I think everyone has their own meatball recipe that they love. Odds are it was something that was handed down from generation to generation and you have gotten so used to having it that way that you don’t really stray from the method. There’s nothing wrong with that – if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. However, much like I am with my meatloaf recipes, I like to experiment with different meatball recipes. I am always on the lookout for something tastier when it comes to having a meatball. My experience very often with meatballs when I have had them out at various places is that they either have no flavor because they do not have much in the way of herbs and spices and are all breading, or they are soft and mushy because they have cooked in the sauce too long and no longer have flavor of their own. When I looked through Cook’s Country and saw this recipe, it sounded like a great one to try.
Meatballs and Marinara
For the Onion Mixture:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 pounds onions, chopped fine
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
For the Marinara:
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
4 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1-2 teaspoons sugar, as needed
For the Meatballs:
4 slices white sandwich bread
3/4 cup milk
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 pounds 80 percent lean ground beef
For the onion mixture, Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onions and cook until they are golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer half of the onion mixture to a large bowl and set aside.
For the marinara: Add the tomato paste to the onion mixture remaining in the Dutch oven and cook until it is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and water and simmer over low heat until the sauce has thickened, about 45 to 60 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
For the meatballs: Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 475 degrees. Mash the bread and the milk together in the bowl with the reserved onion mixture until it is thoroughly combined. Add the sausage, Parmesan cheese, parsley, eggs, garlic and salt and mash to combine. Add the beef and gently knead with your hands until combined (try not to overwork the mixture). Form the mixture into large meatballs (about 2 inches), place the meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until they are well browned, about 20 minutes.
Transfer the meatballs to the pot with the thickened sauce and simmer for 15 minutes before serving.
This recipe does not make quite a bit (the recipe says it serves 8), so you may want to freeze some to have on hand for future meals. The meatballs and sauce should freeze well and will keep for up to 1 month. There are a few notes about this recipe. Browning the onions in the same pot you are going to make the sauce in saves you a few steps and gives great flavor to the sauce and the meatballs. Also, you want to make sure that you do add some water in when you add the crushed tomatoes. Without it, the sauce will over-reduce in 45 minutes and be too thick for your use. For the meatballs, making the mash of bread and milk (called a panade) will bind the meatballs better than any breadcrumb you buy at the store and with the onion mixture will have a lot more flavor. Using the Italian sausage, Parmesan garlic and parsley also help with the binding and they give the meatballs some great flavor. You want to make sure you do not overwork the mixture when you add the beef; just blend it gently until everything is mixed and you won’t end up with rubbery meatballs. I love baking the meatballs in the oven over the stove top because you seem to get better overall browning in the oven and it’s a lot neater than using oil or butter to brown them.
Naturally, you can serve this with pasta or make meatball subs (which I did for myself with some garlic bread since I don’t eat pasta). Michelle and Sean actually had theirs over cheese ravioli. Now I am no pasta expert, especially since I don’t eat it, but I do know how to cook it and there are a few tips you should follow. Make sure you salt the water to season the pasta properly. You want to be sure you stir the pasta as soon as you get it in the water to prevent it from sticking to the pot (I hate cleaning stuck pasta out of a pot!) and then stir it every few minutes as it cooks so it doesn’t all clump together. Adding oil to the water doesn’t really do anything; it won’t prevent the pasta from sticking and it will keep sauce from being absorbed. Also, you know how you like your own pasta; don’t go by what the package says. Check it often to see if it is done to your liking by fishing a piece out and trying it yourself. Finally, even I as a non-pasta eater know you shouldn’t rinse off your pasta. It washes all the starch off the pasta that helps the sauce adhere nicely.
That’s all for today. Check back next time for another Cook’s Country recipe this week. Tomorrow you will find a recipe for a spicy pork and broccoli stir fry. It promises to be tasty, so come back and check it out. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!