Sunday, March 09, 2008

Meatballs and Spaghetti Sauce, with 'Sausage" Meatball Variant

I've made meatballs with tomato sauce for many years, which was always popular in the family. And the leftovers are almost as good in meatball subs (called 'grinders' where I grew up) or sandwiches. We now also make a meatball sauce from time to time at our deli-restaurant in Athens. I wanted to get a reproducible recipe written down, for the sake of my kids if for no one else. The meatballs are the key thing. They are based on what I learned from my mother, who in turn learned the basis from her half-Genoese father-in-law, my grandfather. The features, regardless of the meat used, are black pepper, garlic, parsley, oregano, and grated Romano cheese in the meatballs, and NO black pepper, oregano or cheese cooked in the sauce. My approach has wandered a little, based on some tricks I've learned, but basically the meatballs are like what I grew up with, and what my kids grew up with.

Two recipes for meatballs are shown here, the more typical beef (or part beef) meat balls, and a differently seasoned pork meatball suggestive of the Italian (read Sicilian) sausage that was part of my childhood. In addition, I'm including an easy tomato sauce, because the meatballs are actually simmered in the sauce to cook them rather than fried separately and added later.

Just to note, two other red sauces for pasta showed up earlier in my web log. Meatless marinara sauce can be found at the post for 8/07/06, and Bolognese sauce (meat sauce) was on 9/15/06. Other meatball recipes are in the blog too: Spanish tapa meatballs (albóndigas), 11/05/06; Mediterrranean (Greek/Turkish) meatballs, 8/27/07; meatballs in green peppercorn-cream sauce, 10/13/07; and Swedish meatballs in dill and cream sauce, 10/30/07.

The recipe makes enough for four heavy eaters, as spaghetti and meatballs eaters usually are. It may be best to make a double batch of both meatballs and sauce, and save some for left-overs.

Wine with spaghetti and meatballs should be heavy and red. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo or a red California Zinfandel would be my choices, but other Italian reds, or an Australian Shiraz could also do. Warm crusty bread, such as ciabatta or baguette, or good old garlic bread, plus salad are traditional with spagetti and meatballs. Eat the bread plain, mop up the sauce with it, or serve a dish of olive oil for dipping (you can put a little minced garlic or parsley in it, if you want), rather than butter.

Meatballs for Spaghetti Tim

1 egg
2 tablespoons red wine or water, if using red meat (no extra liquid if using turkey)
1 small-medium clove garlic
2 tablespoons quick oatmeal
2 tablespoons unseasoned breadcrumbs
1-1/8 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (or ground allspice)
2 tablespoons finely grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
1 pound ground beef (chuck) or half beef and half pork, lamb, or turkey

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg and wine or water lightly with a fork. Stir in the dry ingredients, cheese, and parsley. Finally mix the meat in well, kneading the mixture with your hands. Moisten your hands and shape the meat into 16 1-1/4-inch balls, and set them on a waxed paper until ready to cook. Make the sauce, and simmer the meatballs in it as indicated in the sauce recipe. The meatballs need to simmer about 20 minutes.

'Sausage' Meatballs for Spaghetti Tim

Use the meatball recipe above, but substitute ground pork for the other meat, and eliminate the cheese and parsley. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper, 1 teaspoon paprika, and increase the black pepper to 1/2 teaspoon.

Spaghetti Sauce for Meatballs Tim

(Serves four. Double the recipe to have enough for left-overs.)

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, crushed with the side of a knife and skins removed
1/2 small green bell pepper (the Mexican style Poblano pepper is even better)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 pound mushrooms (optional but good)
1/2 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Pinch of crushed hot red pepper
Small pinch of thyme

Heat the olive oil in a cooking pot (not cast iron) with a heavy bottom. Gently fry the crushed garlics until golden brown, pressing them to break a little with a wooden spoon. When fully golden in color, remove and discard the garlic (they have given their essence to the oil). Add the green pepper, cut in strips, and fry until softened, about two minutes. Add the crushed tomato plus several tablespoons of water to rinse out the can. Add the mushrooms, if used, rinsed, and cut in half. Bring to a boil, and let boil quickly (referred to as "frying" in Italian) for 1 minute. Reduce the heat, and stir in the tomato paste and the seasonings. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the pre-formed meatballs. Shake and swirl the pan gently to move the meat balls around (no spoon yet), and simmer, covered, for a total of 20 minutes. After half the cooking time, the meatballs will be firm enough to be stirred gently without breaking them. Taste the sauce, and add salt as needed, to taste. Serve tossed with freshly cooked pasta, and dusted heavily with grated cheese. Or cool the meatballs and sauce, refrigerate, and reheat for serving.


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