I have never been a big of a fan of spaghetti and meatballs, UNTIL NOW! I’ve made many meatballs in my time… all coming close to what I imagined, but never really “nailing it”. That all changed with this recipe. Inspired by a recent meal at our neighborhood Italian restaurant, we decided we must learn to make fabulous spaghetti and meatballs at home. Don’t get me wrong, the meatballs at the restaurant in the ‘hood were great… but, a plate of spaghetti and 2 meatballs for $16 is not sustainable! I set about researching recipes, and there it was on my own bookshelf! I found Frank Pellogrino’s, of the Rao’s family, recipe in my Fine Cooking – Italian cookbook! Since getting a table at Rao’s is virtually impossible…it’s great to have this recipe at hand.
For the meatballs:
We tripled the recipe…plenty for the freezer!
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground veal
1 Tbs. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup finely grated imported Locatelli Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano (or half and half); more for serving
1-1/2 cups plain dry breadcrumbs, (I used fresh breadcrumbs made from a baguette)
1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup olive oil or vegetable oil; more as needed
1 lb. dried spaghetti
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Break up the ground meat into a large bowl. Sprinkle on the salt, pepper, minced garlic, eggs, grated cheese, breadcrumbs, 1-1/2 cups water, and parsley. Mix with your hands until everything is evenly distributed, but don’t over mix. Shape into meatballs by gently scooping up a handful of meat and rolling it into a nice even ball; each meatball should weigh about 4 oz. and be about 2-1/2 inches in diameter.
In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Gently set six of the meatballs in the oil and fry until they’re lightly browned on the bottom half, 5 to 6 min. Carefully turn them over using a slotted spatula and brown the other side. You are not cooking them all the way through. They will finish cooking in the sauce. This was a big lesson for me….I had always overcooked them, resulting in a dry, tough meatball!
Drain the meatballs on a few paper towels to soak up excess oil. Fry the remaining meatballs the same way.
For the marinara:
I changed this a bit, as we always have #10 cans of Italian tomatoes on hand…yes, seriously
1 #10 can, or 4 28 ounce cans, authentic San Marzano Italian tomatoes (I use Strianese Brand)
1/2 cup good quality, Italian olive oil (I use Partanna Brand)
10 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
2 Tbs. kosher salt; more as needed
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
optional – 1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes – if you like a little heat
In a very large stockpot or heavy dutch oven, sauté the garlic in the olive oil, over low heat. Break up the tomatoes with your hands, while in the can. Add them to the stock pot. Season with salt and pepper. Let simmer 2-3 hours while you make the meatballs. Add the chopped fresh herbs during the last hour of cooking. Add the crushed red pepper flakes if using. Add the meatballs during the last 30 minutes of cooking. Simmer very gently.
for the pasta:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When the meatballs and sauce have been simmering for about 20 min., add the spaghetti to the boiling water and boil until it’s just about al dente, undercooked a bit.
The next step is called the segreto method, and is key to the success of the entire dish. I had never done this before and it made a huge difference!