Monday, October 7, 2013

Best Spaghetti and Meatballs

It was a perfect fall afternoon here - cool but sunny, windy with a bright blue sky. We're in that space where Mother Nature straddles two seasons, where the leaves skitter by on the pavement while the orange Mexican sunflowers continue to bloom in my garden. It was cool enough tonight for a warming meal, and warm enough to grab handfuls of fresh herbs from the garden after walking the dog. 

If I were Italian, I could call these Nona's Meatballs. But, I come from a line of skinny German, Welsh, and Irish people, with a bit of Cherokee tossed in. Nonetheless, these are the best meatballs I've ever made, good enough to write down. 

For this recipe, I use my mini-food-processor several times. You can do this stuff by hand, of course, but I love that little food processor - I use it all the time to shortcut chopping onions, for example. A knife works fine too! 


Best Spaghetti and Meatballs

1 pack plain Melba toast (4-5 crackers)
a few sprigs each of fresh thyme, oregano, and basil 
1 small onion
4 small garlic cloves
grated Pecorino Romano
1 egg
1 pound ground beef 
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper 

1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes in puree 
1 28 ounce can tomato sauce 
1 pound spaghetti 

1. Toss the Melba toast into the mini-food-processor and pulse until crumby. Or, smash with a heavy rolling pin. If you don't want to do this, substitute bread crumbs (I didn't have any on hand, and found the Melba toast to be really delicious). 

2. Pull all of the leaves off the herbs and toss together in a small bowl. It's fine to leave the basil leaves whole for now. Using the mini-food-processor, finely chop the onion and garlic. Scoop out half of the onion/garlic mixture from the food processor and set aside in another bowl. Toss in half the whole fresh herbs, and pulse again to make a finely chopped mixture of deliciousness (garlic+onion+herbs). Set aside the leftover chopped onion/garlic and remaining whole herbs for the sauce. 

Put up a pot of salted water to boil. 

3. In a large bowl, whisk the egg. Then, stir in the garlic/onion/herb mixture, about half of the melba toast crumbs (or a little more) and a small handful of grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Add the beef and smash it up with your hands until mixed. Meatball recipes always say "don't overmix!" and I have overlistened to this advice. Take it easy, but don't be afraid either. Divide into 16 or so evenly-sized meatballs. 

4. Heat a few Tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Sautee the remaining chopped onion/garlic for a few minutes until fragrant, then add all of the crushed tomatoes in puree and about half the tomato sauce (or more, if you like it really saucy). Season with salt and pepper, tear up the remaining basil leaves, and toss the fresh herbs into the pasta. Totally fine if they are just torn up and uneven. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Add meatballs, spoon sauce over, cover, and simmer gently until the meatballs are cooked through (10-15 minutes). Add a bit more of the tomato sauce if you feel like it needs it.

5. Cook the spaghetti while the meatballs are simmering. When all is ready, toss together, top with some more cheese, and enjoy! Tastes especially good when the kids ask for seconds.