Back with Spaghetti and Meatballs

Hey there. I’m still here. I’m so tired of talking about why that’s a feat worth celebrating for all of us anymore. If you are reading this, you are still here, and I am still here, and we are sharing this space, some days more successfully than others. I have found comfort in routine and consistency. Things like regular morning Peloton bike rides via FaceTime with a friend, Zoom knitting dates, baking days with a friend, knowing exactly what shows we have to watch when we sit down on the couch at night, and meal planning

Yes, we are successfully meal planning every week, and have been for awhile now. We started when Karl started classes at Metro State University in August to help save money and frustration at having to figure out dinner and go to the store at the end of a long day of work and classes. It’s honestly become one of my favorite parts of the weekend. I love sitting down with our meal planning pad, wrangling Karl (he loves having meals ready to go every night, but does not like the planning part), and flipping through cookbooks and online recipes together. Then I go to the store and cruise through the aisles with an organized list. It feels so satisfying. Every week we pick one or two new recipes, one or two super easy and semi-prepared meals, and one or two tried and true favorites.

Spaghetti and meatballs is one recipe that is in our regular rotation. I’ve kind of smashed a couple of recipes and techniques together with a few of my own additions. This meal always makes me think of having spaghetti and meatballs at my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. We would have dinner at their house frequently, maybe weekly on a Sunday or something like that. I would feel so fancy because we ate in the dining room, and they had a cook who made the most amazing food. On nights that we would have spaghetti and meatballs, my brother Ian and I would slurp our noodles, as kids are inclined to do, which I remember driving our grandmother Mimi crazy, because it wasn’t polite. I’m still over here slurping my spaghetti though. A little aside – I wonder if that memory is a real one or one I’ve exaggerated or reworked in my head over 25 years. Did Ian and I really slurp our spaghetti, and was Mimi really that annoyed with us? I’m unsure, but real or only based on true events, the memory makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Tomato sauce with cooked ground beef mixed in at the end

So here’s the spaghetti and meatballs as it’s become over time. The sauce is one that I can make now without looking at the recipe, and is one that I often forget to season with salt at the end until we take a bite, and Karl gets up to get the salt. By itself with pasta, the sauce is a quick and mostly hands-off meal. Sometimes I cook some ground beef separately and add it into the sauce at the very end for a meat sauce situation. If I plan this meal for a night when I’ll have a little more time to dedicate to cooking, I’ll add in the meatballs. The sauce recipe is basically Marcella Hazan’s very internet famous tomato, onion, and butter sauce. The meatballs are tweaked from this recipe (NYT Cooking subscription required for that link). I know that to really get good flavor in the meatballs you should let them simmer away in the sauce for awhile, but I haven’t gotten my cooking steps in order enough to do that yet. (When do I put the meatballs in if I need to blend the sauce to make it smooth but don’t want the sauce to cook too long and get too thick? Is it even possible cook tomato sauce too long? I really don’t know.)

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Ingredients
Sauce

28-ounce can of tomatoes and their juice (i.e. San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, but also sometimes the store brand whole peeled tomatoes because they’re cheaper)
5 tablespoons butter
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
Salt

Meatballs
6 ounces ground beef
6 ounces ground pork
1 cup or 60 grams Parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup of parsley, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
Salt
Pepper
Italian seasoning

A box of your favorite pasta

What you do

Put the tomatoes, butter, onion, and garlic cloves into a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then lower the heat to very low so the sauce continues to gently simmer for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, crushing up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400°, and get out a sheet pan. Mix all of the meatball ingredients together until just combined. I prefer to do this with my hands. Don’t over mix the mixture; this may lead to dense and tough meatballs, which nobody likes.

Heat a skillet over medium to medium high heat. You’re going to make a tiny test meatball to check the seasoning. Shape a small bit of meatball mixture into a patty, and put it in the skillet. Cook it through, flipping, and taste it for salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. Do this until you’ve got the perfect taste.

Shape the meatball mixture into meatball shapes, and put them on the sheet pan, spaced out evenly. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until they reach an internal temperature of 160°. (That’s the done temp for ground beef, which is higher than the done temp for ground pork, so I go with it to be safe.)

Once the meatballs go in the oven, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. I like to cook spaghetti in my dutch oven because it’s big. For a 12-ounce box of spaghetti, I typically use 7-8 cups of water and a heaping tablespoon of kosher salt. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Drain it, and set aside.

This next step is applicable only if you like your tomato sauce smooth. If you like it a little chunkier, skip ahead. After the sauce has been simmering for about 30 minutes, pull out the onion, but don’t throw it away. Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until smooth. You could also transfer the sauce to a regular blender or food processor, go to town, and return it to the pot. Put the onion back into the sauce. Add salt to taste.

When the meatballs finish cooking in the oven, drop them into the tomato sauce. I usually let them simmer in there for five or so minutes, or as long as we can wait to eat.

When you’re ready to eat, remove the onion, and throw it away. Divvy up the pasta, and top it with sauce, meatballs, and, if you’d like, a little more Parmesan cheese.

Note: If you want to make this a meat sauce, cook the tomato sauce as directed above. While it simmers, cook a pound of ground meat in a skillet. Drain the fat from the skillet. Add the cooked ground meat to the sauce after you blend it.


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