Monday, August 22, 2011

Comfort Food 101: Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs

For any Bostonians out there, you'll remember the icky, non-August like weather we experienced early last week.  It was cold and raining - RAIN two weekends in a row!  I don't know about you, but that kind of weather makes me want to flip it the bird stay in bed all day and eat high carb comfort foods!  I was at work and my mind kept wandering to homemade meatballs and sauce.  I decided I must have spaghetti and meatballs for dinner!  I stopped at the supermarket on my way home to pick up the necessary ingredients I didn't already have on hand.
I was a bit giddy when I got home and assembled all of the ingredients for the meatballs and sauce.  Both the meatballs and sauce came together fairly quickly and I was sitting down to a delicious, comforting meal in about an hour.  The recipe makes about 20 meatballs, so this is a great make ahead and freeze option.  I've already pulled out a few meatballs to slice and use for a pizza.  I've also had just the sauce with some pasta and leftover veggies.  Meatballs and spaghetti sauce are so versatile - I'm almost looking forward to a semi cool night soon so I can heat up a big bowl of pasta with sauce and meatballs!

Meatballs and Sauce
Yields: ~20 meatballs and a whole lot of sauce
Servings: One About 8-10

1 1/4 pounds of lean ground beef (I used 97% lean since the pork would add some additional fat and moisture)
1/2 - 3/4 pounds of ground pork
Two eggs, slightly beaten
1/3 - 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs (I used a mix of unseasoned panko and whole wheat)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (I used the kind in a shaker can because I think it distributes better throughout the mixture than freshly grated)
1 T dried parsley
Salt & pepper
1/2 medium vidalia (or yellow) onion
1 T garlic (I used the pre-chopped garlic in oil because I forgot to buy fresh garlic.  You can also use 1 clove of fresh or 1 tsp. garlic powder)
Olive oil

Place the ground beef and pork in a bowl large enough to combine when all ingredients have been added.  Add in the eggs, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper.  Start out by adding only 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs.  You may need to add more if the mixture is too sticky or wet after all the ingredients have been added.
Finely chop or grate the onion and add to the bowl.  I find by grating the onion, you add better flavor and moisture that you wouldn't get from just finely chopping the onion.  If using fresh garlic, grate the clove into the bowl.  This way, you don't bite down into a large chunk of garlic and the flavor blends nicely into the mixture.
Preheat a skillet large enough to brown your meatballs as well as big enough to fit the sauce and meatballs.  Add a small amount of oil and keep the pan on medium heat.
Gently combine all the ingredients.  Don't over mix or the meatballs will end up being tough.  If the mixture is too wet, add more breadcrumbs.  If you added too many breadcrumbs, you can add in any of the following, 1 tablespoon at a time to moisten the mixture: unflavored seltzer, egg whites or broth.
Form the meatballs and place directly into the preheated skillet.  I used a spring-loaded cookie scoop to form evenly sized meatballs.  Brown the meatballs on all sides - This should take about 12 minutes.  Keep in mind that you will finish cooking the meatballs in the sauce, so you want to just brown them to add color and flavor.  Take the meatballs out of the pan and place on a dish.
NOTE: You can skip this step and just drop the meatballs directly into the sauce to cook.  They won't be browned but you will save a few calories and some fat by omitting this step.

Spaghetti Sauce
Olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 T garlic (about two cloves)
1 small can tomato paste (I used about 3/4 a tube because that is what I had in the pantry - More may be needed depending on how thick/thin you like your sauce)
1 magnum 1/2 cup red wine (I used Ravenswood Zin)
About 1 tablespoon each of: dried parsley, dried oregano and dried basil (If using fresh, add a bit more of each)
Salt & pepper
1 large can crushed tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce (preferably no salt added)
1 T sugar (if needed)

In the same skillet you used to brown the meatballs, add a small amount of olive oil and preheat.  Once heated, add in the onions and saute on medium heat until translucent.  Add in garlic (good idea to grate here too!) and cook for about 30 seconds to bring out the flavor.  Make sure the heat isn't too high - There's not much worse than burned garlic to make a sauce bitter!  Add in the tomato paste and combine with the onions and garlic.  Add in the whole bottle wine and the spices and cook for about two minutes.  Add in the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Fill the smaller can with water and add about 3/4 of the can to the pan to start.  You may need to add more later if the sauce is too thick.  Cover and let simmer for about five minutes.  Taste and add salt, pepper and sugar if needed.  Additional water and or tomato paste may need to be added at this time.  I prefer a thicker sauce, so I didn't add any water, but I did add some more tomato paste.  Cover and continue to simmer for another five minutes.  Once the sauce has the right seasoning, add in your browned meatballs.  Keeping the heat on medium-low, cover and cook for about 20 - 25 minutes.  Every 10 minutes or so, turn the meatballs to make sure they're cooking evenly.

Serve the sauce and meatballs with your favorite pasta or enjoy with a nice piece of fresh Italian bread!  I served mine with nice, hearty bucatini - No whole wheat pasta this time!  Throw a straw in the bottle Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy!