Thursday, October 25, 2012

Classic Beef Meatballs

The weekend before last, it finally felt fall-ish. It was chilly and gray, the NY Giants were winning, and I could smell fireplaces from other houses in our neighborhood. The kind of fall day that makes you want to cuddle up in a hoodie and watch a movie (if you want to be entertained, watch Game Change — Julianne Moore does a killer Sarah Palin!).

The thought of spaghetti and meatballs crept into my head. We never make pasta for dinner, but I found myself wanting some old-school Italian goodness. The husband was agreeable, although he says he eats "meatballs and spaghetti" rather than the other way around. Definitely a carnivore. Note that these are delicious (and very healthy!) with spaghetti squash too!

Anyway, this was the first time I made meatballs with just beef — I really wanted to go traditional. You can use a meat combo (e.g., pork, veal), but I wanted to stay simple. I started with a Martha Stewart recipe and adapted from there. Sadly I forgot to take a picture of our finished dishes, but here's a good "before" shot.

Classic Beef Meatballs (recipe makes 24 meatballs)

2 tbsp. olive oil
2 lb. lean ground beef (I used 90/10)
1 cup ricotta cheese (I used part-skim)
2 eggs
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (depending on your heat tolerance)
1/2 tsp. ground fennel or anise seeds
4 cups tomato sauce (my recipe below; have ready before putting meatballs in the oven)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Brush olive oil on the bottom and sides of a 9x13" baking dish, evenly coating the surface. Set aside.

Using clean hands, combine beef, ricotta, eggs, breadcrumbs, herbs, and spices until fully incorporated. Be sure to mix only until combined — if you over-handle meat, it will get tough. Roll mixture into firmly packed balls, about 1.5" in diameter.*

Place the meatballs in the baking dish in even rows/columns, making sure that they are tightly packed and touching one another. Bake meatballs until they are firm and the center is 165 degrees on a meat thermometer, about 18 minutes.

Remove dish from oven and drain any excess grease from pan (if you use lean beef, you won't have much). Evenly pour the tomato sauce over meatballs and return to the oven for 15 minutes more. Serve over spaghetti squash or spaghetti and with extra sauce on the side.

*[Because I'm a little neurotic I used a food scale and measured out 2 oz. balls. This eliminated any guess-work and ensured that all of the meatballs would cook evenly. You could also use an ice cream scoop to measure out even balls.

Simple Tomato Sauce (makes about 6 cups)

2 cans (28-35 oz) whole San Marzano tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. kosher salt
3 tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped (optional)

Heat oil in large pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, crushed pepper, oregano, bay leaf, and salt. Stir often and sweat this mixture (i.e., don't brown, keep your heat on medium) until onions are tender — about 8-10 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir together, cooking for another 2-3 minutes.

Pour in canned tomatoes (undrained), and break up whole tomatoes with your hands or a potato masher. Stir and allow sauce to come to a boil. Add basil at this time, if using. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Click here for a printable recipe! 

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