Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs

Photo courtesy of http://www.culturemap.com

There is nothing quite so classic as spaghetti and meatballs, but it is quite an undertaking.  It was the third sauce (see Arugula Pesto and Sinful Alfredo for the others) I made for our Make-Your-Own Spaghetti Night, but it was the one that I completed first, over the course of 2 days.  It can be done all at once, it’s just a lot of work putting everything together.  It’s really 2 recipes, one for the mushroom marinara sauce, the other for the meatballs.  I made the marinara sauce Friday evening, the meatball mixture Saturday morning, and then shaped the meatballs and cooked them Saturday afternoon after my first ever, longest run of my life.

Marinara Sauce Ingredients:

-2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes
– 1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
-2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
– 1 large onion, diced
-7 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 Tablespoon honey
-2 bay leaves, ripped in half
-1 Tablespoon dried basil
-1 Tablespoon dried oregano
-1 Tablespoon dried marjoram
-1 teaspoon dried rosemary
-2-3 teaspoons dried thyme

1.  In a large non-reactive (stainless steel) pot, place enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom and saute diced onion until translucent, 3-5 minutes.

Saute onion until translucent

2.  Add minced garlic…7 whole cloves.  Don’t worry, the garlic won’t be overpowering.  Saute a few more minutes until the garlic fragrance has scared away all vampires in a ten mile radius.

Add garlic to onion, saute

3.  Add all herbs to the pot and mix well.

Add herbs and saute

4.  By this time if you have anyone in your house, they will come to the kitchen and ask what’s cooking.  Just warning you to be prepared.

5.  Open tomatoes into a bowl and crush them with your bare hands.  It’s a lot of fun and reminds me of playing with play dough.

Drain and Crush tomatoes in a colander

6.  Add tomatoes and tomato paste to the pot.  Take 3-5 pieces of dried porcini mushrooms (sooo incredibly woodsy tasting) and also add them to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then simmer it down for 30-45 minutes.  This can be made several days ahead of time.

OK…now for the meatballs.

Ingredients:  Isn’t my dog Titania cute in the back there?

Ingredients Meatballs

-2 small onions
-olive oil
-1 small head garlic
-1.5 cups whole milk
-1.5 cups of day old Italian or French bread
-2.25 pounds ground beef
-3 large eggs
-zest of 2 lemons
-1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
-1 Tablespoon dried parsley
-1 Tablespoon dried basil
-1-2 Tablespoons Italian seasoning

1.  Coat a large saute pan with olive oil.  Add the onions and saute until translucent, 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic and herbs and cook a few minutes longer.

Saute onions, garlic, herbs

You heard me right, an entire small head of garlic.

Garlic...one small head

2.  In the meantime, slice the bread into 1-inch chunks.  You could also just rip the bread into chunks, depending on your mood, I guess.

It's ok to eat a couple of chunks while you do this

3.  In a large measuring cup, measure out 1.5 cups of whole milk.  (Come on, it’s a dinner party, no skimping on fat, see alfredo sauce post)4.  Add the bread chunks to the milk and mix around so that the bread soaks up as much milk as possible.  Soaking the bread in whole milk will make you meatballs taste a million times better than just dry, plain, boring store bought bread crumbs.

Add bread chunks to whole milk

5.  VERY IMPORTANT: squeeze out the excess milk from the bread and place milk-moistened bread in a large bowl, something big enough to mix everything together.  Trust me on this, speaking from experience, you don’t want your meatballs to break apart easily in the cooking process.

6.  Mix onions and moist bread together.

Mix onions and milk-moistened bread

7.  Add to this the lemon zest, eggs, meat and grated cheese.  Mix until just barely combined.  Too much mixing= tough meatballs.  You can refrigerate mixture for 1 day or power through the rest of the recipe.  I opted to go for a 5.66 mile wog with Natalie.

8.  Take small bits of meatball mixture and shape into 1-2 inch balls.  Place on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet.  We made about 50 meatballs, give or take, i didn’t count, but we filled up 3 cookie sheets.

9.  Coat a large saute pan generously with olive oil, maybe like 1/3 cup.  Heat up oil for cooking meatballs.

10.  Arrange 10-12 meatballs around the pan and brown the spheres as best you can.  I usually brown one side, then flip it.  You are not cooking them all the way, rather just getting a beautiful browned outside.  They are circular, so it’s hard to get all sides evenly browned unless you are some kind of genius.  You’ll need to repeat this step several times, depending on how many meatballs you were able to form.

11.  Once the meatballs are browned, you have 2 choices for finishing the cooking process.  Option 1: place them gently in the mushroom marinara to finish cooking.  This is good for about 15 meatballs, after that, you have no more room.  From this point on, you have to be super careful when stirring the marinara so as not to break the meatballs which are quite delicate.  It’s more like making a “Figure 8” pattern along the bottom to prevent burning.

Option 2: Bake the meatballs on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.

Enjoy!  I’ve made these meatballs twice now, and they are always quite a hit.

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