Sunday, December 25, 2011

Spaghetti and meatballs

As temperatures drop and sun begins to set earlier, I start craving more time at home. Rather than going out into the cold, the perfect Saturday afternoon is spent reading, maybe sipping a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and then slowly making our way to the kitchen to prepare dinner. During the week, dinners have to be quick and simple, suitable to be consumed between 9pm when I typically get home and 1am when I'm falling asleep.  On Saturdays, however, we have the luxury of time to prepare a meal that requires more than two steps, to let sauces simmer, to set a proper table and enjoy the process of cooking.

Spaghetti and meatballs make the perfect meal for a chilly Saturday. It is comforting, involved enough to require a couple of hours, but not too complicated, and makes plenty of leftovers for the week. I've tried many versions of meatballs and a recent favorite is adapted from Williams-Sonoma. These meatballs are savory with prosciutto and Parmesan, yet still feel light. It is important to work the meat gently, flipping it with the whole hand as you mix just until combined rather than mashing it with the fingers to achieve the perfectly uniform mix that would result in tough meatballs. As a side we has sauteed escarole, but broccoli rabe, kale, or even a green salad would all work.

Roman-style meatballs
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma


  • 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs or fresh bread torn into small bits, crusts removed
  • 1/2 cup milk, any fat content will do
  • 4 oz. finely chopped prosciutto 
  • 1 lb. ground beef 
  • 1 lb. ground pork 
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten 
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh oregano 
  • 6 Tbs. finely chopped fresh basil, plus a bit more torn basil for serving 
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced finely
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more, to taste  
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more, to taste 
  • 5 Tbs. olive oil 
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 can (28 oz.) whole peeled tomatoes with juices, crushed with your hands 
  • 1 lb dried spaghetti for serving
  • Directions:

    In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and milk and let stand for 10 minutes. 
    In a saucepan large enough to hold the 56 ounces of tomatoes and all the meatballs, over medium heat warm 3 Tbs. olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Stir in 3 Tbs. basil.

    In a large bowl, combine the prosciutto, ground beef, pork, eggs, cheese, parsley, oregano, the remaining 3 Tbs. of the basil, the remaining 3 of the minced garlic cloves, the 1 tsp. salt and the 1/2 tsp. pepper. Add the soaked bread crumbs and mix gently until combined. Divide the meat mixture into 1/4-cup portions and roll into balls slightly larger than golf-size. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

    In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 2 Tbs. of the olive oil. Working in 2 batches, brown the meatballs on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. I move the browned meatballs directly into the pan with the tomato sauce, but you can also hold on a plate until all meatballs are browned and then all them all together to the sauce.

    Simmer the meatballs in the sauce, turning occasionally and basting with the sauce, until cooked through, about 30 minutes. I tend to keep the sauce pan covered at this point. If the sauce is too watery as the meatballs finish cooking, then open the lid and simmer for another 10 minutes. 
    While the meatballs are cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add plenty of salt and cook the spaghetti a minute shy of the al dente time recommended on the package. Drain the spaghetti and return to the pot. Remove the cooked meatballs to a plate and keep warm on the back of the stove. Add the desired amount of sauce to the spaghetti and toss, over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes to allow some of the sauce to get absorbed into the noodles. Twist the spaghetti into warm bowls, top with meatballs, torn fresh basil, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve immediately. Serves 4 - 6, with some meatballs left over.

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