Spaghetti and Meatballs can be perfected in a pressure cooker. Picture by Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times
Of all the things to make in an electric pressure cooker, pasta seems low on the list. 

Neither dense nor tough, it doesn’t require the kind of cartilage-melting tenderization you get under pressure. And since pasta cooks so quickly in a regular pot, you’re not going to save any time.

But nothing beats an electric pressure cooker in terms of convenience, especially when it comes to spaghetti and meatballs.

Before I got my cooker, spaghetti and meatballs was on the menu maybe once a year, much to the dismay of my pasta-loving tween. 

It’s not a hard dish to make, but it dirtied too many pans for the average weeknight meal, yet wasn’t special enough to gain weekend-project status.

The electric pressure cooker streamlines the process, reducing the number of pans from three to one.

It also eliminates the grease-splattering labour of standing by the stove frying meatballs. In this recipe, which is adapted from my cookbook, “Comfort in an Instant,” I don’t bother frying them at all, cooking the meatballs directly in the sauce instead.

What you lose in browned, caramelized notes, you make up for in texture; these meatballs come out tender and still imbued with the character of the marinara. 

Then, just to make sure no one misses the fried flavors, I dollop milky ricotta over the top for serving.

If you’re the kind of person who makes big pots of marinara and freezes it, or if you swear by a store-bought sauce, you can use 3 1/4 cups of it here. 

You’ll save 10 minutes that way, which is meaningful on any given Monday.

This recipe is easy to dress up. Salt seekers can add some sliced olives or capers to the simmering sauce; anchovy fans might want to sauté a couple of fillets along with the garlic; those who adore melted cheese can grate in some mozzarella after the pressure is released. And bits of pancetta browned right at the beginning will never make a bacon lover sad.

Homey, adaptable and weeknight-simple, this isn’t a spaghetti and meatballs that’s going to stop conversation when you bring it to the table. But it is sure to elicit some grateful smiles.

Serve Spaghetti and Meatballs. Picture by Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Recipe: Pressure Cooker Spaghetti and Meatballs

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 40 minutes

For the sauce
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (790 g) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon course salt
  • 2 basil sprigs, plus more thinly sliced for serving
  • 225 g spaghetti (not thin spaghetti), broken in half
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • 1 cup ricotta (optional)
For the meatballs
  • 450 g  ground beef (or substitute veal, pork or turkey)
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon course salt
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
Method
  1. Set pressure cooker to the sauté function, and heat 2 tablespoons oil in the pot. Stir in garlic, red pepper and black pepper, and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. 
  2. Stir in tomatoes, salt and basil sprigs; cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes (lower the sauté function to low or briefly turn the machine off if the sauce splatters too much).
  3. Meanwhile, make the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix together beef, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, chopped basil, egg, salt and garlic. Roll into 1 1/4-inch balls.
  4. Scatter uncooked spaghetti over the sauce. 
  5. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon oil over spaghetti, stirring gently (try to keep the spaghetti on top of the sauce), then top with meatballs and pour in 1 cup water.
  6. Cover and cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. 
  7. Manually release the pressure, then remove the cover and stir to separate the spaghetti. Stir in 2 tablespoons Parmesan. At this point, the pasta will be almost but not quite cooked through. 
  8. Place the top back on the pressure cooker (loosely) and let it sit for 3 to 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and spaghetti is al dente but not mushy.
  9. Serve dolloped with ricotta, if using, and sprinkled with thinly sliced basil and more Parmesan if you like.