The BEST Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe

Monday, March 19, 2012

Readers, today I present to you, my recipe for what my friends and I have dubbed as "Amazeballs", aka the best Spaghetti and Meatballs ever.

When I first had an inkling that I wanted to reproduce this Italian-American classic, I had to discuss technique with my Italian coworker to see if he had any family secrets to share with me. After a bit of digging, he told me to freeze my meatballs and to cook them in my sauce later. Apparently, his mom would make huge 3-4 inch meatballs in batches, and keeps them in the freezer. The day of the meal, she simmers these meatballs straight from the freezer in tomato sauce for about four hours. Sounds like some home cooked italian lovin' to me! 


Stupidly, I didn't try Ryan's mom's technique the first time I made this recipe and I will discuss why that was a fail later. Let's first take a look at the making of a great meatball. Despite the name, a meatball isn't just made as a ball of meat. Instead, it takes a few subtle ingredients that really pulls it together. The last thing that you want for your meatball is to have it be tough brick of meat that doesn't glide through easily with a fork. To make a light and spongey meatball, you should really add breadcrumbs - not store bought, but freshly made from day old bread.

Another trick to having moist meatballs is to add milk or buttermilk to your breadcrumbs first. This way, your meat really holds together. I also made my meatballs with a mix of ground beef, veal and pork in addition to an egg, grated parmesan cheese, and some dried parsley to substitute for fresh herbs.

Using this recipe, I was able to make 2 dozen 1.5 inch big meatballs. One dozen, I cooked right away, and the other dozen, I put straight into the freezer to keep. So, let's see how these two batches turned out.



Meatballs, to Pan Fry or to Cook in Sauce?

After reviewing numerous blogs and my favorite cookbook, The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, I first decided to take the pan-fry approach. I thought that this would give my meatballs extra texture and depth of flavor since it was going to have some browning of the meat before I cooked it further with a tomato sauce.


Unfortunately, as I started to pan-fry my meatballs, I was sad to find that it was nearly impossible to keep my meatball perfectly round as each side of the meatball flattened out on the pan. To my dismay, I continued on with my tomato sauce.


I ended up cooking my onions in the brown bits left from pan-frying the meatballs, and deglazed with a bit of wine. Then, I plumped my meatballs down, and cooked for another 30 minutes. I even added roasted garlic for good measure.


After about 45 minutes of preparing the meatballs, and another 30 minutes of cooktime, what I came to find from my spaghetti and meatball was that my meatball was still pretty dense, without the smooth fork cutting consistency I was hoping for. While the flavors were okay, I wasn't completely satisfied.

A few weeks after my first attempt, I was at home with a friend when we decided we were going to catch a movie before dinner. What happened next was a lot of laziness and a bit of luck. As I started to make a simple tomato sauce to prep for dinner, I embraced Ryan's mom wisdom and added the frozen meatballs to my sauce to let it simmer while we were at the movies.



Two hours after watching Crazy Stupid Love, we came back starving and ready to eat. I quickly boiled some water for spaghetti and within 15 minutes, we had a mountain of spaghetti and meatballs in front of us.

This time around, my meatballs were not only tender, but the tomato sauce that came with it had a depth of flavor that was clearly enhanced from the juices that came from the simmering meatballs. It was as if we were making a meatball stock in the tomato sauce for those two hours. Yum. As an added bonus, unlike my first batch, since these balls were made into spheres and cooked frozen, they kept the roundness that I was hoping for from my meatballs.

Ever since this happy incident, I now try to keep extra meatballs in my freezer for times when I'm feeling particularly lazy and want to have a hearty dinner in a few hours. Besides the actual making of the meatballs, this meal is so easy to make and requires a lot less effort than the pan-fry approach. You can just set it and forget it!!

Shelly's Amazeballs, aka the BEST Spaghetti and Meatballs

serves 4

Meatballs
3 slices white sandwich bread (crusts discarded), torn into small cubes
1/2 cup milk or buttermilk
1/2 pound ground beef chuck
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves (or 2 teaspoon of dried parsley)
1 large egg yolk
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper
pinches of crushed red pepper

Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 lb of spaghetti

1. Soften onions and garlic mixture. Heat up some olive oil in a large sauté pan, over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the minced onions, add a few pinches of salt and crushed red pepper. Cook until it's soft, about 8 minutes, add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Let it cool down.

2. Make breadcrumbs. Cut off the crusts of your white bread, and tear the bread into small pieces. In a large bowl, add the 1/2 cup of milk/buttermilk and let the breadcrumbs soak for about 5 minutes. Then, mix in the cooled onion mixture.

3. Mix meatball ingredients and roll into balls. Combine ground beef, pork and veal with parmesan cheese, parsley leaves, yolk in the wet breadcrumbs. Be sure to season the mixture with some salt and pepper. I recommend mixing all of this with your hands, but don't overwork the ingredients. Then, with wet hands, roll into meatballs and place on a plate to freeze.

Alternatively, if you don't have the time to freeze your meatballs, you can continue on with the next step.

4. Make spaghetti sauce. Coat a large pot with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Once hot, add diced onions and season with salt. After 6-7 minutes, the onions should be soft, so add minced garlic and cook for 2 more minutes, until fragrant. Add the can of crushed tomatoes and heat until it starts to bubble.

5. Add meatballs. At this point, you should be ready to add your meatballs. If they were frozen, just drop them in. If you are putting them in fresh, add them carefully to your sauce. Don't stir for the rest of the time being, just let the meatballs cook in the sauce. Since adding the meatballs into the sauce will cool the sauce down, you can keep the heat at medium high until the sauce starts to bubble again, and turn to simmer. Add a lid on it, and cook for 2 hours.

6. Cook spaghetti. Once the meatballs are about ready, cook your pasta - boil water in a large pot and season generously with salt. This is the only time you get to season the pasta itself. Drop in spaghetti, and cook till al dente, per the box's instructions. This should usually take 8-10 minutes.

Once your pasta is done, give your "amazeballs" a quick stir, be sure not to break them up, and serve with parmesan cheese!

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