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Food: A Good Italian Lady

November 5, 2010

Every good Italian lady knows how to make spaghetti and meatballs, and I am no exception. The recipe I use is mine, which was adapted from my mother’s, which was adapted from my Aunt Sarah’s. I actually find meatballs and sauce to be much easier than a good bolognese sauce- once you make this a few times you’ll get the hang of it. I recommend drinking a glass of Chianti while you cook, but no, there is no accordian music on my ipod.

2 x 28 cans San Marzano crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp brown sugar
olive oil
salt to taste

Put onion, parsley, basil, oregano, red pepper, garlic, and bay leaves in a large pot, drizzle with olive oil and saute over medium heat for a few minutes. You can either break the bay leaf in half, which releases more flavor, or leave it whole, which makes it easier to fish out of the sauce once it’s done. (Don’t eat the bay leaf.)

Once the onion is tender, add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and brown sugar. If you have a rind of parm in your house (which I always do), add this.

Let simmer for at least an hour, but the longer you cook it, the more the flavors will incorporate. The brown sugar is used to sweeten up what can be potentially bitter tomatoes, but here is a trick if your sauce is still too tart after an hour: add 1/2 to 1 tsp of baking soda.  It will bubble up when you first add it, but just keep stirring and the sauce will relax again.

Meatballs – yields 12-14
1/3 lb ground pork
1/3 lb ground lamb
3/4 lb ground beef (85%)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices sourdough bread
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 tsp salt
olive oil

Start by taking the bread, putting it in a bowl, and covering it with the milk. Let this sit while you assemble the rest of your ingredients.  This is a substitute for what most meatball recipes call for: Italian breadcrumbs. Now, I love Italian breadcrumbs and if I don’t have bread in the house, I’ll use those in a heartbeat. But I find the bread and milk makes the meatballs really tender, so give it a try.

my best food photo ever!

There is also some debate about what types of meat to use for this dish, and in what ratio. Frankly, you can make perfectly good meatballs with just beef, but it definitely adds a little character to experiment with different combinations of veal, pork, lamb, and beef. Tonight, I went for my favorite- 1/3 lamb, 1/3 pork, 3/4 beef. Mix these with the parmesan, egg, parsley, garlic, salt, and bread (which you will take out of the milk and wring with your hands until it is a soggy ball- see picture below). Mix everything together until incorporated, but don’t overwork it – a trick from my mom.

ingredients ready to mix

Form into balls and place in a glass baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and bake at 375 for 15 minutes.

When you remove the meatballs from the oven, they will be lightly browned and technically ready to eat (you should try one at this point, just to be sure). But the final step is a nice hot bath in your sauce. Spoon your meatballs into your waiting pot and simmer for 45 minutes or longer. If you are wondering what to do with the olive oil and meat drippings left in your glass pan, then I have taught you nothing. Those go in the pot with the sauce- don’t waste the delicious.



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