1. Put the milk and bread crumbs in a small bowl and mix with a fork. When the bread has softened, squeeze out most of the milk with your hands. Discard the milk.
2. Sauté the onion in a little olive oil without letting it color. Season with a light pinch of salt and set aside to cool.
3. Combine the beef, bread crumbs, onion, egg, 3 tablespoons Parmesan, 2 tablespoons parsley, the thyme, cayenne, black pepper and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium-size bowl. Work the mixture gently and thoroughly with your hands unil it has an even consistency. With wet hands, shape the mixture into walnut-size balls. (This can be done a few hours ahead of time. Store the meatballs in the refrigerator in one layer, tightly wrapped, until you are ready to cook them. The meatballs can be cooked in the time it takes to boil the spaghetti.)
For the sauce and spaghetti:
1. Heat a skillet large enough to hold all the meatballs in one uncrowded layer. Add the red onion with enough olive oil to coat it lightly and cook over medium heat. When the onion begins to sizzle, add the meatballs, shaking the pan to keep them from sticking. Using tongs or a wooden spoon, gently turn and toss the onions and meatballs so they brown lightly.
2. Add the tomato sauce, hot pepper flakes, oregano and the remaining 2 tablespoons parsley. Season with salt to taste. Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring the meatballs to coat them with sauce. Test for doneness by cutting one meatball in half with a paring knife. Keep warm.
3. Boil the pasta in a large quantity of salted water. Dry spaghetti will take 7 to 10 minutes to cook. Drain the spaghetti and turn into a deep warmed platter or pasta bowl. Pour the meatballs and sauce over the pasta. Serve with more Parmesan cheese.
© 1999 by Alice Waters.Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook. Published by Harper Collins.