Spaghetti and meatballs: A comforting combination
When I was a girl, I loved making spaghetti sauce. The recipe was simple: brown one pound of ground beef, add onion flakes, one can of tomato paste, two small cans of tomato sauce, some water (rinsing out all three cans), one teaspoon each of oregano, basil and garlic powder, some salt and pepper and a bay leaf. Turning the heat low, I’d let it simmer for an hour or so.
It was meaty and it was easy. It was, and is, a comfort food.
I bet if you polled a group of people, most would say that spaghetti and, most specifically, spaghetti and meatballs, is one of those meals that is a comfort. Meatballs, however, in my experience, can be tricky. They can be dense and not have that springy texture that I find in commercially produced meatballs.
That is, until last week.
Another one of my favorite meals is Italian Wedding Soup, and I was delighted to find a recipe for meatballs that included ground pork, published by Cooks Illustrated, which yielded meatballs that were springy and smooth. The technique was to beat the pork in the recipe with a bit of baking powder. The result was amazing—uniform, meaty, but light meatballs. Cooks Illustrated indicates that beating the pork distributes the fat and the moisture, thus resulting in a springy meatball. The other feature of the recipe included grating the onion, which I think greatly contributed to the smoothness of the meatball.
Vegetarian spaghetti sauce
1 cup chopped onions $0.25
1 green pepper, chopped $0.5
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced $0.03
2 Tbsp. olive oil $0.24 (Filippo Berio, 25.3 oz on sale at Pete’s and Peck’s for $5.99)
1 sm. can tomato paste $0.65
1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes (or 2 14 oz. cans IGA for $0.79 apiece at Pete’s and Peck’s) $1.58
1 tsp. oregano $0.02
½ tsp. basil $0.01
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in heavy saucepan (I use a large cast iron skillet). Add onions and green peppers and sauté until tender (5 minutes of so). Add garlic and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute (this tends to color the veggies). Add diced tomatoes, spices and salt and pepper. Turn down heat and simmer for ½ hour or so.
6 oz. ground beef $1.50
6 oz. ground pork $1.12
1 slice of white bread
(I used a small baguette that I cubed) $0.20
5 Tbsp. half-and-half or milk $0.24
¼ cup grated Parmesan $0.80
4 tsp. finely grated onion (price included in onions above)
½ tsp. finely grated garlic (price included in garlic above)
1 tsp. baking power $0.06
3/4 tsp. dried oregano (or 2 tsp. fresh
minced oregano; I used 2 tsp. pesto that
I had frozen, as I did not have fresh) $0.01
salt and pepper to taste
TOTAL Sauce & Meatballs: $7.49
Per serving, 6 servings: $1.25
Soak cubed bread in the milk. Add parmesan, onion and garlic. Mash into a paste.
Place pork and baking powder in food processor bowl and process until a smooth paste. Add bread mixture, spices or pesto, and ground beef. Pulse until combined.
Using moistened hands shape into smooth balls, approximately 1 inch in diameter and place on cookie sheet. Chill for an hour. (I placed in freezer for 20 minutes or so, as I was in a hurry.)
Add meatballs to simmering sauce. Let simmer for about 20 minutes.
Cook up your favorite long pasta (spaghetti, linguine or fettuccini). Serve with generous helping of grated cheese.
As a comfort food, this dish has lots of different variations. I’m wondering what’s your favorite. For more photos and an opportunity to share your favorites go to www.facebook.com/trrsimplefare.