Friday, May 15, 2009
You're getting a 2-for-1 on this post :)
I get the hankering for spaghetti and meatballs sometimes and not for the jarred crap - I must make my own. The last vestiges of winter have fallen away to spring, but my tummy is barely holding onto a losing battle to the liter fare that comes with lighter weather, and so I indulged it. Custer's last stand, if you will. If there was such a thing as past lives, I would have been a humble tomato. I am like a crack whore trying to get her next fix when it comes to all things tomato (especially when they're ripe in summer); a complete tomato addict. Making your own sauce and meatballs is a bit laborious and so I try to fit it in once or twice in the spring before summer comes and my kitchen becomes unbearable with the heat from the stove and oven. It's not something you want to do in small quantities, so stick with the amounts I give below to make it worth your time and effort. This is one of those "the way to your man's heart is through his stomach" recipes, I kid you not. My husband practically moans while eating this.
3 lb of ground meats (I use 2 of pork and 1 of beef, but feel free to use whatever combination you desire)
1/2 of a 4-oz. can of tomato paste
1/2 jar of sun-dried tomato pesto (substitute 1/3 c. or so of regular sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil that you have whizzed in the food processor)
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
3-4 tblsp. Italian seasoning
1-2 tblsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup + of homemade bread crumbs*
palmful of salt
*breadcrumbs - I get bags of homemade seasoned croutons at the local Italian bakery that they make from leftover bread that didn't sell, and then I pop them in my food processor and freeze the crumbs. I don't ever touch store-bought cans of "breadcrumbs" because the ingredient list is a paragraph long and contains soy products, which I avoid like the plague if I can help it.
Mix up your meat well if you're using more than one kind, but don't over-mix or it will get tough. Combine the tomato products, eggs, and seasonings in one bowl and pour over the meat mixture, working thoroughly into the meat. Add the breadcrumbs, starting with 1 cup. If your mixture still seems too wet, add another 1/4 cup or so until the mix feels stiffer but not too dry. Roll meatballs just slightly smaller than a 50-cent piece and place on lightly oiled cookie sheets (I use half sheet jelly roll pans with the lip so they don't roll off). I can usually get about 85 meatballs out of this recipe.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 35-40 minutes per tray of meatballs.
Can I say how much I love my own sauce? This may sound weird, but I could drink it...
4 28-oz. cans of Muir Glen fire-roasted ground tomatoes (or whatever brand crushed)
1 28-oz. can of Muir Glen chunky tomato sauce (it's plain)
1 4-oz. can of Muir Glen tomato paste + the leftover half can used for meatballs
Remainder of jar of sun-dried tomato pesto (or 1/4 or 1/3 c. processed s.d. tomatoes)
5 large peeled carrots, trimmed, roughly chopped
1/2 lg Spanish onion, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled
2 1/4 in.-thick slices of pancetta*
2 palmfuls of freshly ground fennel seed (use a mortar and pestle)
3 palmfuls of Italian seasoning
1 cup whole milk
half stick (4 oz.) butter
2 tblsp. olive oil
sugar to taste
salt to taste
red pepper flakes (optional)
Finely dice the pancetta and render in 8 qt. stockpot with the olive oil. Process chopped carrots and garlic to a pulp, and add to pot once pancetta fat has rendered, stirring to coat with fat and oil. Add chopped onion and stir again, cooking for a few minutes until translucent. Add tomato paste, sun-dried tomato pesto, Italian seasoning, fennel, and pepper flakes if desired. Stir well to incorporate and cook for another 2 minutes. Add all crushed/ground tomatoes and plain tomato sauce to pot and stir well. Use an immersion (hand-held stick) blender to puree everything in the pot. Add butter and milk, stir. Add salt and sugar to taste, stir well. Cover pot and let simmer for at least an hour (you can simmer longer if you add some meatballs to further flavor it).
With the sugar, I like my sauce slightly on the sweet side (thanks Grandma). It takes away a lot of the acidity and "canned" taste of tomatoes...and I just think it tastes better. I usually will stick my hand in my big sugar container, grab a handful or two, and throw it in the pot and stir. I check again in a little bit to see if I need to add more (sometimes I do, just depends on the tomatoes). Once I have it sweet enough but it tastes like it might be just missing something, I add the salt to taste to finish it off (start out with a teaspoon). You can add anything else you might want, or more of the seasonings above (sometimes I do add a little more).
*If you don't have pancetta, don't worry about it; you can simply omit, but sub in an extra 2 tblsp. of EVOO.
Serve over spaghetti or buccatini (large spaghetti that are hollow), and top with good grated parmegiano-reggiano cheese. The leftover meatballs can be stored in air-tight containers in the freezer, and the leftover sauce in quart containers in the freezer.