Monday, April 09, 2012

pasta and meatballs

Both of my grandparents were excellent cooks, or at least that's how I remember them. I will always associate my grandfather with the tenerumi (cucuzza squash buds) that he canned and added, fresh, to sauce, but Nonna made meatballs all the time -- super-sized, so that each person could eat only one or two.

Who doesn't love a meatball?
These balls are fried first in olive oil so that they keep their shape (and taste good), then they cook for hours in the sauce. Delicious.

sauce

2 TBSP olive oil
1 onion, sliced into wedges
6 or more garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
2 giant cans tomato puree (tomato and basil, no salt or anything else)
1 giant can crushed tomatoes (ditto - you can use all crushed tomatoes if you want)
1 giant can water
16 oz tomato paste
1 TBSP dried basil, crumbled, or a handful of fresh
1 TBSP salt
1 tsp pepper

meatballs

2 lbs ground chuck
1 lb ground pork
1 large onion, minced
6 or more garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs (plain, homemade or boughten)
1/2 cup parmesan
2 TBSP dried basil, crumbled
1 TBSP salt
1 tsp pepper
2 TBSP olive oil for frying

Start with the sauce. In a large pot, heat the olive oil to mediumish, and sauté the onions until softened. Add in the garlic and let both lightly brown. Add in the bay leaves, then all of the cans of tomatoes, water, and paste. Reduce heat to medium-low and season with the salt, pepper, and basil. Cover, and let simmer for at least two hours, preferably four, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

Make the meatballs once the sauce is simmering.

Put all the meatball ingredients in the bowl at once.
Mix the meatball ingredients in a big bowl with your hands until everything looks pretty evenly distributed.

Mix it until it's pretty homogenous.
Roll meatballs that are a little bit bigger than golf balls -- I think my grandmother's may have been baseball-sized, but let's not be that extreme -- and stack them on a plate until the pan's ready.

Make a beautiful pyramid of meatballs.
Heat the olive oil in a nice cast-iron skillet until medium hot (not smoking), then add in a layer of meatballs. You don't want them to touch each other or they'll stick together.

Don't let "Clean Top" fool you (though I did wipe most of the grease off of this baby before I shot the photo -- just for you. This is what I mean by "medium hot."
Fry a minute or two, then turn each one over with a pair of tongs. You'll turn them a few times, so that you have a nice crust on most of the outside of the balls. Don't be too meticulous... they'll come out of the skillet looking triangulish, but they'll still come out of the sauce looking round. You just want to seal them so that they don't fall apart in the sauce.

As the balls shrink, add new ones to the pan.
The balls will shrink a bit as they cook -- add more to the pan when you realize you have space.

The fried balls look triangulish when they go into the sauce, but come out spherical -- you can ask my boyfriend for the science behind this.
When you have a good brown on the balls, remove them from the skillet directly to the simmering pot of sauce.

That's a nice, full pot. My sister would be proud.
Let the whole shebang cook on medium-low to low heat (burned sauce really tastes bad), stirring with a wooden spoon every now and then. Be gentle with the stirring so you don't break the balls, and slide the pan off the burner before you remove the cover so it doesn't splatter your arms and eyes and burn the crap out of you.
Penne with meatball sauce. Yum.
Once the sauce has simmered for a few hours and the balls are cooked through, remove them to a bowl, pour the sauce over cooked pasta (duh), and serve with parmesan, bread, and salad if you want to be like my Nonna.

Serves four, twice -- two dinners for the price of one!

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