Spaghetti and meatballs. Quintessentially comforting, a warm hug of pasta strands, sweet and tangy tomato sauce, and satisfyingly meaty balls. It also conjures up a notable SNL sketch with Alec Baldwin and two NPR radio hosts, but I digress. Spaghetti and meatballs may be a simple thing, but it often can go wrong in so many ways. Unrecognizable meat, canned sauce, and mushy pasta a la Chef Boyardee comes to mind, but even an attempt at homemade meatballs may bring about tough meat if mixed with too heavy of a hand or with the wrong proportions of meat. My 5th grade international fair saw my first attempt at the dish, and since then I have been trying replicate it. Seriously, it was that good my friends. Sadly, I did not write down the recipe, nor do I remember where I got it from. All I do remember was that the mix involved fresh bread crumbs, ground pork and beef and grated cheese.
What follows is the culmination of twenty odd years of experimenting with different ratios of pork and beef, fresh breadcrumbs versus dried, Parmesan or Romano. It is a very loose adaptation of Epicurious’ popular Spaghetti with Sicilian meatballs
The magic ratio here is 2 parts ground chuck to one part ground pork. More pork and the meatballs aren’t beefy enough, too much beef and they lose that yielding tenderness. Soaking the breadcrumbs in milk also adds to the succulent texture of the meatballs. While finishing their cooking in the simple sauce causes them to release their juices to create a lovely, unctuous tomatoey gravy. Top it all with a sprinkling of nutty parm, and you end up with a delicious dish. Good times, good times.
Yields 8 servings
3 cans (28 oz) organic crushed tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp (or more) red pepper flakes
1 tbls dried oregano
1 tbls sugar
Grated Parmesan, for serving.
1 lb ground pork
2 lbs ground beef chuck
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup organic Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 cup Parmesan cheese, finely shredded
2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten
3 slices bread, torn into large crumbs
1/2 organic milk
3 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Position racks evenly in the oven.
2. Combine meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly, but lightly with hands moistened with water.
3. Using hands, shape out 2 inch meatballs, scooping out the meat and gently rolling it into a ball using the palm of your hand. Take care not to compress the meat too much as this results in a dense meatball.
4. Continue to roll out balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. You should have about 24 meatballs in total on 2 cookie sheets.
5. Bake meatballs for 30 mins. Do not worry if meatballs are not cooked all the way through, they will finish cooking in the sauce.
1. Sauté onions and garlic in a little olive oil over medium heat, until translucent.
2. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste.
3. Let sauce simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally until meatballs are done.
4. Once meatballs are done, add to the simmering sauce, removing any solid fat that may have adhered to the meatballs.
5. Simmer sauce and meatballs over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
1. While sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
2. After adding meatballs to sauce, add pasta to the boiling water.
3. Cook pasta according to directions, or until al dente.
4. Drain pasta and assemble dish, serving 2-3 meatballs per person. Top with grated parmesan.
There will be plenty of leftover meatballs, which are great as leftovers, or assembled on a nice crusty roll with mozzarella as a sandwich. Leftovers meatballs in sauce also freeze well, and can be defrosted in the microwave.