Full disclosure: in all the years I’ve been an amateur cook, I’ve never made spaghetti and meatballs. Shocking, I know. Anyone with the most rudimentary kitchen skills should be able to pull this off, right? My culinary arsenal is stocked with various pasta dishes, but was woefully missing this one. That is, until a few days ago.
Since Christmas last year, I’ve made a total of three pasta dishes (one of which you’ll see here very soon). Despite the carbo-palooza, though, my sister was still craving more pasta. This time, I didn’t want to go to my old stand-bys, so I figured it was time to finally tackle spaghetti and meatballs. I mean, how hard can it be?
Turns out, not that difficult. I had the Internet at my disposal, so finding a recipe was a breeze. Out of thousands of recipes (I didn’t count, but it made sense everyone would have their own), I ended up choosing Bon Appetit‘s recipe for two reasons: a) it looked delicious, and b) I am currently obsessed with their cooking videos (Claire Saffitz’s Gourmet Makes are worth binging).
Now, I know this recipe was concocted by the professionals over at the BA test kitchen, but of course I had to take a shot at customizing it. One of the major changes I made was frying the meatballs instead of cooking them in the sauce. I mean, frying makes everything taste better, right? I also decided to add tomato paste in the sauce just because I like my tomato-based pasta on the tangy side.*
By the way, if you like large meatballs (as you should), these are the size of golf balls, so you won’t be disappointed. I could only down two, but if you can handle more, I have nothing but admiration for you.
Here’s my version of the recipe (adapted from Bon Appetit).
For the sauce:
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 small onions, chopped
150g tomato paste
2 800g cans whole peeled tomatoes in juice, drained, juice reserved and tomatoes chopped
1/3 cup (75g) unsalted butter
1 tsp (or more) salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tbsp dried basil
1/2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
For the meatballs:
227g (1/2 lb) ground beef (15% fat)
227g (1/2 lb) ground pork
1 cup finely ground (not grated) Parmesan cheese
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 large egg
1/3 cup whole milk
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 large garlic cloves, grated
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 quarts water with 2 tsp salt (for cooking pasta)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)
1. Mash up the beef and pork chunks in a large bowl and add the Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, and parsley.
2. In anther bowl, whisk eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and garlic. Add this to the meat mixture.
3. Use your hands to mix everything just until all the ingredients are evenly combined but not over-mixed. Chill the mixture between 15 minutes and one hour.
4. Portion the mixture into 2-tablespoon balls**. Add olive oil to a large pot over medium heat and fry the balls until the outsides are brown. Remove the cooked meatballs and let them drain. Remove excess oil from the pot but leave behind about 2 tablespoons. Saute the onions and garlic and caramelize tomato paste (cook until the paste’s color deepens and the texture thickens). Add the chopped tomatoes with their juice, butter, salt, pepper, basil, and Italian seasoning. Let the sauce simmer uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. After 20 minutes, start boiling your salted water for pasta.
6. Thirty minutes into the simmering time, use an immersion blender to break down large tomato lumps, but make sure the sauce isn’t entirely smooth. Add the meatballs and keep simmering for the rest of the remaining time (about 15 minutes).
7. If your pasta water is boiling, cook pasta until al dente, drain, and set aside.
8. Using a slotted spoon, gently scoop out the meatballs and transfer them to a separate serving bowl. Stir the sauce and season more if necessary. Pour the pasta into the pot and mix thoroughly.
9. Have your spaghetti topped with as many meatballs and as much grated Parmesan cheese as you can handle.
*If you find the sauce too acidic, you can cut that with a teaspoon of sugar. Some people prefer to add sweetness by sauteing some carrots or celery (or both) before piling on the tomato products. I personally haven’t tried any of these methods, but feel free to adjust the sauce’s flavor to your liking.
**You can eyeball the size if you want to make this easy, but if you’re a stickler for accuracy like me, you can use a tablespoon; just scoop twice and mash together. Make sure you mash up the two separate scoops really well together so the ball doesn’t split in half while cooking. You can also use a 2-tbsp ice cream scoop (I don’t have one so I had to settle for the tablespoon technique).
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