Friday, January 21, 2011

Spaghetti and Meatballs

My go-to spaghetti sauce, based on my grandmother’s recipe, contains ground beef. Therefore, I was never really drawn to recipes for spaghetti with meatballs, because I felt my sauce already had all you could want. Also, the Engineer doesn’t really like spaghetti, so I don’t often look for new spaghetti recipes. However, those who read this blog also know that I just love Molly Wizenberg and her recipes. So when she published a spaghetti and meatball recipe in Bon Appétit, I paid attention, especially because she said this was her perfect meatball. The Engineer and I feel that her turkey meatballs are the best thing ever, so if she says these beef-and-pork meatballs are better, she’s got our full attention. She cooks them in her tomato sauce with onion and butter, which is very simple, so I decided to try the recipe.

When the Engineer tasted it, he said, “I wish I had a time machine to give this to myself as a child; if all spaghetti were like this, I’d love it.” That’s high praise indeed! I’ll now have to alternate between this recipe and grandma’s recipe for spaghetti.

I made a double batch of meatballs and froze half for later use. The original recipe says it takes a total of 2 hours and 45 minutes to make, including cooking time. But for the first time in my life, I was done way before then, at about 2 hours. But the Engineer wasn’t home yet, so the sauce simmered a little longer than it should have. It turned out almost like a cream sauce – not what I had expected, but definitely very good. If there’s any chance you can digest butter (sometimes it’s too much lactose for me, but that depends on the person), I recommend you use it here; the taste is well worth it, and margarine wouldn’t turn out as well. Also, Molly Wizenberg says the following: “For the best texture, don’t overwork the meat mixture and use Parmesan that’s ground to a fine powder (use the processor or the rasp side of a box grater). For more heat, add ½ to ¾ tsp dried crushed red pepper to the sauce.” This makes 4 to 6 servings.

For the sauce
2 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes in juice, drained, juice reserved, tomatoes finely chopped
½ cup unsalted butter (or margarine if you really can’t digest butter)
2 medium onions, peeled, halved through root end
½ tsp (or more) salt

For the meatballs
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French or country-style bread (I used canned)
1/3 cup whole lactose-free milk
8 oz ground beef (15% fat)
8 oz ground pork
1 cup finely ground (not grated) Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 large garlic cloves, pressed (I minced)
1 lb spaghetti
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)

For the sauce
Combine tomatoes with juice, butter, onions, and salt in large wide pot. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard onions. Using immersion blender, process sauce briefly to break up any large pieces of tomato (texture should be even but not completely smooth). Season sauce with more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from heat.

For the meatballs
Combine breadcrumbs and milk in small bowl; stir until breadcrumbs are evenly moistened. Let stand 10 minutes.

Place beef and pork in large bowl and break up into small chunks. Add the ground Parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Whisk eggs to blend in small bowl; whisk in garlic. Add to meat mixture.

Using hands, squeeze milk from breadcrumbs, reserving milk. Add breadcrumbs to meat mixture. Using hands, quickly and gently mix meat mixture just until all ingredients are evenly combined (do not overmix). Chill mixture at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Moisten hands with some of reserved milk from breadcrumbs, then roll meat mixture between palms into golf-ball-size balls, occasionally moistening hands with milk as needed and arranging meatballs in single layer in sauce in pot. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes

Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.

Using slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to platter. Add pasta to sauce in pot and toss to coat. Divide pasta among 6 plates. Top each serving with meatballs. Sprinkle meatballs with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

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