I had never made spaghetti and meatballs before this past Saturday. I had made fettuccini Alfredo and spaghetti with meat sauce. I had made up my own pasta dishes. I had made eggplant and chicken Parmesan. I had even made my own ravioli, but I had never made spaghetti and meatballs. They just never occur to me when I am planning a pasta meal.
My mom usually made meat sauce to go with spaghetti when I was growing up, which we all liked just fine. I’m not sure why she didn’t make meatballs when we had spaghetti. She made Swedish meatballs sometimes, and she had another meatball dish she made in the pressure cooker, but she never made spaghetti and meatballs.
Calvin is on a beef kick lately, after twelve years of declining to try it. I’m not sure what prompted him to try meatloaf a few weeks ago, but now he would have meatloaf or hamburgers every day if we would let him. He suggested beef for Saturday’s dinner, but we had just had meatloaf and it was too rainy and cold that day to make grilling hamburgers any fun. I suggested meatballs, thinking he would balk at a new dish, but he embraced the idea with enthusiasm. Spaghetti and meatballs it would be.
I figured I would make my basic meatloaf mixture, but replace the ketchup with tomato paste and add Parmesan cheese (from the green can this time, we were low on the good stuff) and a tablespoon of garden pesto I unearthed from the freezer. I used white wine as some of the moisture in the meat mixture. Red wine would have been more traditional, and given the mix a deeper flavor, but it is a migraine trigger for Rich, so white it had to be. Use red wine if you prefer, though the white wine gave the meatballs a fresh brightness that I liked. I baked the meatballs to brown them all at once, and then finished them in tomato sauce on top of the stove while the pasta boiled.
The oven browning was effortless, though I decided mine needed a minute more and got the bottoms a little too brown. They were just shy of burnt, though – I saved them just in time, thanks to the smoke alarm. Not that I like to regularly use the smoke alarm as a cooking timer, but hey, whatever works. Since the meat is so lean, be careful not to bake them too long or they will dry out.
Next time I will double the amount of pesto, which I wrote into the recipe. I liked the basil flavor it gave them and I was wishing for more of it. I also had a stash of roasted garlic, so I used that in both the meatballs and the sauce. You can use raw, minced garlic if you don’t have any roasted garlic on hand.
A further note – if you use a different sauce than the one in the recipe you will have part of a can of tomato paste left over. You can freeze it in one-tablespoon dollops on a plastic wrap lined plate. Once it is frozen, you can peel off the dollops and stash them in the freezer for when you need just a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. It’s much better than finding the paste in the fridge later and wondering how long it has been in there before you pitch it.
The meatballs were a resounding success. Calvin declared that he liked them as much as meatloaf, which is high praise from him. They were rich and meaty, fragrant with pesto and bathed in thick tomato sauce – the perfect meal for a rainy, chilly weekend.
Download or print the recipe here.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
From The Cook’s Life
1 pound ground sirloin
2 tablespoons pesto
1 garlic clove, minced, or roasted and mashed
salt (go easy on this, the cheese is salty)
¼ cup dry breadcrumbs
½ cup Parmesan cheese (the stuff in the green can is fine)
¼ cup dry white or red wine, approximately
1 tablespoon olive oil, approximately
2 tablespoons tomato paste (from a 6-oz. can – you will use the rest in the sauce)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease a large baking sheet and set aside.
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until combined. If mixture seems dry, add another tablespoon of olive oil or wine. Form mixture into 1½-inch balls and place on baking sheet. I got about 30 meatballs out of the mix.
Bake meatballs for 10-15 minutes, or until browned. Watch that the bottoms don’t burn. Let meatballs cool on the baking sheet while you make the sauce.
1 tablespoon olive oil, if you are using raw, unroasted garlic
1 clove garlic, minced, or roasted and mashed
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, no salt added if you can find them
Tomato paste (the remainder of the can you opened for the meatballs)
salt, a few dashes
black pepper, a few grinds
paprika, a few dashes
ground cayenne, a dash or two
2-3 teaspoons packed brown sugar, optional
3-4 teaspoons dried basil
2-3 cups of your favorite pasta sauce
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
If you are using raw garlic, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and spices to taste. If you are using roasted garlic, just mix all sauce ingredients, except water, together in the skillet. Bring sauce to a simmer over medium heat.
When sauce is simmering, add meatballs and reduce heat to medium low. Gently simmer meatballs in sauce until cooked through – 10-15 minutes. If sauce gets too thick, add a few tablespoons of water until it is the consistency you prefer. Cook spaghetti while meatballs are simmering.
Serve meatballs and sauce hot with spaghetti and Parmesan cheese. Leftovers reheat well in the microwave. You can also freeze leftovers for longer storage – thaw in the refrigerator overnight.