Classic spaghetti and meatballs
Like many people I am a huge fan of pasta (even gluten free). I can eat it with anything and everything or even plain or for a quick bite-buttered, tossed with fresh tomatoes, feta and drizzled with olive oil and with a lot of cracked black pepper on it. Mmmmm! Yum! But add meat and a good sauce and it’s a whole new level of love!
I grew up in an area with a lot of Italians. I mean a lot. The place was called Stoney Creek but often referred to by its nickname Tony’s Creek – an ode to how many Italians live there (or lived there – I heard the demographic has changed quite a bit). I have a lot of dear Italian friends that really feel like family to me. Although the food may have its differences the Italian culture is very similar to Greek culture so really all my friends felt like an extension of my family.
Walking into their homes was always an experience for the senses. Aromas of food either cooking or having been cooked. You can either appreciate that or not. A friend of mine said every time she walked into her mother in laws house its smelled like stale tomatoes. To some that might be a negative. But I on the other hand know the smell and love it. The smell of fresh tomato sauce bubbling. It’s strong and it lingers that’s for sure, but always makes me think of really good sauce and then all the good stuff the sauce is used for.
You can make it ahead like the day before and just heat it up when you need
My friend’s mom would make the best arancini or rice balls I have ever had. I had another friend who would make an out of this world tender veal in a fantastic marinara. Just perfection! I can go on about all the amazing food my friends and their mother’s make. I have lots of favorites. Like who’s mom made the best pizzelle, the best anginetti, the best pesche dolci, the best pasta etc…. the list of this amazing food can go on and on.
But I will keep things simple with an easy marinara that you can make at home instead of using the store bought. It’s perfect for any of your sauce needs. Whether it’s just for your pasta, meatballs, lasagna, or anything else you would use a marinara for. You can make it ahead like the day before and just heat it up when you need. I do a big batch when I’m making lasagna and keep some extra for shakshuka or for a cacciatore, or chicken or eggplant parm.
The meatballs are super flavorful so nice and fork-tender. I love them. My friend is married to an Italian and she ate my meatballs once and asked “how do you get your meatballs to taste so Italian?” Well the answer is ask an Italian how they make their meatballs and follow suit! This is a very basic meatball recipe. It’s also a very flexible one too. The ratio of bread and breadcrumbs can be altered to taste. Some people don’t like adding the Parmesan cheese to them and that is fine. And you can play up the herbs a little too. You could also add a third meat like many do. Often added is ground veal. So feel free to add it in or even do all ground beef if you don’t have the pork. This is the way I like mine. You could change and add things to your personal taste. Hope you love these as much as my husband and I do! Let me know what you add to your meatballs and sauce!
Homemade marinara sauce
1¼-½ cup olive oil
1 large onion chopped finely
3 cloves garlic chopped finely
2 carrots chopped finely
2 stalks celery chopped finely
½-1 red sweet bell pepper chopped
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1 heaping tbsp of tomato paste
2 cans crushed tomatoes (or diced if you don’t have crushed- with a tbsp of tomato paste if using diced)
3 cup plus extra of chicken broth or water
1 small bunch of basil chopped and stirred in after blending (optional)
Heat a medium sized pot to medium high heat and add the olive oil and all the onions and sauté until translucent
Add the garlic and sauté for a minute until fragrant and the rest of the veggies and sauté for 5-10 min until they are soft.
Add your tomato paste and cooking, stiring for 1 minute. Then add the canned tomatoes, bay leaf and broth or water and bring to a boil then turn down heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Stir occasionally and check to see if it needs more broth or water.
Once done you can check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed. You can leave the sauce chunky like it is or I like to use my immersion blender and smooth it out a bit. Up to your personal taste.
Gently place the meatballs in the sauce and gently simmer for 20-30 min occasionally and carefully stirring.
Makes approx 12-15 medium sized meatballs
1-1½ lbs of good quality ground beef
1-1½ lbs of good quality ground pork
1 onion chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic chopped finely
1-2 pieces of bread soaked in water for a minute, rung out and shredded
1½ cup of breadcrumbs
1¼-½ cup of Parmesan cheese
1¼ cup of parsley
1 tsp salt or to taste
½ tsp pepper or to taste
4 tbsps of olive oil plus one tbsp
In a small frying pan heat up 1 tbsp of olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes until translucent and softened. Remove from heat and set aside to cool while prepping the meat. (See Recipe Notes)
In a large bowl place the meats and the rest of the ingredients in the bowl along with the now cooled onion and garlic in oil. Combine gently with fork or hands until everything is well incorporated into meat. Do not overwork the meat.
Use your hands to shape into medium sized meatballs and set aside
Option 1 - in a large frying pan heated to medium high heat, add a couple tbsp of olive oil and add in the meatballs. Do not crowd the pan. Pan fry them in small batches until lightly browned on all sides gently turning often. (They are not suppose to be fully cooked through)
Option 2 - preheat oven up 350°F Place the meatballs on a baking sheet drizzle with a little olive oil and bake until lightly browned turning once. (They are not suppose to be fully cooked through)
Once all the meatballs are finished browning gently place them in the marinara sauce and simmer for 20-30 minutes occasionally and carefully stirring.
- You can also grate the onion and add it to the meat without pan frying as well
- You could also add ½ tsp of oregano ½ tsp of thyme for extra aromatics (totally optional)
- Also optional is dusting the meatbals with fine bread crumbs or flour before baking or pan frying.
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis