We had a chance to help my son celebrate his birthday this year. I agreed to cook, and I wrestled with the menu. We often have steaks when we visit the family, and while they are not vegetarians, they do try to limit their meat intake. On top of that the girls are in the finicky stage of growing up so there are lots of foods they won’t eat, even with encouragement from their mom and dad.
That challenge made me think of spaghetti and meatballs. That way, if someone didn’t want meat – for whatever reason – he or she could forego the meatballs. Similarly, if the girls wanted only plain pasta, that would work, too. I thought of my mother’s homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs. I guess the sauce could be called a marinara, but to me it is much richer than marinaras at restaurants or in stores. Mom learned to make the sauce at my father’s pleading when we were living in a basement apartment within a compound of a big Italian family. I remember Mom going upstairs to take daily cooking lessons – there was always a pot of spaghetti sauce on the stove – until she thought that she had mastered the recipe. Over the years, she and I have cut corners (no longer fresh tomatoes, carrots, etc.), but I think the recipe is still a good one.
The meatballs are another matter. I am not particularly fond of most meatballs. They are usually dry and not, IMHO, very flavorful. I think this recipe has cracked the code, and the recipe makes enough for lots of leftovers. After the birthday party in Silicon Valley, I brought some sauce and meatballs back to San Francisco so that my daughter and son-in-law could have a midnight snack when they got back home on the late flight from New York City. There was nothing left in the morning but the dirty dishes.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled, trimmed and mashed
- 1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
- 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 6 to 8 cremino mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
- 1 tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- juice of ½ fresh lemon
- more salt and pepper as needed
- Over a medium flame, heat the olive oil and stir in the onions. Cover to sweat the onions until they are soft and translucent. Be careful not to let them brown.
- Add the garlic and stir for another minute or so, being careful not to brown the garlic.
- Stir in the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, beef broth and red wine. Bring to the boil and then reduce to the simmer.
- Cook, covered, for an hour, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Add water if the sauce become too thick.
- Stir in the sliced mushrooms and herb seasoning. Simmer for another hour, uncovered, stirring and adding water as needed.
- Add the sugar and lemon.
- Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.
- Add the browned meatballs (see below) and simmer for another hour or until the meatballs are cooked through.
- 1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
- 1 pound Italian sausage (sweet or hot according to your taste)
- 2 extra-large eggs
- 1 tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup (about) fresh bread crumbs
- In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, sausage, and eggs. Use your hands (freshly washed of course) to mix the ingredients thoroughly
- Mix in the herb seasoning, salt, and pepper . Make sure they are thoroughly combined
- Stir in the bread crumbs. Hold back a few to make sure the mixture is not too dry. Then add them if needed. Add more bread crumbs if the mixture is still too moist.
- Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes so that the bread crumbs absorb moisture from the eggs. Then roll a bit of the mixture – slightly larger than a golf ball – between your palms until it forms a round, smooth meatball. Repeat the process until you have used up all of the meat mixture. You should be able to make about two dozen meatballs
- Working in batches, brown the meatballs on all sides in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet. When all of the meatballs are browned, add them to the spaghetti sauce and cook everything over medium low heat for another hour.
- Serve over cooked spaghetti or other pasta of your choice with freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top.