Spaghetti and meatballs. That's a common request at many households but asking for spaghetti and meatballs and getting spaghetti and meatballs are really two different things. (As seen above...)
It's really meatballs and sauce or meatballs and gravy to be correct. We have made many different variations of this recipe and always go back to the basics...some ground beef or pork, onions, garlic, eggs, bread crumbs, spices and parmesan cheese.
When Jeff went looking for one of our favorite recipes, Two different recipes, one great meal, he came across this recipe for Pork and Ricotta Meatballs in a Tomato Sauce from Food and Wine. As I was reading the recipe, I thought ricotta in the meatballs sounded different, but what about the onions and garlic? Was this meatball recipe going to taste good with fennel and crushed red pepper? How were spicy meatballs going to taste with a rather plain tomato sauce?
I saw the fennel seeds and crushed red pepper and thought this may not become a family favorite. We had a friend who used to make meatballs that were loaded with fennel and sometimes, that was all you could taste. The trick to any combination of herbs and spices is to enhance but not overpower the main ingredient. Instead of using the herbs (fennel and crushed red pepper) as is, I decided to crush them further with a mortar and pestle, figuring that would mellow the flavor. I also like the meat mix of pork, veal and beef when making meatballs, it gives a firm but soft consistency. Today, many supermarkets carry it as a meatloaf mix.
The ingredients came together quickly with the use of the food processor. The meatballs were a little wet but don't be concerned, they brown up nicely. Once the meatballs were cooked, we added the tomatoes. We found there wasn't much liquid so we added two additional cans of fire roasted, diced tomatoes.
Two hours later, this mixture was bubbling and the smell was heavenly. I grabbed a meatball and sliced it in half. I tasted the results and it was delicious. Moist and flavorful but not overbearing with the herbs. Then I went in for a better taste of the sauce...PERFECT! The flavor from the juices of the meatballs gave a perfect balance to the flavor of the sauce. We served it with homemade bread (which we will go into in the future) and it was a hit. Everyone in the family loved the dish. Because we doubled the recipe, we froze the remaining half and took it out last night for a quick dinner. The sauce tasted even better and the meatballs we still soft and flavorful...they melted in your mouth.
It's Saturday, think about a nice Sunday sauce and leftovers to freeze. C'mon, let's enjoy some spaghetti and meatballs!
1/2 pound sliced white bread, crusts removed and bread cut into 1/2-inch dice (4 cups)
1 1/2 pounds meatball/meatloaf mix - beef, pork and veal
3 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, ground
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup ricotta cheese (5 ounces)
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 28-ounce cans peeled Italian tomatoes, crushed
2 15-ounce cans of diced tomatoes, we used fire-roasted
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons shredded basil
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound of your favorite pasta, cooked according to instructions
Preheat the oven to 400°.
Place fennel seed, oregano, red pepper flakes and salt, into a mortar and grind with a pestle until fennel and red pepper are crushed. In a food processor, pulse the bread to coarse crumbs. Place in large bowl. Place pancetta in food processor and pulse until ground. Add to bread crumbs.
Add the pork, pancetta, eggs, ricotta, parsley, and ground ingredients. Mix well. Shape into 24 meatballs, using about 3 rounded tablespoons of the mixture for each. Transfer the meatballs to an oiled medium roasting pan.
Roast the meatballs in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until firm and just beginning to brown. Using a spatula, loosen the meatballs from the bottom of the pan. Add the crushed and diced tomatoes to the pan. Lower the oven temperature to 325° and cook uncovered for about 2 hours, or until the sauce is very thick and the meatballs are very tender; turn the meatballs once or twice during cooking.
Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the meatballs and tomato sauce to a large platter. Garnish with the basil and Pecorino cheese. Serve with your favorite pasta.