Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Man Can Cook - Spaghetti and Meatballs

It's still winter in DC, blech!  It's cold and gross out, which means it's time to make comfort food!  I have an awesome husband, David, who can fend for himself in the kitchen.  He even makes his own tomato sauce from scratch! This dish is one of the main comfort food meals we eat.  Dave normally makes a ton of sauce (way more than one serving each) and then we garnish it with pasta.  :)

The recipe for this sauce has evolved over the years that Dave and I have been together.  I think it's finally perfect, now that we switched from plain diced tomatoes to San Marzano tomatoes. Back in law school, when I still considered adding a packet of soy sauce to my ramen noodles to be "cooking," Dave and I decided we wanted to make spaghetti sauce.  We found a random recipe that involved adding some kind of dried soup mix to several cans of tomato sauce.  We made that a few times and it was meh.  Dave eventually found a basic recipe in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.  It called for more tomato sauce than we had.  So, we used what sauce we had and substituted a can of petite diced tomatoes and a can of tomato paste.

Later on, we started toying with the spices.  At first, we used separate basil, oregano, *and* Italian seasoning.  But we eventually decided that a ton of Italian season worked the best.  In the summer, we grow basil, parsley, and oregano.  Fresh herbs are the best, but Italian seasoning works perfectly fine if they're unavailable.  Even when we use fresh herbs, a little Italian seasoning makes in into the sauce.

For a long time, the sauce was nice and thick on top of the pasta and watery on the plate, which was annoying.  We mostly solved this by draining the tomatoes really well.   When we finally made the switch from petite diced tomatoes to San Marzano tomatoes, we got rid of the watery issue entirely.  I handsquish (it's a technical term!) the tomatoes to get the juices out and then strain them really well.  This keeps the sauce from being watery. When handsquishing, make sure to do it with your hand down in your sink.  The first time I did it, I neglected to do so and splorted tomato seeds and juice all over my shirt, the counter, and floor.

The meatballs, I confess, are not home made.  Dave's mom makes AWESOME meatballs, and whenever they come visit, we demand politely request that she bring some frozen ones out for us. I've included her recipe in this post.  It's for a huge amount of meatballs, but they keep very well in the freezer.  I normally eat 4 and Dave eats 5.

This recipe really makes a ton of sauce.  We make the whole recipe, drown our pasta in it, and I rarely finish mine.  Dave sometimes finishes his.  It could definitely feed more than 2 people if you follow actual serving size recommendations.  If you can get actual fresh garlic (the garlic in the grocery store is OLD), it's fantastic in the sauce!  The measurements for garlic are approximate.  Sometimes we use more, sometimes we use less. We're lucky to have a small bay leaf tree, which is what gave us the idea to use bay leaves in the sauce.  I've never done it with the dried kind.  While it adds an interesting flavor to the sauce, it's not necessary. 

Dave's Spaghetti Sauce 
Created by Dave.
Serves an army, or Dave and I.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium sized onion, diced
5 decent sized garlic cloves, crushed
1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
1 28 oz can tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
3 bay leaves (making small tears in the leaves helps release their flavor)
Italian seasoning to taste (we use at least 2 or 3 Tbsp, probably more at the rate we go through it).
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 stick of butter, chopped into 1 tbsp pieces
grated Parmesan or grana padano cheese

1) In a large pan that you have a lid for, heat the olive oil.  Add onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until the onions become soft.
2)  While the onions and garlic are cooking, squish the San Marzano tomatoes to remove the juice and seeds.  Also use this time to pull out the stringy core of each tomato if it's still there.  Place the squished tomatoes in a strainer and sit them over a bowl to allow any remaining juice to come out.
3) Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, and San Marzano tomatoes to the pan.  Stir very well to make certain that the tomato paste is fully incorporated into the sauce.
4) Season the $&*(!# out of the sauce with Italian seasoning.  Then add 3 bay leaves (optional).
5) Add frozen meatballs (recipe is below) to sauce and mix well.
6) Partially cover the pan and reduce heat so that the sauce is simmering.  Simmer the sauce for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Make sure you have a lid!  Tomato products are very splorty and will get everywhere. 
7) Add the butter slices and stir well, allowing the butter to melt. Simmer sauce for another 10 minutes.
8) While the sauce is simmering for the 10 minutes, cook a pasta of your choice.
9) Fish out the bay leaves and serve the sauce on top of the pasta with grated cheese.

Dave's Mom's Fabulous Meatballs
Adapted from Women’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, Vol. 11.
Makes a ton.  This recipe scales very easily. 

1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground beef
12 oz onions, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/3 c fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/8 c fresh Italian oregano, chopped
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 plain, fine, dry breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Instead of trying to format this in my own words, I'm just going to paste it in here. Since I've never made these, I figure the original chef's words are best!

Note: If possible, buy meat in steaks or roasts and grind yourself. (For the veal, use the chunks usually labeled “for stew”.) Mix* all. 
Shape into balls** and brown slowly in hot olive oil.

Alternatively, heat oven to 350 F. Line baking pan with foil, coat foil liberally w/ olive oil and place balls** on foil. Bake for approximately 20 (using 1 ¼” scoop) or 25 (2”) minutes until cooked through. (This method makes no stovetop mess, but the meatballs don’t form a “crust”. Personally, I don’t think it makes any taste difference.)

Freeze in single layer and then put frozen meatballs in marked zip bag and return to freezer. When ready to use, prepare sauce of your choice, and add the number of frozen meatballs you require. Allow them to cook on low in sauce for at least 15 minutes to bring to serving temperature and add flavour to the sauce. Heating 30+ minutes is even better. Take care to keep bottom of sauce from scorching – keep heat low and stir frequently.

* I usually prepare enough ingredients for 4X recipe, but keep separated in two equal portions since I mix everything in my KitchenAid stand mixer. It is a small capacity model and even the 2X quantities overfill it. I blend the meats first, and then add the eggs. Do not  overwork the meat – gentle mixing will produce tender meatballs. Next I sprinkle in the salt and pepper (and dried herbs if not using fresh). Last, I scoop in the other ingredients (which have all been prepared and mixed together in a large bowl), ½ cup at a time. This is the quickest method I’ve found to thoroughly mix all the ingredients.

** I use 1¼“ or 2” scoop w/clean-sweep blade, and wear disposable gloves. Makes approx. 34 or 24 meatballs per recipe (depending on scoop size).


Michelle said...

Ahhh. . . yum!

Now, Dave, for your next step, you need to make tomato sauce from whole tomatoes! This is a summer activity, of course; buy a giant bag of tomatoes from a farmer's market when they are in season. De-skin, cook a little, and hit the pot with a stick blender. Don't add any spices yet - save that for later. Then freeze it. It's one of the best food investments you can make!

Scienter said...

I can't wait for the farmers market to start again this spring! Do you find that sauce made from fresh tomatoes to be very watery?


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