Spaghetti and meatballs are synonymous with kids being happy about what’s for dinner.
“Mom, can I go over to Johnny’s house for dinner tonight? They’re having spaghetti and meatballs!”
Why? Because they are delicious. Maybe Johnny had a Nonna that passed down the recipe or maybe a mother or father that tinkered with it for years until the kids loved it!
Either way, they were always good.
You can make the meatballs using all beef, all veal (if you can find it), all pork or some kind of mixture. This is a good time to use up frozen meat or use it to stretch the main meat you want to use. You may have some pork and sausage tucked away that needs to get used. You can pull the meat out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator to safely thaw for about 12 to 48 hours. If you need to bulk it up, you can buy a little extra ground beef on the way home to have enough to make the meatballs.
Most meatball recipes call for about ½ cup of breadcrumbs per pound of ground meat. Milk or another type of liquid is added and this is called a panade. The panade helps bind the mixture of meat, keeping it tender as well as helping retain some of the rendered fat and moisture as it cooks. This recipe has potato with milk as the panade, which results in an even more tender meatball and happens to be gluten free. You can use leftover baked or mashed potatoes, or cook a fresh potato. The potato can be baked, boiled or microwaved. Make sure that it is thoroughly cooked; it should easily smash with the back of a spoon. The potato needs to be cooled down to at least room temperature (adding the cold milk to it can help).
Salt, pepper, thyme and garlic are pretty common. Parmesan acts as an extra umami flavor, as well as a salt addition. If you would like to switch up the spice a little, you can add some chopped red pepper flakes, crushed fennel seeds, basil, oregano, rosemary or sage. You can also add other things to the meatball, such as roasted garlic or garlic confit, caramelized onion, diced prosciutto, diced provolone, mozzarella or even chopped olives.
It’s lucky there is not an exact methodology for the addition of ingredients in meatballs (well, at least not that I use). You can pretty much have your meat in a bowl, toss all the properly measured ingredients on top, then fold the mixture and turn the bowl until the mixture becomes homogeneous.
Once that mixture becomes homogeneous it is NOT time to shape all the meatballs. You don’t want to make all of the meatballs, cook them, then realize that it would have been great to add just a bit more salt.
Make a test patty, or in this case test meatball, and cook it. Hopefully from cooking and tasting one, you will be able to sense the needed seasoning and adjust accordingly. You can always cook more than one until it is just right!I find that a golf ball size, plus or minus 25%, is normally about right for most meatball occasions. I like to bake the meatballs in the pan they will be served in. Oil the base of the pan lightly, arrange with at least ½ inch between, and bake at 425 degrees until the outside starts to become thoroughly browned. For me, this works best to cook about eight to 10 minutes, rotate and cook another four to six minutes depending on the size of the meatball. The inside temperature should be 155 degrees. You can also break into one with a fork and if there is just a hint of pink, you should be there (they will be cooked a little more).
You can use a store-bought sauce, but if you want to make things more complicated (apparently, I always do), there is a sauce recipe included.
Soffritto means to fry slowly in Italian. You can mince onions, celery and carrots, and fry them slowly in olive oil for the base of many Italian dishes. Soffritto works great for the base of tomato sauce. I prefer to pulverize the onion, celery and carrot with a food processor, but using a knife will work as well.
Over medium-low heat, in more olive oil than you think you need, saute or “fry slowly” the minced onion, celery and carrot. Once the mixture has started to look almost all the same (15 to 20 minutes), add in the minced garlic until it becomes very aromatic (two to three minutes), not too long or it will burn, then you can add your tomatoes. Any good canned tomatoes will work great: crushed, fire-roasted, pureed or diced. If they are still in large pieces, crush them up with your hands. Add the tomato to the mixture and keep the heat on medium-low, stirring occasionally for about two hours until the sauce has reduced by about 15-20%, becoming thick and losing almost all texture. Season and use immediately or reserve for later use.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound pork
- 4 ounces cooked potato smashed and cooled
- 2 ounces grated parmesan (plus about 1 to 2 ounces to finish)
- 4 ounces milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 3-4 ounces olive oil
- 2 small onions halved and peeled
- 2 small carrots peeled and sliced
- 2 celery stalks sliced
- 3 cloves garlic smashed
- 2 pints canned tomatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place all ingredients into a bowl. Pull up one side of the mixture and fold into the center while rotating the bowl, like you would dough. Mix until the mixture is homogeneous, being careful not to overwork. Cook a test meatball to check the seasoning, adjust as needed and shape into roughly golf ball-sized pieces. Bake at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes, rotating part of the way through, until the internal temperature is 155 degrees.
- Put all of the peeled onion, carrot and celery into a food processor. Blend until pieces are fine. If you don’t have a food processor, you can mince by hand. Saute in olive oil over low heat until the onion, celery and carrot are translucent and tender, but no color. Add garlic and saute for two to three minutes until aromatic. Add tomatoes and keep over low heat and simmer for two hours until all items have become extremely tender. Adjust seasoning as needed.
SERVEOnce you have your meatballs in a pan, sauce made and spaghetti cooked as per directions on the box, you are ready to assemble your meatball masterpiece. Place a little sauce around the meatballs, zigzag some spaghetti between the meatballs, place a little more sauce on top and turn the burner on medium, bringing to a simmer before turning it off. This will allow all of the flavors to meld between the components. Let sit for about five minutes to cool. While the pan is cooling, grate copious amounts of parmesan on top of the spaghetti, meatballs and sauce. Place a trivet or hot pad on the table and present the pan. A large spoon, tongs and maybe a fork will help you serve. It would be good to have a little extra parmesan on hand, just in case.