With all due love to vegetarians in my life, I gave you my my almost vegan tourtière — now, this is my chance to indulge the carnivore in me … and the Italian in me which I’m sure I inherited from a previous life.
I know the holidays are approaching and everyone in the blogosphere is giving up cookies, mulled spirits, and turkeys, but Christmas isn’t here yet, and, even when it arrives, we’ll all soon be craving the diversity of a diet we’ve come to expect.
When I think meatballs, I get warm inside. It feels like home — it feels like comfort food; it feels special; it feels like winter food; it feels romantic even. This is something I crave when I feel like being a kid, when I want to make kids happy (kids that don’t want to eat turkey even), when I want to just ‘be.’ And isn’t the Christmas season about giving, being true, and celebrating children, even those still inside ourselves?
There is nothing complicated about this dish. Anyone who is scared off by the “meatball” is someone who hasn’t made it. There is no difficult technique required to master. Just give yourself a few extra minutes to make them, something we all have for special occasions if not a romantic Friday night. However, even at that, you can be making the sauce while the meatballs are in the oven which is why my timings don’t completely add up below.
Cooking Tips: First, use the best quality tomato sauce you can find. I used my own strained tomato sauce that I made earlier this fall, but, failing that, my other recommendation is to buy premium canned Romano/plum tomatoes and purée them yourself to ensure you’re getting the best. As well, contrary to many pundits, I think it is better to bake the meatballs before adding them to the sauce. The advantage of this extra step is that (a) excess fat cooks off (b) meatballs are browned for better aesthetics and (c) meatballs hold their perfect shapes and don’t break in the cooking process. Other than that, my only twist on this recipe is to solve what I think is an age-old ‘problem’ with “spaghetti and meatballs” which is dish I liked less than spaghetti Bolognese — until this recipe. Why? Because the typical spaghetti and meatballs puts a large hunk of meat on a thin sauce so you don’t get meat in every mouthful. My solution? Add another pound of ground beef/veal to the sauce. The final result is richer, more flavourful, and coats the pasta more effectively (and yes, I did use a gluten-free pasta here which while tasty, I don’t think holds the sauce as well as gluten; a small sacrifice really). Now that’s amore ….
Prep time: 20 + 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 + 25 minutes
Total time: 75 minutes
Yield: 20-24 meatballs
Spaghetti and Meatballs
- 1 pound lean ground pork
- 1 pound extra-lean ground beef
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped chiffonade
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped chiffonade
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup oat flour
¼ cup corn meal
¼ cup potato flour
→ if not gluten-free, substitute ¾-cup breadcrumbs
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon chill powder
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 pound lean ground beef (optional)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup red wine (e.g. Negramaro from Puglia)
- 2 pints (2x 16ounce) high-quality tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped chiffonade
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil
→ or substitute 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano
→ or substitute 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 3/4 lb (350g) spaghetti
- Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
- Preheat oven to 425ºF and prepare 1-2 baking sheets. Ideally layer with parchment paper for easy clean up, but this is optional.
- In a large bowl, measure in the ground pork and beef, the ‘flours,’ herbs and spices.
Loosely mix ingredients together.
Add the egg and the milk:
Mix everything together well by kneading in the ingredients with your cleaned hands: nothing works better.
- Measure out a heaping tablespoon of the mixture and, rolling it between the palms of your hands, create a evenly sized and perfectly formed meatballs (roughly 1½-inches or 3-cm in diameter). Evenly space them on the parchment-lined baking sheets and continue until all meatballs are formed.
- Bake in the oven for 15 minutes …
… turn, and bake for 15 minutes more.
Meatballs are done when they’re no longer pink in the middle.
- While the meatballs are baking, put on a pasta pot of water on to boil.
- Preheat a large stainless steel pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and the chopped onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the chopped red pepper and sauté for another 5 minutes until peppers and onions have lightly browned.
- Increase the temperature to high, and crumble in the extra pound of ground beef/veal. Continue to fry, breaking up the meat, until the meat is browned.
- Add in the minced garlic and continue cooking for another minute.
Add the wine and deglaze the pan.
Add the tomato sauce….
And then add in the herbs and spices.
Mix together well….
Lower temperature and wait for the meatballs to be ready.
- Carefully add meatballs to the sauce making sure they all are covered. Cover the pot, and let simmer until the pasta is ready.
- Boil your pasta, following directions, and cook until al dente. Taste marinara sauce and check for seasoning — add salt/pepper as necessary and, if your own tomatoes are bitter, add a teaspoon or so of sugar.
- Mix together the drained BUT NOT RINSED pasta and the sauce in the pot.
- Serve the spaghetti and meatballs on plates or in pasta bowls (3-5 meatballs per plate) and pass with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and serve …. Serve with a nice green salad and enjoy.
Wine pairing: Instead of the typical Chianti or even Ripasso, look to the south of Italy for much more reasonably priced wines which pair exceptionally well with rich tomato sauces and pasta. My choice, the Negramarro grape which is almost exclusively grown in Puglia. At a cost of $10-15, it is an affordable and perfect pairing.