I blame Ian Falconer. Author and illustrator of the Olivia stories, he inspired a constant craving by my children for spaghetti and meatballs. In the original Olivia story, Olivia visits the art museum and becomes inspired by Jackson Pollock. When she gets home, Olivia decides to create her own “masterpiece” on her bedroom wall (visualize splattered paint everywhere). The story continues with: “Time out.” After that, Olivia has a nice bath, and sits down for a good dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. Starting at a very young age, both of my girls loved to gasp at the page where Olivia goes to work creating art on her bedroom wall (and I realize, we have inadvertently given them ideas), and then they began demanding spaghetti and meatballs. It’s not a dish I usually have time to whip up, so to speak. So, for the past few years, Sofia has requested them for her birthday dinner with the entire family, and I’ve been happy to oblige. And every year, about 80-100 meatballs later, I am usually wondering what I was thinking when I agreed.
Well, my big girl went off to school this past week, and as she and her little sis have (as usual) been requesting spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, I decided that I would indulge them to celebrate the milestone of Sofia entering primary school. Even though it was a week night, and I was already running a bit behind schedule, I decided to just commit, and make it happen. Turns out, making meatballs doesn’t have to be such an ordeal when you just make one batch. It made for happy little eaters, and there were plenty of leftovers which I tucked into the freezer for a cold night this fall.
Spaghetti & Meatballs
recipe by Ina Garten Spaghetti, adapted by Stephanie Kunstle
Note: This is Ina’s recipe with a few changes. The biggest tweaks being the amount of sauce is doubled (I hate running out of sauce, and you will if you don’t make extra), and I add lots and lots of fresh basil which lifts this from a winter dish to something fresh and suited to late summer.
Ingredients for Meatballs:
- 1/2 pound ground veal
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 and 1/4 cups fresh white bread crumbs (4-6 slices from a rustic loaf, with a quick spin the food processor)
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. dried basil
- 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
- 1/4 tsp. dried parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (use 1/4 tsp if you are using already ground nutmeg)
- 1 extra-large egg, beaten
- Olive oil
Ingredients for Sauce:
- 1 tablespoon or so olive oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion (about 1 onion)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1/2 cup good red wine
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with basil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 3 teaspoons sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 lb. spaghetti, and fresh Parmesano Reggiano for serving
- Place the ground meats, bread crumbs, dried herbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. You will have 14 to 16 meatballs.
- Pour regular (not extra virgin) olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don’t crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pan.
- For the sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, sugar, salt, and pepper.
- Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Stir in the freshly chopped basil. Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesano.