Thursday, July 23, 2009

Spaghetti and meatballs: take that grandma!!

I'm not going to say these are best spaghetti and meatballs ever (even though they are) because I don't want the Italian grandmother mafia to put the hit on me. Spaghetti and meatballs, an iconic thing if ever there was one with deep familial connections. Kind of like potato salad, or a history of mental illness (not my family mind you...we're FINE!). So I don't make that "best ever" claim lightly. But the truth is the truth, so I have to go with it.

My great claim to food shame is that in all these years of cooking at home I have never made spaghetti and meatballs, where the meatballs and sauce are made lovingly from scratch. The other day I got the bug, even though the middle of summer in our defiantly non-A/C house doesn't usually put me in the mind of "Man, something that cooks for hours on the stove sounds perfect!" Stuck in my mind it was, though, so I had to rid my brain of the demon and hopefully end up with something completely kickass in the process. I did and it was! I looked at many versions and got this recipe off of the iPhone epicurious app (the unholy tech-child of Steve jobs and Ruth Reichl). Never mind that the recipe said it would feed 12-16 and it was just w and I for dinner. Ever hear of leftovers (as in three 48 ounce Tupperware tubs) for Christ's sake? When I decided to put this to the test, I somehow missed the part that said to roll out 70 meatballs. 70 freaking meatballs?? Maybe it's because my hands are big and the meaty orbs were a bit, um, large, but I ended up with 52 (a few of which can be seen awaiting their simmery fate at left), which sorely tested my patience. If I would of had to roll out 18 more I might've chucked the whole fucking lot. With the sauce simmering happily in the background (above right), I browned off the meatballs, which after a few fell victim to careless turning left me with 48. Which was plenty. After the whole lot was combined and cooked together, the bowl of luscious Italian comfort food that resulted was incredible. The sauce was light and fresh, not that dark, heavy, too-sweet slop that often passes for "rich" spaghetti sauce (note how simple the sauce is, and NO tomato paste needed, thank you). As expected, the next day the sauce was even better because of that 24 hour food miracle called "flavor melding". And I am quite content to know that sitting in my freezer are three more big dinners to come. To all Italian grandmothers: I am ready to throw down!!
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Spaghetti and Meatballs
from Gourmet | January 2009
Yield: Makes 12 to 16 servings
Active Time: 2 hr
Total Time: 3 hr

For tomato sauce:
6 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes in juice (preferably San Marzano)
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

For meatballs:
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
10 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 cups torn day-old Italian bread
3 cups whole milk
6 large eggs
2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/4 pound)
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 1/2 pounds ground veal
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (not lean)
1 cup olive or vegetable oil

For pasta:
2 pounds dried spaghetti

Accompaniment: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Equipment: a 12-to 16-quart nonreactive heavy pot or 2 smaller nonreactive pots; a 6-to 8-quart pasta pot with a pasta/steamer insert for cooking spaghetti in 2 batches.

Make sauce:
Drain tomatoes, reserving juice in a large bowl. Crush tomatoes with your hands and add to juice.

Cook onions in oil in pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes with their juice, 4 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Simmer sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Season with salt.

Make meatballs while sauce simmers:
Cook onions in extra-virgin olive oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Soak bread in milk in another bowl until soft, about 5 minutes. Firmly squeeze bread to remove excess milk, discarding milk.

Stir together cooled onion mixture, bread, eggs, parmesan, parsley, oregano, lemon zest, 51/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoon pepper until combined. Add meats to bread mixture, gently mixing with your hands until just combined (do not overmix).

Form meat mixture into about 70 (1 1/2-inch) balls with dampened hands, arranging meatballs on 2 large baking sheets or in shallow baking pans.

Heat olive or vegetable oil (1 cup) in a 12-inch heavy skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown meatballs in 4 or 5 batches (without crowding), turning frequently, about 5 minutes per batch. Return to baking sheets.

Add meatballs to sauce and gently simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes. (If pot is not large enough, divide meatballs and sauce between 2 pots.)

Prepare pasta:

Cook spaghetti in 2 batches in pasta insert in boiling salted water (3 tablespoon salt for 6 qt water) until just al dente, draining and tossing each batch with some of sauce in a large serving dish.

Serve with meatballs, remaining sauce, and grated cheese.

Cooks' notes:
•Meatballs can be made and simmered in sauce 5 days ahead and chilled (covered once cool).
•Meatballs with sauce can be frozen in an airtight container or heavy-duty sealable bags up to 3 months.◊


Anonymous said...

so why canned tamaters and not fresh? does the fresh lack juicyness?


Anh said...

Oh yum :) This must be it, the perfect comfort food!

Anonymous said...

Sounds good! Where'd you get the veal in PDX?

bb said...

anon- canned tomatoes, especially san marzanos, have a perfect flavor/texture for sauces. Fresh tomatoes tend to fall apart and aren't as concentrated.

Anh- I was extremely comfortable eating this, although not so much fter the second helping!

anon- Zupan's (I go to the one on SE Belmont)has been my go-to for veal hre. they usually have ground, cutlets, chops, etc.

dds said...

As a doggie bag recipient I can vouch for the amazing deliciousness of this dish. The meatballs were simultaneously light-as-air, meaty and flavorful. They must've been a bitch to fry and not decimate, but well worth the effort (says she who blithely consumed without slaving one whit).

Since I would NEVER be patient enough to make this on my own, what about a meatball party? A couple extra hands would make short work of this and since it makes enough for an army...perfect.

Unknown said...

We’ve no doubt your spaghetti + meatballs would beat the Italian Grandmother Mafia’s any day!