2009 November: Pasta Primer

Spaghetti and MeatballsSpaghetti with Meatballs
This recipe is very close to how my mother did her meatballs, but there are as many recipes for meatballs as there are Italians. This recipe makes 18 meatballs, each about 2 inches in diameter.

Makes 6 servings (scale up in direct proportion)
1⁄2 pound ground pork
1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup cubed day-old French bread
1⁄2 cup milk
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
1⁄8 teaspoon pepper
1⁄4 cup minced fl at-leaf parsley
1⁄4 cup grated Romano cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten

In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork and beef. In a small bowl soak the bread in the milk. Squeeze the bread to drain the excess milk. Tear the bread into small pieces and add it to the meat. Add the oregano, basil, salt, pepper, parsley, Romano and egg. Mix thoroughly. Form the meatballs by rolling them between your palms. Arrange the meatballs on a sheet pan fi tted with a drain tray (I use pizza screens).

Bake the meatballs in the oven (may also be fried), turning them once, until they are cooked through and brown on all sides — about 15-18 minutes. Set aside. Can be refrigerated or frozen and used as needed. However, one of the ways to enhance a red sauce and the meatballs as well is to put the meatballs in a simmering red sauce.

Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1⁄2 cup chopped yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
3 cups tomato puree
3 cups canned plum tomatoes, drained and crushed
1⁄4 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon each dried oregano and basil, crumbled
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 1⁄2 pounds spaghetti

In a large saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the onion, garlic, and parsley and cook and stir for 3 minutes. Add the tomato puree and the crushed tomatoes, sugar, oregano and basil.

Bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat. Add cooked meatballs (and any juice they give off) to the sauce. Simmer the sauce for 35-40 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until it is al dente. Remove 1⁄4 cup of the pasta water from the pot and add it to the sauce (the starch from the pasta water helps to make the sauce creamier). Drain the pasta well.

Divide the pasta among six heated pasta bowls. Ladle sauce over the pasta. Put two meatballs for each serving atop the pasta. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese on the side. 

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.