Since summertime is essentially year-round here in California, I find myself occasionally nostalgic towards the colder-weather dishes I enjoyed with my family for a lengthy portion of the year back on the East Coast. Once the thought of spaghetti and meatballs crossed my mind, it wasn’t an idea easily shook; but for the sake of completely responsible journalism, I must admit that I didn’t really try that hard to shake it. It’s a dish that rarely disappoints, and seems to never really provide enough leftovers. It’s a recipe that warrants room in the arsenal of all cooks, from the most well-versed chef to the most sporadic of weekend cooking types. So I’m sharing today the spaghetti and meatballs recipe that has fueled the most diligent of igloo-building sisters, multiple occasions of a happily snowed-in family, and now – a sunshine-chasing West Coaster.
I generally used canned crushed tomatoes in spaghetti and meatballs, but I found some brilliant San Marzano tomatoes in the most recent shipment from Melissa’s, and decided that they were destined for a slow-simmered future, to be nestled over pasta, of course. The result was a serious infusion of summertime flavor into a classic colder-weather dish.
spaghetti and meatballs
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Although this recipe isn’t revolutionary, it’s a tried-and-true classic that has never failed me. My twist on the classic is that I like to brown the meatballs in a high temperature oven, which preserves the integrity of the finished result without the extra effort or all of the mess. It gives you a chance to clean up the kitchen and set the table, and of course, top off your glass of wine.
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
For the meatballs:
2 slices white sandwich bread (crusts discarded), torn into small cubes
1/2 cup buttermilk or 6 tablespoons plain yogurt thinned with 2 tablespoons milk
3/4 pound ground beef chuck (or 1 pound if omitting ground pork below)
1/4 pound ground pork (to be mixed with ground chuck)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 large egg yolk
1 small clove garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
Ground black pepper
vegetable oil for pan-frying (about 1 1/4 cups)
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 cups freshly crushed San Marzano tomatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), or 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
Sea salt and ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti, for serving
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Additional ribboned basil or parsley, for serving
For the meatballs: Add the bread and buttermilk into a small bowl. Mash together briefly with a fork, and set aside until a smooth paste forms, mashing every few minutes or so as it comes together as needed.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place the oven rack on the mid-to-upper position, and preheat to 375 degrees F.
In a medium size bowl, mix all of the meatball ingredients together, including bread mixture above. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Lightly form about 3 tablespoons of the mixture into 1 1/2-inch round meatballs and place onto the prepared baking sheet; repeat with remaining mixture to form approximately 14 meatballs. Note, preparation up until this step can be prepared in advance: covering the uncooked meatballs tightly and placing in the refrigerator until needed.
In a large stock pot, bring 4 quarts of water and a tablespoon of salt to boil to cook the pasta.
As the water boils, warm the olive oil oil over medium-high heat in large sauté pan. Once the oil is warm, add the garlic and sauté just until garlic is golden, only about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, bring to boil, and simmer gently until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the basil; add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Gently nestle the meatballs into the sauce and simmer, turning them occasionally, until coated and warmed through, about 5 minutes. Cover, and leave the sauce over a low flame to keep warm.
Cook the pasta in the boiling water until al dente, drain, and serve immediately with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and basil or parsley.
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