Monday February 16, 2009

My Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs are one of my favorite childhood comfort foods. I was influenced by my family’s Italian restaurant and this dish was one of the most requested aside from the cheese ravioli. This is the kind of dish that has a thousand identities because so many have left their own mark on this classic dish. I have come back to this one time and time again because it always nourishes my soul. It is not my families version, though I have a special place in my heart for those flavors, it is the one that I enjoy most. I developed this version over time.

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I have adapted a technique with the onions that we use in the restaurant to make some of our Pakistani dishes and was surprised to see it being used in an episode of Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives, one of my guilty pleasures, at Donatelli’s Italian Restaurant in their meat sauce recipe. You start out with chopped yellow onions, a teaspoon of kosher salt and a pinch of paprika and slowly over low heat cook them in an oil bath until the onions turn soft. It is similar to the French confit method.

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For the sauce I keep it pretty simple. It starts with a soffritto, in Italian it means to take onions and garlic which have been diced fine and cook them until they are translucent and the garlic is pale gold, you may also add carrot and celery to this as I do. I am a great fan of Marcella Hazan and have learned this philosophy from her book “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”, and though I do stray from the classic applications by adding my own touches I can not speak enough about how these techniques have added a sense of passion to my food. I will blog about this in more depth someday. I cannot stress enough that the quality of the tomato product you use for this sauce is most important. I use the famed San Marzano tomatoes in the 28 oz. cans. They are lacking that overly acidic bite and metallic taste you get with the other canned tomato products. Another substitute is a tomato product I get at Trader Joe’s that comes in a box rather than a can and has garlic, onion and basil for added flavor. It is called Italian Tomato Starter Sauce and I like its bright clean flavor.

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I also like my tomatoes to be ground finely in this sauce, it reminds me of the scene in the Disney movie “Lady and the Tramp”, by the way it’s really hard to get two dogs to follow directions at the same time. Anyway, back to this recipe, this step depends on your preference. I actually grind the canned tomatoes in the blender before adding them to the pot. I finish the sauce with Italian parsley and basil and then stew the meatballs in the sauce for at least 1 hour. This is really key and I know this well because our family’s meatballs always tasted best when they were kept in the sauce throughout the day on a very low simmer.

For the meatballs I use an even combination of ground beef and ground turkey. I do this because we do not eat pork and straight beef seems too tough for me. The meatballs come out very tender but hold their shape perfectly. I bake them in the oven and then brown the tops with the broiler for just a few minutes.

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The best thing about this dish is leftovers the next day.

I usually cook a pound of spaghetti, Barilla Thick Spaghetti is my favorite, reserve the meatballs with about half of the sauce keeping just enough sauce in the pot to just coat the pasta. I also like to keep a bit of the cooking water after the pasta has cooked reserved to add to the spaghetti when I am tossing it with the sauce. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a bit more fresh parsley and basil. I keep the reserved sauce and meatballs on the side for those who like a heavier hand and what’s left for the next day turns into Meatball Parmesan Sandwiches. I like to use either focicca rolls like the one pictured or the long rolls with a crunchy crust and a soft crumb. Topped with thinly sliced onions, grated Parmesan and toasted in the oven is the best way to enjoy this.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
One thing to keep in mind is the amount of salt you use in the sauce. Do not be shy on the salt as it really brings the flavor out in the tomatoes. Taste as you go along.
MEATBALLS: yields about 32
Ingredients:

3 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, small diced
3 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup. italian parsley, chopped
1.25 pound ground beef, lean
1.25 pound ground turkey
3 slices white bread, crust removed and small diced
1 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Have ready a sheet pan lined with foil and lightly coated with oil.
Heat the oil in a sauté pan and cook the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and parsley and cook until the garlic is fragrant. Take off the heat and let cool.
Combine the meats in a large mixing bowl. In a medium bowl add the bread cubes and milk and let soak. Now add the cooled onion mixture, egg, and Parmesan cheese to the meat bowl. Take the bread soaked bread and squeeze out the milk. Add to the meat mixture and discard the milk. Add salt and pepper to taste and lightly mix the meat mixture until just combined, making sure not to over mix.
Form the meatballs into 3 oz. portions, or large golf ball size. Place on the sheet pan and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Now turn on the broiler and brown the tops of the meatballs, turn over with tongs and brown on other side. Take out of oven and set aside.

MARINARA SAUCE:
Ingredients:

1 yellow onions, small diced
1/3 cup oil
2- 28 oz. San Marzano tomatoes, ground
6 garlic cloves
1/4  cup basil leaves, chopped
1/4  cup italian parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to Taste
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Basil and italian parsley to garnish
Parmesan to garnish
1 pound spaghetti, cook according to package directions. (Once cooked reserve 1 cup of cooking water to thin out the sauce if needed.)

Method:

In a small saucepan add the oil, onions, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, a pinch of paprika and cover with a lid. Cook over simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour until soft making sure not to develop to much color though. (This can be done ahead of time and refrigerated until needed up to 1 week.)
In a large pot add the tomatoes, and grate the garlic cloves into a paste and cook over low heat. Add the onion, oil mixture, sugar and adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Cook over low heat for about 30 minutes and then add the basil and parsley.
When the meatballs are done add to the pot and cook covered over low heat for 1 hour.
When the sauce and meatballs have been simmering for about 45 minutes start to boil your pasta, drain, reserving the 1 cup of cooking water.

Now reserve the meatballs with about half of the sauce in a serving dish and add the spaghetti to your sauce. Gently toss the spaghetti in the sauce and add a bit of the reserved water over medium heat until you get your desired consistency. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and add some of the garnish of basil and parsley. Serve the spaghetti topped with some of the meatballs and grated Parmesan cheese. Serve the remaining meatballs along side.

Serves 6