Spaghetti with Meatballs
Here’s a basic standby you can fall back on for years to come. This is my favorite recipe for meatballs, which aren’t at all hard to make, and a method for simmering them quickly in delicious homemade sauce, piling it all onto freshly cooked pasta, topping with cheese, greens and pepper, and sitting down to a perfect family meal.
Start making the meatballs about an hour before you want to eat, to allow time for shaping and browning them and then simmering them in the sauce while the pasta cooks. Or, even better, make the meatballs and cook them in the sauce a day or two ahead and then reheat them (slowly, over low heat, stirring gently from time to time) while the pasta cooks. The flavors will become deeper this way.
One 24-ounce jar prepared tomato sauce, or about 3 cups of homemade tomato sauce (I’ll add the recipe below)
Meatballs (recipe follows)
1 pound spaghetti
3 tablespoons olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes
A handful or two of chopped flat-leaf parsley
For the homemade tomato sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 medium green bell pepper, finely diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¾ teaspoon salt
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
½ cup water
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
A generous handful or two of chopped flat-leaf parsley
How to make tomato sauce (you can use a bought sauce instead)
Place a large pot over medium-high heat. After about a minute, add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, herbs, and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes, water, tomato paste, and black pepper. Use a spoon to break up the tomatoes if they are in rather large chunks. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Add the parsley, stir, and serve.
Of course meatballs go superbly with spaghetti, but they’re also great as a main dish on their own, with or without the tomato sauce. If you’re going the classic spaghetti-and-meatballs route, brown the meatballs in a soup pot so you can add the sauce to the same pot. If your meatballs have a different destiny that does not involve a sauce, you can cook them in a skillet instead.
Meatballs - Ingredients
1/3 cup toasted whole wheat breadcrumbs
1/3 cup milk
1 large egg
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
A handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ cup very finely minced yellow onion
¾ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground chuck
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Making the meatballs first
1. In a medium-large bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs and milk. Let sit for a minute or two.
2. Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl. Add the egg, cheese, parsley, onion, salt, and about 5 grinds of black pepper to the breadcrumb mixture, mixing well with your fingers.
3. Crumble in the ground beef, and use your hands to mix everything gently until it’s just combined.
4. Set out a tray or a couple of dinner plates to hold the formed meatballs. Wet your hands with cold water and gently roll the meat mixture into 1½-inch balls, placing them on the tray or plate as you go. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the raw meat.
5. Place a soup pot or large (10-to 12-inch) heavy skillet over medium heat. After about a minute, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and swirl to coat the pot. Add just enough meatballs to fit comfortably, and cook undisturbed for about 2 minutes, or until the surface touching the pot is deeply browned.
6. Turn the meatballs carefully with tongs to brown them all over. They are done when no longer pink in the middle. Total cooking time should be 10 to 12 minutes. If you have more raw meatballs to cook, take the cooked ones out of the pot, set them on a clean plate, and cover them loosely with foil. Brown the remaining ones, adding more olive oil to the pot for each batch.
7. Once all the meatballs are fully cooked, return them to the pot to reheat briefly. They’re now ready to be eaten as is, or simmered gently in your favorite tomato sauce and tossed with pasta.
Spaghetti with Meatballs - Final Steps
8. Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs in the pot they cooked in. Turn the heat to low, and simmer gently while you cook the pasta.
9. Put a large pot of cold water to boil over high heat, and add a tablespoon of salt. Place a large colander in the sink. When the water boils, add the spaghetti, keeping the heat high. Cook for the amount of time recommended on the package, tasting a strand toward the end of the suggested time to be sure it is not getting overcooked. When it is just tender enough to bite into comfortably but not yet mushy, dump the water-plus-pasta into the colander. Shake to mostly drain (it’s okay to leave some water clinging), then transfer the spaghetti to a large bowl and immediately drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat.
10. You can serve this in one of two ways: dump all the sauce-plus-meatballs into the bowlful of pasta, shake and toss to mix, top with Parmesan, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and parsley, and serve right away. Or you can make individual servings, using tongs to place some spaghetti onto each plate and then ladling on a generous amount of the meatballs and sauce. Serve hot, passing around the Parmesan, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and parsley so people can customize their spaghetti-and-meatball experience.
Don’t forget the joys of a meatball sandwich. Just split a sandwich roll (toast it under the broiler or, buttered, in a skillet, if you like), ladle on meatballs and sauce, and sprinkle some grated Parmesan on top.
You can also add these meatballs to a soup, or make them smaller and serve them, sauceless, on toothpicks for a great party snack.
Add a teaspoon of dried oregano (or 2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano) to the meatball mixture.