“…I’ll sleep with you for a meatball.”
Spaghetti with Meatballs are, of course, a kitchen staple – to me, a genuine U.S. staple. I’ve never seen it around much in Europe: the Spanish eat meatballs (albóndigas), even in tomato sauce at times, but without pasta. Germans make big meatballs and call them “Frikadelle” and eat them without anything else. For the meaty pasta staple, the Germans cook “Spaghetti Bolognese”, which in turn makes the Italians roll their eyes, who cook “sugo al ragù”, which has little to do with Bologna. And the French?
According to “Victor/Victoria”, there were Spaghetti With Meatballs in 1930s Paris, and it’s a dish every lesbian should be able to pull off, since you never know when a broke soprano (although I’ve consered Andrews always more of a mezzo) will offer you to sleep with you for a meatball.
My primary beef (quite literally) with this dish is want my meatballs to be firm on the outside, but otherwise melt-in-you-mouth soft and fluffy like a holiday fanfic, packing lots of taste, but without the feeling of a heavy stomach afterwards. This is my recipe that achives that result, but it’s one of those “you put WHAT in your meatballs?” recipes (I swear, you don’t even taste the zucchini).
To allow the meatballs to shine, I only prepare a light tomato sauce on the side and puree the chunks. The meatballs, to stay juicy, are only fried for a few minutes and then get the finishing touches in the simmering sauce.
I’m posting the quantities for 40 meatballs (walnut-size, more or less, but smaller than a tabletennis ball), while the sauce is what I use for half of that (20 meatballs/4 servings), but you may have hungry teenagers at your table who demand more than five meatballs on their plate, or be really hungry yourself, and there should always be enough meatballs. After all, you never know when Dame Julie Andrews might drop by for dinner!
Spaghetti with I’d-sleep-with-you-for-one-of-these Meatballs:
For the Sauce:
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 medium-sized onions
- 2 carrots, medium-sized
- 1 can of tomato puree (800ml)
- 200-250ml of vegetable stock
- 1 small glass of white wine
- 1 bay leaf
- salt, freshly grated black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, herbs de Provençe
- 2 tbsp. tomato essence (triple-concentrated tomate paste)
- 1/2 tbsp. dried parsley (or 1-2 tbsp. fresh, if you have!)
For the Meatballs:
- 500g ground beef (or beef/pork blend, or turkey – I used beef )
- 6 ends of dried white bread (about 25cm of baguette)
- 1 egg
- 250g grated zucchini, thoroughly aqueezed out to remove as much water as possible (with hands or in a dishtowel)
- 75ml milk (I used 1,5%)
- salt, freshly grated black pepper
- oregano, herbs de Provençe
- two dashes of paprika
- 150g breadcrumbs (or panko)
- 4 tbsp. of olive oil
- First, put the dried bread into a bowl of warm water to allow it to soak.
- Next, set up the sauce, so it can simmer for as long as possibly. Start by chopping the onions and carrots (if you puree it later, you don’t need to chop them too finely).
- In a large saucepan (preferably one that has a lid), pour the olive oil and heat it up. Once the oil bubbles slightly, ad the onions and carrots and sauté them for a bit. Turn down heat to medium. After a few minutes (or when they start to brown), add the tomato essence, stir in and allow to sweat/fry for another minute or two.
- Add the salt (1/4 tsp.), parsley, a few generous twists from the black pepper mill, the oregano and herbs de Provençe (you can replace it by Italian herb mix; I just didn’t have that one on hand).
- After a minute, add first the stock, then the wine.
- Add the tomato puree (or use a can of chopped or whole tomatoes – in my case, the only thing left int eh cupboard was a can of puree). Reduce heat to minimum.
- Take the bay leaf and make little tears into each side, then drop it into the sauce.
- Stir well, keep half-covered and simmer for as long as possible.
- By now, the bread should be completely softened and soaked. Pour out the water, then squeeze all excess water out of the breas as far as possible. Place the soggy bread mass in a large bowl.
- Add all the other ingredients except for the breadcrumbs and the olive oil.
- Blend into an even mixture.
- On a plate, pour the breadcrumbs.
- Start rolling meatballs: scoop out a bit of mixture, coat well in breadcrumbs, roll into shape, douse once more with breadcrumbs, set aside. The meatballs will be pretty bland and squishy, don’t let that deter you. It’s important to let them settle for about 10 minutes before frying because they will become a little firmer during that time.
- Once you’re finished rolling all meatballs (it should yield about 40 pieces), heat up the olive oil in a pan and fry the meatballs inbatches, always 1-2 minutes on the top and then the bottom side (I cover the pan with a spray lid in between, helps conserve heat and keep the walls clean) – don’t worry about the sides or any non-fried bits, the sauce will take care of that. If you want to soak off some grease, remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon and set them on a kitchen paper towel. (At this point, you can start the pasta water to prepare your spaghetti.)
- Take the bay leaf out of the tomato sauce and puree it to desired consistency – I never turn it completely smooth, but I don’t leave chunks. Chunks distract from the meatballs.
- Keep the sauce simmering on low heat (perhaps you could even switch off the heart already – there should be no wild bubbling) and place half of the meatballs into it, allowing them to cook through in the sauce (5-10 minutes max.).
- Serve a few spoonfuls of sauce, with the desired amount of meatballs, over a plate of spaghetti. (And hope that Julie Andrews drops by. Preferably in tails.)