Vintage Vittles #2: Rat Pack Meatballs & Sauce

Sometimes finding & figuring out a vintage recipe is like a treasure hunt. I found this one for “Mrs Frank Sinatra’s.. Spaghetti & Meatballs” via Pinterest. A few clicks later & I found out it was from the WFBL Cookbook of the Stars, made in 1945 by a radio station in Syracuse, NY that aired the Frank Sinatra Show (Wednesdays at 9PM according to the clipping). As a vintage cookbook collector, I will admit I’m geeking out slightly & would love to get my hands on a copy of this cookbook. I’ve located a 1941 edition which apparently contains a recipe by Ronald Reagan (in his acting days) on Etsy. Which is cool too, but alas no recipes by “Old Blue Eyes”.

This recipe, like many vintage recipes can be a little hard to follow for the cooks of today. Modern recipes are written assuming that their reader knows nothing about cooking. Every step is laid out in detail. While vintage recipes assume their reader knows their way around the kitchen a bit & leaves out a lot of minutia. 

It’s probably ridiculous, but I like to imagine Frank, with an apron over his well-tailored suit, whipping up meatballs, sauce, & spaghetti for Sammy, Dino, and the gang. They of course enjoy the meal with some fine red wine. And later cocktails, naturally. Hence the rename on this recipe…

Rat Pack Spaghetti & Meatballs


For the meatballs:

  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 C grated Italian cheese, (Parmesan is fine)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 C bread crumbs (I used Italian-style)
  • 1 tsp parsley, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt & black pepper, to taste

For the sauce:

  • 1 large can (28 oz) Italian-style tomatoes (I like to use crushed)
  • 1 small can tomato paste 
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 
  • 1 tsp ground parsley
  • 1/2 C EVOO
  • a few shakes of thyme
  • Kosher salt & black pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Make the meatballs. Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer. I used my medium Pampered Chef scoop (2 tbsp) to create 36 even-sized meatballs.
  3. Lay out the meatballs on a greased baking sheet. Cook for about 30 mins, rotating the pans at the 15 min mark for even cooking. 

    This is the only picture i managed to get of the meatballs before they were devoured by my teens.

  4. Meanwhile, start the sauce. In a large pot (it will need to be large enough for the sauce and the meatballs to fit into comfortably) heat the EVOO over med-high heat. Add the onion & garlic & cook until golden. 
  5. Add the tomatoes & tomato paste. Stir to combine. Fill the tomato paste can with water & add to the mixture, stirring frequently. If desired, add a tomato paste can full of dry red wine. This is my contribution, not Frank’s. 
  6. At this point, I used my hand blender to even out the sauce so that it had fewer chunks. Also, my contribution. Season with salt & pepper, thyme, and parsley. 
  7. There are 2 schools of thought with regard to meatballs & sauce. Simmer the meatballs with the sauce, or add the meatballs after the sauce simmers. Frank was a meatballs-in-the-sauce guy. Simmering your meatballs with the sauce will give it a greater depth & meatier flavor. Though opponents of this method argue that it can make the meatballs soggy. Per Frank, add your meatballs to the sauce & summer on medium-low heat for 1 hour.
  8. When you’re ready to serve, cook your spaghetti according to package instructions, drain well, and top with desired amount of sauce & meatballs. Top with grated Parmesan, if desired. 

For more vintage recipes check out my Pinterest board Vintage Vittles! 

Italian Christmas Feast

Buon Natale! This year, my Xmas dinner was an Italian feast consisting of Baked Ziti, Sausage & Peppers, and Arancini (rice balls). Easy & delicious. Leftovers for days. Now that’s the perfect Xmas dinner. About a week before the big day, I made a giant pot of sauce. Ended up being around 8qts in total. You can use store-bought sauce in either if these recipes, but why bother when it’s so easy to make and can your own?

Easy Homemade Tomato Sauce

(never buy sauce in a jar again)

makes about 3 qts


  • 3 large cans diced tomatoes (no added salt or seasonings)
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • about 3 heaping tbsp minced garlic (the kind in a jar is OK)
  • 3-4 tbsp EVOO
  • a few pinches red pepper flakes
  • a few shakes of Italian or Tuscan seasoning blend (oregano, basil etc.)
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1C red wine (drier works best)


  1. In a large pot (at least 8 qts) heat EVOO over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add garlic. Cook until fragrant. Season with a pinch of salt. DO NOT BROWN.
  2. Lower heat to medium and add tomatoes and tomato paste.
  3. When mixture reaches a simmer, add water (fill tomato paste can 2-3 times) and wine. Bring to a full boil.
  4. Cover and cook on low about 3 hrs.
  5. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth.
  6. Season to taste with red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning blend, and salt.
  7. Simmer over low heat 10-30 mins.
  8. Sauce may be served immediately or frozen or canned up to 1 year.

Baked Ziti

This is the double, holiday-sized (3 qt) casserole. For everyday eating, cut recipe in half.


  • 2 1-pound boxes ziti or penne pasta
  • 1 qt. tomato sauce (see above)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 16 oz ricotta cheese (not skim)
  • about 2/3 C grated parmesan cheese
  • big bag of mozzarella
  • Italian seasoning (I like the kind that comes in a spice grinder.)
  • cooking spray


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Cook pasta al dente according to package instructions. Drain & set aside.
  3. In a large bowl combine ricotta, eggs, parmesan, and a few grinds of Italian seasoning. Stir with a rubber spatula.
  4. Combine pasta, cheese mixture, and tomato sauce. (I usually use the large pot I cooked the pasta in to do this.)
  5. Spray a large casserole dish and begin to layer in pasta mixture in 2 parts. Pasta mixture, a few handfuls of mozzarella (Yes, this is all very scientific and precise. :)), more pasta mixture, then top with mozzarella.
  6. Bake for 20-30 minutes uncovered, until the cheese on top is golden and pasta is bubbly.
  7. Cool 10 minutes or so before serving.

Sausage & Peppers- this is also really good for breakfast with some eggs on Italian bread... #putaneggonit

Sausage & Peppers- this is also really good for breakfast with some eggs on Italian bread… #putaneggonit

Sweet & Spicy Sausage & Peppers

Again, double-recipe holiday sized. Leftovers for days!


  • 3 bell peppers (I like to use 1 red, 1 green, and 1 yellow or orange.), sliced into strips
  • 1 package sweet Italian sausage (There are usually 4-5 sausages per package.)
  • 1 package spicy Italian sausage
  • 1 qt tomato sauce (see above)
  • 1 large, white onion, sliced into strips
  • about 3 tbsp EVOO


  1. In a VERY LARGE (Remember, this is a double-recipe.) skillet heat EVOO. When hot, add the onions and peppers. Cook until softened, but not browned. Remove peppers & onion from skillet & set aside.
  2. Put sausages into skillet with about 1/2 C water. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for about 12 minutes.
  3. Take each sausage out of the skillet, and slice it into about 8 pieces each. The sausages will still be slightly pink at this point. Put slices of sausage (and juices that came out while you were slicing) back into the skillet, and cook another 8-10 minutes, until no longer pink.
  4. Drain off liquid and put sausages, peppers, and onions back in skillet with tomato sauce. Simmer on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Serve with pasta, or as a sandwich on Italian bread.

I made these rice balls for Christmas, and again without the mozzarella stuffing, for New Year’s Eve. They were equally delicious & well-received both ways.

One guess what song I was singing as I rolled these babies up....

One guess what song I was singing as I rolled these babies up….

Aracini (Rice Balls)

makes 20-24 small balls


  • 2 C cooked white rice, cooled (You want nice, sticky rice for best results. I used jasmine rice.)
  • 1/2 C grated parmesan
  • 3 large eggs
  • fresh mozzarella in small cubes/balls (There were probably 25-30 small “pearls” of mozzarella in the package I bought.)
  • 1 C Italian-style breadcrumbs, or plain breadcrumbs seasoned with Italian seasoning
  • vegetable oil for frying (4C or so)


  1. Heat a large pot with about 4 inches of oil over medium heat.
  2. Using your hands, combine rice, parmesan, and 1 egg in a medium bowl.
  3. Form the rice balls: I used my smallest Pampered Chef scoop (1 tbsp) for the unstuffed balls, and the medium one (2 tbsp) for the ones with the mozzarella inside. Squeeze rice mixture firmly and put finished balls on a wax paper lined sheet pan.
  4. Whisk together the other 2 eggs, and spread breadcrumbs on a plate.
  5. One at a time, dip each rice ball into beaten eggs, and roll in breadcrumbs. Shake off excess breading, if needed.
  6. When the oil is hot (You will be able to drop a grain of rice into the oil and have it begin to sizzle.) drop the balls into the oil, 4 at a time.
  7. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown, rolling balls over with a spoon halfway through cooking if needed.
  8. Place finished rice balls on a paper towel lined plate or tray & salt immediately.

So. Many. Cookies.

I’ve been dealing with my holiday stress with cooking and recently, baking. I wasn’t planning to blog about it, but I’ve been posting pix of my cookie-making adventures on my Instagram, and peeps have been asking, so here goes! First of all, I’m not a fabulous baker. I took pastry in culinary school, but I feel like I’m more of a cook than a baker. I’m not very exact when I cook, and you have to be really exact with pastry. Also, it’s very challenging for me to make my baked goods pretty I typically don’t have a steady hand like that. Usually if I’m baking it’s a rustic bread. (Rustic is code for messy.) The first cookie I made was Chocolate Chip with Candied Bacon. Because bacon. The kids helped me candy the bacon, which I hadn’t done before. The process was so simple, it got my wheels turning about other things I could easily candy. Stay tuned for that. The cookie itself was ok, although I feel like there was too much STUFF and not enough cookie. If I make another round (and I probably will) I will probably keep the 8 slices of bacon and halve the chocolate chips. Check out the recipe I used here.

My kids, prepping the candied bacon.

My kids, prepping the candied bacon. Freshly canned tomato sauce in the background.

Next batch were pfeffernusse. Pfeffernusse are one of my favorite cookies, and the thought of baking them was both exciting and scary. I used Aunt Martha’s recipe, which was comforting, because her recipes are almost always successful. Fun fact: I have a homemade plaque in my dining room that reads WWMD (What Would Martha Do). The pfeffernusse were super-easy to make and spicy and delicious. I guess they are a little biased, but my kids said they liked them better than store-bought. This recipe was a definite WIN! Martha’s Pfeffernusse recipe here.


Finished pfeffernusse ready to devour.

Next were Italian Rainbow Cookies. I decided to give them a go 1) because I love them and 2) because I’m making an Italian feast for Xmas. The recipe I used was Lidia’s- of Lidia’s Italian Restaurant in KC so I figured that was a good start. They were REALLY involved to make (2 days and lots of steps) but they came out delicious. The only thing I would change is that I used full-size sheet pan, not the jelly-roll size the recipe called for. If I had a jelly-roll pan, I feel like I wouldn’t have had to do as much trimming. My son told me they reminded him of Jaffa Cakes, probably because of the jam (which is apricot, not orange like in Jaffa Cakes). This is high praise from him, my kids both get Jaffa Cakes in their stockings each year. Lidia’s Rainbow Cookies recipe here. See photo above.

Today I prepped my last holiday cookie. Almond Biscotti. I have also not made biscotti before, but it was another Martha recipe, so I was pretty confident. But, as I started to make the dough, I got a little worried. There is no butter or oil in the dough. In fact, the only liquid is the eggs and vanilla extract. While the dough tumbled away in my mixer it appeared more than a little DRY. How would I ever roll this into a log?? But fear not- once I added the almonds and started to press the dough together it did stick and make 2 nice logs. (Perhaps the oils in the almonds helped?) Biscotti is baked twice, once in log form, and again sliced into discs. This recipe made a nice crunchy, crumbly biscotti. They were not quite as pretty as the store-bought variety, but had a very good flavor. I had leftover melted chocolate from the rainbow cookies, so I dipped half of each one into the chocolate and chilled it in the fridge. Martha’s Almond Biscotti recipe here.

Finished biscotti are not gorgeous, but had a great flavor.

Finished biscotti are not gorgeous, but had a great flavor.

So I had a lovely Xmas eve photo-op planned for this post. A plate full of my homemade cookies, out on the coffee table for Santa, beautifully lit Xmas tree in the background. My pup, River Song, had other plans. When they were left unattended she gobbled up ALL of Santa’s cookies.