Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Love Dish: Meatballs from the Motherland

Is there anything more supremely comforting than the sight of a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs greeting you after a long winter day? If you're Italian (or Italian at heart) the answer is most likely no.

There are many levels of commitment you can choose from when making this bastion of Italian comfort food. You could make your own meatballs, buy a can of of sauce and a box of pasta, and call it a day. Or, for all you Barbara Kingsolvers-in-training out there, with space and time for such things, you can use that tomato sauce you canned last summer. (Lucky ducks). OR, and here's where things get serious, you could go all out and make your own pasta, too. I should point out that this third, industrious option should be reserved only for lazy weekend days, not hungry weekday nights, and I freely admit that late on a cold, rainy Tuesday I went with the first choice. (However, stay tuned for many upcoming posts on homemade pasta - mommy just got a new KitchenAid attachment).

Whatever level of commitment you choose to devote to this dish of love, making the meatballs yourself is the baseline. And to be sure, though every Italian family has their own cherished recipe, my version - or, more accurately, my great grandmother's - though supremely simple, is pretty tough to beat.

Motherland Meatballs
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (90 percent lean)
1/2 cup bread crumbs, preferably fresh,* but from the can is fine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 jars (28 oz) of your favorite spaghetti sauce

In a large bowl, combine everything but the sauce. It is best to mix with your hands to make sure everything is full mixed together, but not overworked.

In a large stockpot, add one of the jars of spaghetti sauce. Add about 1/2 cup of water to the jar, swish around to get the last bit of sauce, and add to the pan. Mix together.

With your hands, roll the meat mixture into uniformly shaped balls. Do this by cupping the meat, a little less than a 1/4 cup's worth, between your palms and quickly moving your hands in opposing concentric circles while applying gentle pressure (it sounds harder than it is). Add the meatballs one by one to the pot of sauce.

Cover with the remaining jar of sauce. DO NOT STIR. Raise the heat to medium. When the sauce begins to bubble, cover the pot, lower heat to medium low, and let simmer for 30-40 minutes, giving the pot a few good twists now and then to "stir" the meatballs. (To check for doneness, remove a meatball and slice in half).

Boil a pot of water for your spaghetti. When the spaghetti is al dente, remove from heat, drain, and add some of your sauce to coat the noodles. Serve with the meatballs and lots of freshly grated Parmesan. Manga!

*To make fresh breadcrumbs, cut the crusts of a few slices of white bread and pulse in a food processor until you have coarse crumbs.

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