In Celebrity Recipes, we tackle a favorite recipe from a beloved star, past or present.
Before Sinatra was Sinatra, he was a skinny, bow-tied kid from Hoboken, New Jersey. He became famous by singing on the radio in front of hundreds of screaming girls, making jokes with guys like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, foreshadowing his later wisecracks with the Rat Pack.
Granted, most of us latecomer swingers know what happened to Frank after that: high-profile marriages to Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow, movie roles in From Here To Eternity and The Manchurian Candidate, iconic albums like In The Wee Small Hours and Songs For Swinging Lovers. Ultimately, Sinatra transformed from Ava-dumped, down-on-his luck sad sack into Vegas royalty, the King of the Sands, surrounded by Sammy and Dean.
Later-day Frank seemed to love entertaining. A social guy who reveled at being the life of the party, it’s not hard to imagine him cooking up massive Italian feasts for his various hangers-on. He even wound up on cooking segments as in this classic bit from a 1970 Dinah Shore show making a marinara sauce, offering non-helpful guidelines like, “Ladies and gentlemen, you know what to do with the thing here.” (He’s bandaged, I’m assuming, from trying too hard in the kitchen at rehearsal). He and fourth and final wife Barbara released their own cookbook in 1990, featuring Sinatra friends like “Kirk Douglas’ recipe for ‘Veal Oscar’ to Katharine Hepburn’s ‘Lace Cookies,’ to Whoopi Goldberg’s ‘Jewish American Princess Fried Chicken,’” (I’m making a note to try to purchase this volume on eBay for future Celebrity Recipe columns).
Still, when we look for a Frank Sinatra recipe in the annals of the internet, this one comes up first. It’s from the earliest Sinatra-star era, the bow-tied kid crooning into a huge microphone, from a WFBL [Syracuse] Cook Book Of The Stars. It’s unclear whether the Mrs. Sinatra of the recipe title is his mom or his first wife, Nancy Sr.—I’m guessing the latter. But it makes sense that the Italian-America singer would offer this Italian-America pasta classic, so we cooked it up.
The parmesan in the breadcrumbs is likely the most unusual addition, adding an interesting nutty flavor to the meatballs. As often with these mid-century recipes, I find that they’re under-seasoned, maybe to appease unadventurous palettes. So to Mrs. Sinatra’s sauce I added some oregano, more garlic, some cinnamon, with similar adds to the meatballs. I also did not bother to strain my sauce as Mrs. Sinatra suggests, preferring to keep the onions and garlic in there for maximum flavor impact.
But these tweaks are minor; this recipe still stands as a comforting take on a classic. Just make sure you pack the meatballs tightly enough before browning; while sautéeing them around on my first batch, a few fell apart, and I could almost hear Sinatra himself behind me, scoffing at such a knucklehead rookie error.
Then the meatballs can either be further browned in the oven, or cooked more in the sauce—the longer the better, I’d say. It might be a nice dish to make to accompany a Sunday afternoon Sinatra double-feature. I suggest On The Town and the original Ocean’s Eleven, to catch two classic Sinatra eras at their best.
- 1 lb. ground meat, 1/2 beef, 1/2 pork
- 2 minced cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 Tbsp. oregano
- 1 tsp. finely chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all well, form into balls, and brown in oil. Then remove until sauce is made.
- 1 large can Italian-style tomatoes
- 1 can tomato paste
- 1 small onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp. ground parsley
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. oregano
- 1 tsp. thyme
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- Salt and black pepper
- Grated parmesan and oregano to taste
Brown chopped-up onion and garlic in oil in which you browned the meatballs. Pour tomatoes and paste into the oil. Add spices. Cook the sauce (covered) with meatballs added, over a low fire for at least an hour. (You can also further brown the meatballs in the oven at 350 degrees for a half-hour or so.)
Boil spaghetti in salted water. Remove spaghetti, drain. Combine with sauce and meatballs, and add plenty of grated parmesan and oregano on top. Serve piping hot.