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A Recipe from Boston’s Little Italy, with Pasta Chef Sophia Ronga

How to craft authentic pasta and meatballs with simple pantry staples.

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Hi, I'm Jen!

Vermont travel writer Jen Rose Smith covers adventure, remote places, and traditional cuisine from a home base in the Green Mountains. Her articles have appeared in National Geographic Adventure, American Way, Nexos, Condé Nast Traveler, Backpacker, AFAR, Rolling Stone, USA Today, and Outside Online.

When Sophia Ronga moved to Boston’s North End just over two years ago, she instantly felt at home among the neighborhood’s Italian cafés and salumeria—small shops that sell high-quality olive oil, vinegars, and a wide range of meats. “The North End sort of reminds me of a big, Italian family,” says Ronga, whose dad and his 11 siblings have roots in a village south of Naples. “It’s a bunch of family-owned small businesses who make food in the traditional way.” For Ronga, the North End’s Italian community was an inspiration to learn the classic recipes she’d loved at home, including pasta made from scratch.

Now, she passes along her knowledge in private pasta-making classes in her North End kitchen. This recipe is a favorite: fresh pasta with meatballs and red sauce. It makes plenty to share, which was essential for her father’s large family. “We’ve always been really big on sharing love through food,” she says. “I think that’s something this recipe really gets across.”

Pasta Chef Sophia Ronga shows off fresh pasta she made in her North End kitchen.
Sophia Ronga in her North End kitchen.Foto: Sophia Ronga

Sophia’s homemade pasta with meatballs

“This recipe can go from casual to complicated,” says Ronga. “If you haven’t been to the grocery store and you’re living off pantry staples, you can still make it.” While this is a great time to break out the pasta maker, Ronga says you don’t need any special equipment—she used an empty wine bottle to roll out pasta dough when she first moved to the North End.

With such a flexible recipe, you can also swap in store-bought sauce, dried pasta, or your own favorite ingredients, says Ronga. Otherwise, make a day of it. “The meatballs, the homemade pasta, the sauce . . . they make this a little bit more advanced. It’s something you could dress up a bit more and have fun experimenting with.”

Tomato sauce

Ingredients: 16-ounce can crushed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 ½ cups red wine, 2 chopped garlic cloves, spices (salt, pepper, parsley, basil, oregano, and red pepper flakes—plus fresh basil for serving).

  1. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil and garlic on medium heat until the garlic begins to color, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the wine. “It should sizzle,” says Sophia. “You want to cook out the alcohol, so allow it to simmer for about 5 minutes.”
  3. Stir in the tomatoes and add herbs and seasoning to taste. Sophia suggests going easy on the red-pepper flakes. “Trust me,” she says. “They pack in heat.”
  4. Let the sauce simmer on low as you make the pasta dough and meatballs.

Pasta

Ingredients: 2 jumbo eggs, ½ cup semolina flour, ½ cup 00 flour. “If you don’t have either of these flours, you can use a little less than 1 cup all-purpose,” says Sophia.

  1. Combine flour in a mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. Crack the eggs into the well and use a fork to stir the eggs.
  2. Slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs until a dough starts to form. Once you have a ball of dough, knead for about 10 minutes.
  3. Coat the dough with some additional flour, and allow it to sit for 30 minutes. “Activate that gluten,” says Sophia.
  4. Roll out the dough. “For spaghetti, it’s particularly important to keep it well-floured. Continue to work it in a circle with the rolling pin.”
  5. Cut your pasta. “To get something as thin as spaghetti, it’s easier to use a pasta machine, but you can also use a pizza cutter, a knife, or whatever you have on hand.”
An egg combined with flour is use to make pasta dough.
“Pasta is all about experimentation until you find what works best for you. If your eggs are smaller, you may need a little extra wetness, which you can get by adding water or olive oil, little by little. If you have too much wetness, you can add extra flour, in equal parts.”Foto: Sophia Ronga

Meatballs

Ingredients: 1 pound ground meat, 1 cup breadcrumbs, 1 egg, ½ cup grated, Parmesan cheese, 2 chopped garlic cloves, spices (salt, pepper, parsley, basil, and oregano). “I usually get a meatloaf mix,” says Sophia, “but any ground meat will work.”

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, plus a spoonful of the red sauce that’s simmering.
  2. Mix ingredients well with your hands and form the meat mixture into balls. “If things are feeling too wet, add in more breadcrumbs, says Sophia. “If things aren’t sticking together, add a bit more sauce or another egg.”
  3. Place on a greased sheet pan, and bake for 20–25 minutes, or until browned. “Make sure you give them some space on the pan.”

Put it all together

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil while the meatballs are in the oven.
  2. When the meatballs are browned, add them and any drippings to the red sauce, simmering for an additional 5–10 minutes.
  3. Boil the fresh pasta for 2–5 minutes, or until tender. Drain. Toss the pasta, sauce, and meatballs together. Serve topped with plenty of chopped, fresh basil.

For more delicious Italian-inspired recipes, check out Sophia's website and Instagram page.

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