This National Spaghetti Day [January 4], lemme share with you another of my favorite pasta recipes – Spaghetti Meatballs. You don’t need to be a Pastafarian [yup, it’s a legit religion] to enjoy a good plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
An American classic, Spaghetti Meatballs is undoubtedly the most popular of Italian-American cuisine. The dish is considered to be an innovation of Italian immigrants in 20th century New York City.
It is generally believed that the Italian immigrants were compelled to make do with whatever ingredients that were available during those times [it was also the era of the Great Depression]. Read further about pasta in American cuisine here.
Italian nonnas and chefs often scoff at the concept, considering the fact that meat is not a major part of the Italian diet. This, however, hasn’t deterred the dish to rise to the top spot of most cooked American foods [followed closely by mac-and-cheese].
I’ll be honest – at first, I too was skeptical about the concept of meatballs and spaghetti. I mean, I love me a good plateful of Spaghetti Bolognese. But Spaghetti Meatballs? That shit sounds scandalous. And boy, I was never so wrong. [Okay, I’ve been more wrong, but that’s beside the point. Shit happens, people change.]
I faintly remember my first plate of this wonderful dish, albeit the meatballs were made of chicken mince rather than beef. Nonetheless, I was hooked, and it has become a favorite.
A Flavorful Affair
The quality of the meat used is important, as it can make or break the dish. I prefer beef chuck, with a 80-20 meat to fat ratio – very similar to what I use for burgers. The fat prevents the meat from drying out, besides imparting a rich mouthfeel. Speaking of flavors, an Italian-inspired dish demands an Italian-style seasoning. You can make your own [see Notes], or you can buy commercial mixes available. Use it with caution though – too much, and it might ruin the taste.
My sauce is a semi-traditional tomato sauce, minus the soffritto*. I use a blend of olive oil and butter to fry the onions and the garlic. Unlike the Bolognese sauce, this sauce is blended to a smooth paste. The Basil gives a fresh touch to the sauce.
When prepped beforehand, Spaghetti Meatballs can be a quick weekday dinner. The meatballs can be frozen up to 3 months, and the sauce can be prepared up to a week in advance [and refrigerated, obviously].
- Servings: 4
- Time: 1 hour, 45 mins
- Difficulty: Medium
- 300g spaghetti
- 1 sprig basil leaves
- grated Parmesan cheese, as required
- 500g beef mince
- 100g breadcrumbs
- 1/4 bunch parsley
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 50mL olive oil
- 20g butter
- 1 bay leaf
- 30g garlic
- 250g tomatoes
- 100g tomato purée/paste
- 1 teaspoon paprika powder
- 1 pinch sugar
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Keep a stock pot half filled with water added with some salt to boil. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the spaghetti. Cook until al dente [cooked but firm].
- Chop the onion, garlic, and parsley, set aside. Chop the tomatoes as well.
- Clean the minced meat. Season well, set aside.
- In a large bowl, add the minced meat, half the chopped onions, chopped parsley, breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning and chilli flakes. Mix well, preferably using your hands. Adjust the salt and pepper.
- Refrigerate the meatball mix for half an hour. Remove, bring to a workable temperature [neither too cold, nor room temperature].
- Using a cookie scoop, portion out meatballs. Lightly oil your palms, roll the lumps into rounds, do not press too hard, or else it will toughen the meatballs. Refrigerate the meatballs placed on a parchment lined tray, for yet half an hour.
- In a fry pan, add the meatballs, and sear the meat on all sides. Let cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove on a tray lined with kitchen towel.
- In the same fry pan, add oil. Add the butter, and one bay leaf. Let it fry for a whole minute. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
- Sauté the remaining chopped onions until cooked. Now add the chopped garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add the tomato purée and 1tsp paprika powder [optional], and sauté until the oil oozes from the purée.
- Pour some water [or meat/ vegetable stock], reduce until thick but pouring. Adjust the seasoning. Blitz in a blender until smooth.
- Add the sauce back to the pan, toss in the meatballs, and let cook for further 5 minutes. Sprinkle some hand torn basil leaves.
Add the boiled spaghetti, and mix well. Remove from stove. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
- Substitute the beef with whatever meat you prefer – the first time I prepared it, I substituted with chicken mince. Although it wasn’t as delicious, it was a pretty decent meal.
- Soffritto is to the Italians what the mirepoix is to the French – a mixture of onions, carrots and celery in the ratio 2:1:1. This sautéed mixture of aromatics is the base of Italian cuisine, particularly sauces.
- A standard Italian seasoning should contain 1 part each of dried oregano, thyme, basil, marjoram, rosemary, and crushed fennel seeds. If you have these herbs on hand, add half a teaspoon of each to the meatball mix.
- I prefer using both fresh tomatoes as well as tomato purée/paste – both impart very different flavors.
- A pinch of paprika and a pinch of sugar never did any harm. Add them to adjust the tartness of the tomato purée.
What Wine to Pair with?
Chianti. Or a Zinfandel.