, so not as important as good quality tomatoes! Right now I have one I love, it's Sicilian, delicious, and for some reason my store sells it for $6.99. http://bestofsicily.com/mag/art152.htm That is the type When it disappears, I'll move on though, I like to play around.

                          1. re: coll

                            great to know...I usually use Chianti also...can you tell me the Sicilian that you currently use? I might have it available here too! Thank you, coll!

                            1. re: Val

                              Here's the brand with a picture of the bottle so you can recognize it
                              order a case if you have to, it won't cost you all that much and you'll amaze your friends PS if that price is per bottle, I'm going to faint. Has to be per case.

                              1. re: coll

                                Coll, that was very nice of you...the Arancio Nero D'Avola was really great! Found it for $10 at Total Wine; used it in a tomato-based sauce tonight and enjoyed a glass. Thanks!

                                1. re: Val

                                  I'm so glad you found it, my store had it for a year or so but now not lately. I'm going to look again because it was great to have around, and everyone always admired it. Good to know it's still around!

                                  1. re: coll

                                    I meant to type "last night" ... anyway, it gets some very nice reviews at cellartracker, too:

                    2. With the appeal for "authentic" spaghetti and meatballs -- you will by now have gathered -- you have opened up a much larger subject than you probably intended. Spaghetti and meatballs is an authentic Italian-American specialty, not Italian, and for that I will defer to those who know that tradition better than I do. Here in Rome (I don't want to generalize about all of Italy), we make our meatballs in abundant tomato sauce but serve them as a main course with a small amount of sauce and preferably with mashed potatoes on the side. Most of the sauce is reserved to be served separately over pasta. It's usually made without wine, but you could add a splash to the pan after browning the meat and let it cook away, then add the tomatoes.
                      Tiny meatballs are used in some labor-intensive southern pasta dishes, such as certain lasagnas, and sartù di riso.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mbfant

                        That's how i learned to make meatballs. I prefer the meatballs as a stand alone dish. The richness of the sauce or gravy or whatever you want to call the wet stuff, I use for pasta or pizza or that american invention the meatball grindah.

                        1. re: mbfant

                          This is exactly what my family served on Sundays when I was growing up, though usually substituting salad and bread for the potato. We are Italian-American, for the most part, some of us having been born in, or lived at one time in Italy. My Sicilian-born-and-raised boyfriend, however, is the only one who insists on eating his pasta and meatballs together! This is what we Italians call irony :)

                        2. Authentic or not if I have an open bottle of red wine I'll toss in a glug or two. It's not something I would purposely purchase to include.

                          1. I don't know about 'authentic' I just know that I really enjoy the depth of flavor that comes from adding in a 1/2 cup of red wine or balsamic vinegar into my red sauce and then simmering away for a few hours. There was a recent NYT article on Vodka sauce that spoke to the ability of alcohol to bring out flavors in some foods (such as tomatoes) that would not otherswise be brought out without the presence of the vodka.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Phoo_d

                              Me too Phoo_d!
                              I'm not exactly 100% certain how my family made it, each Aunt's gravy tasted different, Mom's was 'best' and now I make it how I like it, and it most def has some red table wine, or once in a while a good sploosh of balsamic in it.

                              Adding another thought- very rarely would we leave meat in the pot of gravy. Mom always pulled it out and arranged it on the platter. Also, we never mix the pasta INTO the pot of gravy, however I understand that's how my in-laws enjoy it, so I do it for my husband but I pull my pasta out- I like white showing. I think of canned spaghetti when it's all mixed together!

                            2. I think people are really splitting hairs here about the authenticity of the meatballs, since what you are in fact really curious about is the sauce. I grew up in an Italian-American family, so my experience is largely that. However, I have cooked with my Aunt in Naples as well. She never, ever put wine in her salsa or her ragu (I'm not sure how they spell that in Italian) Her salsa is much as you describe it - garlic, tomatoes, onion, cooked hot and fast, served over pasta and never with meatballs. I've since adopted this for nights when I want a quick meal. Her ragu was a much longer-term affair. She started first with some type of meat (beef or pork), and browned it in the pan. She then would take it out, and add the tomatoes (she used canned, but of course it was high quality Italian tomatoes) and whatever other seasonings, from garlic, basil, etc. Then, after a few hours, she would add the meat back, and then she literally would cook it for the next day (so a ragu started on Saturday morning would be served with the Sunday afternoon meal). By then, the meat would literally be reduced to shreds, and the flavor of the sauce just incredibly deep and rich. Never wine. But astounding amounts of salt in the water used to cook the pasta.

                              I think bob96 and mbfant come closest to what I understand as customary (a term I like much better than 'authentic'!)

                              As for adding wine, give it a try. It's your sauce!

                              1. Some have, some don't, the pure tomato sauces are very plain and basic, as little as possible. Great tomatoes need little help. Red wine is for heavier sauces which can be tomato based.
                                And to people speaking of all their molto authentico roots, I don't think "gravy" is the word they are use.
                                Make a tomato sauce,then have it with or without meatballs or what have you.
                                You can try whatever you like, of course.

                                1. I think the wine question depends on which Italian you ask!

                                  As far as meatballs and spaghetti? The Italians I know will tell you that this is an Italian-American dish.

                                  1. "bob96" caused me to realize something I had failed to consider initially, and it's something you might want to keep in mind when seeking "authentic" Italian cooking information. Much as it is in Chinese cooking, there really is no such a thing as "Italian" cooking per se; unless we include all regional Italian cooking styles on the same page. Italian cooking differs from region to region; and there are perhaps two dozen (I can't remember exactly) regions within Italy. The cooking styles that have developed over the centuries of Italy's history have depended largely on what was available in a given region at a given time of the year. So I can't unconditionally support the idea that wine in Italian gravy is truly authentic or that meal balls aren't actually cooked in the gravy from one region to another. I can only say that the regional Italian cooking methods I've experienced are as previously described.
                                    Thanks for helping those factors come to the surface in this discussion, Bob ...

                                    1. I'm sort of in the minority I guess, well no it isn't classic Italian, however ... most americans associate spaghetti and meatballs with Italian cooking. Regardless of the origin.

                                      I bake my meatballs and seem to love them seen more, although I do saute at times as well. Depends what else I am making and while making them have time to watch them on the stove. While in the oven they are a little bit more on their own.

                                      I add my meat, 2 slices of bread soaked in milk for just a minutes and squeezed dry, 1-2 eggs depending on how much meat. Fine diced shallot, 1 tablespoon worschestire sauce, 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic, salt and pepper, some fresh parsley. Mix lightly and form into balls. My secrete is frying ... I like to refrigerate just 15-20 minutes. It keeps their shape. Or I bake at 400-425 on parchment paper on a cookie sheet in your oven.

                                      My sauce, some good Italian tomatoes diced, 1 teaspoon tomato sauce, 1 small onion fine diced, fresh basil, dried oregano and parsley, red wine or white ... I have actually used both. I prefer red, 1 bay leaf and let simmer. I tend to saute the onion and garlic first then add the wine and then the tomatoes and seasoning. Once the sauce has cooked down add the meatball once done and let simmer in the sauce. Serve over pasta and parm.

                                      This may not be classic and I realize that ... But it is amazing. My friend who was born and raised in Italy basically uses this recipe. But like everyone says ... Italians have many recipes and all households seem to have different recipes. This one isn't perfect. However, I love it and it works every time. I even do this with turkey when I have some more health conscious over but still just as good.

                                      1. Any good plate of spaghetti and meatballs is authentic at casa jfood.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: jfood

                                          How true. Sometimes I do serve my meatballs seperately and serve the pasta on the side, either or. I've had so many different variations and can't complain about any. All different all good. In fact I just bought some meat for the "balls" tomorrow night. Got some good diced tomatoes and a good Sunday dinner.

                                          1. re: kchurchill5

                                            True, anything good is good, too bad it is all too rare.
                                            Pre diced tomatoes? Go with whole and chop or crush yourself, of course still limited by which tomatoes are the best at your disposal.

                                            You said "balls".

                                            1. re: dietndesire

                                              I figured I would get some response, didn't notice it until I sent it ... Meat balls of course ... :) Yes I normally use fresh, but sometimes I find a good Italian tomato works as good, depends on time and availability and if I want to go to the grocery store, lol

                                        2. I think there are 'authentic" sauces both with and without wine.

                                          But, that being said, you can't go wrong with Marcella Hazan! Her meatball recipe is delicious, and, as mbfant mentioned, it is served with a sort of chunky sauce made with tomatoes, but no pasta. Her Bolognese recipe is also excellent and uses white wine.

                                          1. We've had threads on what makes a dish authentic, so I want to steer clear of that term. But I think it is useful to remember that most Italian pasta sauces are light, quick sauces that are a foil to the pasta, which is the main dish. (Ragu is a bit of an exception.) Most of the sauces do not have wine in them. But that doesn't mean that some cooks in Italy someplace and sometime have not added wine to a sauce. If you have a tomato sauce with vine ripened tomatoes, you may not want anything that would mask the fruity flavor of the tomatoes. On the other hand, if you are working with indifferent canned tomatoes, you may want to doctor it a bit. It's up to you. But I would suggest you try a very simple version first before deciding.
                                            Historically, I think the heavier sauces we look for here came about as a result of the economic conditions of Italian immigrants who had limited cooking facilities. It made great sense to braise a tough cut of meat or a braciole in a tomato sauce and then to use the sauce over pasta. And polpette (meat loaf) and polpettini (meat balls) could be cooked in much the same way just as Swedish meatballs are.
                                            In Italy there was tremendous variety in approaches to pasta. Vincenzo Buonassisi's classic work "Pasta" (which can be got for very little money from dealers connected with abebooks or similar networks) has hundreds of simple and imaginative approaches. All are authentic. Many of them would surprise Americans. (For example, tossing spaghetti in toasted bread crumbs--a poor man's substitution for cheese.) And Erica de Mane has an update on the same approach in her fine book "Pasta Improvvisata" (in English, despite its Italian title). There's more than one way to dress a plate of pasta.

                                            1. Here in casa G & G when we make a simple tomato sauce with kitchen ready tomatoes and garlic, etc., we might splash a few glugs of drinkable red wine in the tin the tomatoes were in, slosh it around then pour all into the sauce pot...to get all the tomatoes out of the tin. It adds another dimension of flavor to the sauce.

                                              1. I don't use wine to make gravy (marinara sauce).

                                                To make "Sunday Sauce" with braised meat, I'll add some wine, preferably with Sangiovese grapes in it. My Bolognese also takes a *lot* of wine, and I'll especially go out and buy wine for that sauce, as it's heavily reduced and the wine provides a much greater portion of the flavor profile than in other Italian sauces.

                                                Sadly, some of my friends (including a very, very Italian family) pour so much wine into spaghetti sauce, and then add sugar to the sauce, that it turns into some sort of blood-red "sweet and sour" thing going on. Ugh!

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: shaogo

                                                  That made me smile, shaogo, and brings back memories of childhood. Mom would make "Sunday Sauce" and her MIL would reapeatedly walk past wher it was simmering on the stove, taste it, and add a pinch of sugar "so it won't be too acidic". That always ticked off my mother, as her family believed that long slow cooking nuetralized the acid. Me; I sometimes add a bit of wine (mostly to deglaze), but never add sugar :-)

                                                  1. re: Niki in Dayton

                                                    Carrots are good for sweetness. Never sugar.