Meatballs, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
You bring together all of my favorite flavors in a tight little package. You have a crispy exterior with a juicy, meaty interior. And your name perfectly describes what you are.
Meatballs are another dish that I love to cook on a lazy Sunday. Sure you could probably make them much faster, but they’re a dish that truly shines when given the proper time to come together. You also can’t make just meatballs alone, they need to be paired with a proper red sauce. The meatballs give the sauce some body, and the sauce keeps them nice and moist. It’s a perfect marriage!
When it comes to my recipe, I keep it mostly pretty traditional with a few riffs and ways to make it my own, let’s check it out.
Saucy Meatballs and Linguini
For the meatballs:
- 1 lb mix of ground beef, pork and veal
- 1 quarter cup bread, cubed
- 1 half cup of whole milk
- 1 quarter cup yellow onions, diced
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 half cup Parmesan, grated
- 2 tbsp of basil, julienned
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook time: 35 minutes
For the sauce:
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 2 medium celery stalks, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
- 1 28oz can of whole peeled, tomatoes
- 1 quarter cup of white wine
- 1 quarter cup of Parmesan cheese, grated
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 lb linguini
- Basil, julienned as desired
- Cook time: 3.5 hours
Before we head to meatball city, let’s get our sauce started since that takes much longer if you’re doing it right. Heat some olive oil in an oven-proof pot and toss in your chopped onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Add some salt and pepper, and sweat that for about five minutes, until they’re juuuust about to start browning. Add your wine and give things a good stir to incorporate.
Side note – I like to use white wine in my Italian dishes that include meat, although many prefer red. I find that the flavors are already so savory and heavy, that a little brightness really helps to balance things out. Feel free to use whatever wine you fancy.
Once the wine has cooked down, add your can of tomatoes. I find it helpful to break the tomatoes into smaller pieces with a wooden spatula. Add some more salt and pepper, tasting as you go, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes, turn on your oven to 375°.
Once you’re done simmering, pop the pot uncovered into the oven and roast for another 30 minutes without stirring. The sides may burn a bit, but don’t worry, this is where you can develop some tremendous flavors. Once this is done, take it out and puree your sauce using an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, go buy one dammit! It’ll change your life!
Once everything is good and blended, grate in your Parmesan cheese and put it back on the stove top on low heat. You’re going to let it sit and cook for around 2 hours, which means it’s meatball time!!
Start by cubing up your bread, tossing it into a bowl and pouring over the milk. Make sure it gets everywhere, and that the bread really soaks it in. Let that sit out for 10 minutes.
Another side note – I see a lot of recipes really gloss over the bread ingredient. It’s usually just breadcrumbs, or they say to use whatever day old bread you have on hand. Big missed opportunity! Choosing a really bread-y bread gives your meatballs a huge edge in the flavor department. I like focaccia for this recipe, but again, pick whatever you like.
While that’s sitting, place your meat into a large mixing bowl. Most recipes like a blend of ground beef, pork and veal, and I do enjoy that too. I kind of suspect that the veal isn’t entirely necessary, since you get enough fat from the pork, milk and eggs, but why not.
Toss in your beaten egg, onions, milky bread, parmesan, soy sauce, basil, salt and pepper. I LOVE to use soy sauce here, because it’s the most flavor-in-your-face ingredient I know of. A few alternatives are diced anchovies or fish sauce if you want a bit more subtlety, but soy sauce is the best.
Now it’s time to get dirty. You want to blend all the ingredients together evenly, but over-mixing them can result in really dry, tough meatballs. The best way to get this done is using your ol’ hands – so get in there. Mix it up until everything looks pretty even throughout.
Take out an oven pan and a layer or two of tin foil. Make sure you grease the foil with oil of some sort – canola works best since its smoking point is 400° and won’t burn at 375. Still using your ol’ hands, pinch of a piece and roll it into a ball. I like something the size of a golf ball, and anything bigger might collapse a bit in the oven.
Once you’ve got your pan lined with your meatballs, pop em into the oven and set a timer for 15 minutes. Once your timer dings, flip each of them over. Depending on how big you made them, they may have flattened out a bit but really it doesn’t matter. It’s not about making perfect meat spheres. Return them to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, depending on size. If you’re worried they’re not 100% cooked through, don’t they’ll get plenty more love in a moment.
Once the meatballs are done, take them out and check to see they’re nice and crispy on all sides. This is important for locking in all your meat-juiciness. Then plop them right into your sauce and continue to simmer that low and slow. It should be at least another hour or so, but really the longer the better.
When you have about ten minutes left of sauce-cooking, bring a pot of water to boil and cook your linguini per their instructions to an al dente. I really like linguini with meatballs, because I think they pair really well with longer noodles, but spaghetti is just too thin and delicate to stand up to the mighty meatball. I could be convinced to use fettuccine too if I really had to.
Once that’s cooked through, strain it and put down a layer of sauce in your bowl. Place your pasta on top, and add another layer of sauce. Finally add your meatballs, and top with some grated parmesan, basil and salt and pepper.
This recipe is great for both causing a hangover (because I’m drinking at least a bottle of wine…), and also curing one because it’s so satisfying. Either way, it’s good for your soul. Enjoy!
Not Chef Jared