I remember it like it was yesterday– I was probably 10 years old, and we went to visit my Grandma and Grandpa on their Pennsylvania farm. It was a long trip . . . it seemed that every time we kids begged my Dad to tell us “How much LONGER??” he would say, “Almost there, now.” I felt like “almost there” had to be twice as long as the distance to the moon, and then multiplied by ten.
And then, finally, we saw the big red barn, beautiful white farmhouse, and that promising, bumpy gravel road. Yes . . . when the car started to rattle, we knew we had arrived. 😉
Anyway, the second the car stopped, we kids tore out of the backseat and raced up to the door– dusk had just settled, and the cold, dark evening instantly gave way to the warmth and comfort of a beautiful, 100 year old farmhouse kitchen. I still remember walking through the hallway, literally from darkness into light. The lights were so cozy and inviting, and the friendly laughter and chatter of family reached out to us, beckoning us to come in.
And then . . . there was the smell of supper.
Have you ever experienced the instant feeling of joy and coziness that comes from stepping out of the cold into a kitchen brimming with savory smells and heavy pots bubbling merrily on the stove? It’s bliss, my friends. Bliss. And that night, my Grandma had a huge pot of spaghetti on the stove.
I remember all of us crowding around the big kitchen table, joining hands for grace, and then passing Gram’s big, green plates back and forth, while the steaming spaghetti landed in delicious, steaming masses onto everyone’s plates. And, to this day, that remains one of the best meals that I’ve ever had. Perhaps it was the deliciousness of the food. Perhaps it was the warmth of the family around us. Perhaps it was being warmed, from the inside out, by the kindness and love we shared. Perhaps it was a combination of all of these things. But, to this day, I love spaghetti. And, just between us, I still love to eat it on a green plate. 😉
What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!
Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs
(adapted from Allrecipes.com)
2 lbs. ground meat of choice (half ground pork and half ground beef is standard)
1-1.5 cups fresh bread crumbs
2 tbsp. dried parsley
2 tbsp. parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 beaten eggs
1/4-1/2 cup milk
(heavily adapted from Allrecipes.com)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 large 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
2 small 14 oz. (or 1 large (28 oz) can) diced tomatoes with seasonings (generally basil and oregano) added
1 small (14-15 oz) can tomato sauce
2 tbsp. white sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried basil (or 1 tbsp. fresh)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
To make the meatballs, combine the meat, spices, beaten eggs, milk, and enough bread crumbs to hold meat together. Pack mixture into meatballs and refrigerate until you are ready to simmer the meatballs in the sauce. To make sauce, sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until soft and fragrant. Add the rest of the ingredients and cover pot, simmering for 1 hour. Add the meatballs and submerge them into the sauce, without stirring heavily, as the meatballs are still raw and somewhat delicate. Allow the sauce to simmer for 1-2 more hours, until meatballs are tender and cooked through, and sauce is fragrant and flavors combined.
Now, in pictures!
Start by getting a large pot or Dutch oven going over medium low heat. Place your olive oil into the pan so that it can start to heat.
Place your minced garlic cloves and diced onion into the pot and stir them around so that the oil is mixed into the vegetables. These little beauties are going to be the basis of a very beautiful spaghetti sauce– and they make your kitchen smell amazing, too. It’s a win win!
While those onions are cooking, go ahead and start the meatballs. You can use 2 lbs. of the ground meat of your choice– I am using half ground beef (on the left) and half ground pork (on the right). You can also use a meatloaf mixture from your local grocery store meat counter, which contains ground veal, in addition to beef and pork. You could substitute ground turkey, also, but keep in mind that turkey meat is leaner, and, therefore, will not require as many breadcrumbs to bind the meatballs. Experiment and pick your favorite combo 🙂
Stir your onions. Mmm. It’s starting to smell good in here! You’re cooking like a Grandma. And, yes– that is definitely a compliment.
To your ground meat, add in your spices, eggs, and milk. Beat your eggs before adding to make it a little easier to mix them in– I wanted to show you the eggs being added, so I didn’t beat them for the photo. Stir the mixture around so that the spices are well incorporated into the meat mixture.
Now . . . let’s talk bread crumbs. You have several choices, here, and it really comes down to personal preference. You can use store-bought dried bread crumbs (either plain or Italian seasoned, but I would recommend seasoned), panko crumbs (a lot fluffier than regular bread crumbs), or fresh bread crumbs. Any of these choices will work– but if you use the dried crumbs, be prepared to add a touch more milk to compensate for their extra dryness.
I am going to use fresh bread crumbs because they are still moist and, therefore, keep the meatballs nice and moist. But feel free to use any other kind you like– just add a few extra tbsp. of milk to your meat mixture so that the meatballs aren’t dry, if necessary.
Pulse your bread in a food processor until you have nice crumbs. I am just using a regular French Bread $1 Walmart type loaf. You don’t need fancy or homemade bread– and it doesn’t matter if it’s a touch stale– as long as it isn’t so dry you can pound a nail in with it, you’re good to go. Have a stray hot dog bun from a cookout? Throw it in there. Your type of bread isn’t terribly important, and this is a great way to use up the heels of bread that you would ordinarily throw away. See? You’re thinking like a Grandma, again. It’s awesome. Those ladies kept the country going during some of the toughest years of our nation. We could do a lot worse than to emulate their skills.
Add some crumbs to your meat mixture– you may have to add a little more or less, depending on how dry your mixture is. You want the finished meat mixture to look like this– still soft and moist, but not at all wet. You should be able to form the meat into meatballs without the circles losing their shape.
Meanwhile . . . back at the ranch (ominous music plays in the background . . .)
The onions and garlic should be cooked through, by now, and be soft and almost transparent. Add in the rest of the tomatoes and spices and stir everything together. Cover your pot and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until the sauce starts to combine flavors. That gives us plenty of time to make meatballs! Yum!
Oh– I forgot to mention– as you add your spices, don’t forget to add the sugar. SUGAR?? In spaghetti sauce? I’m going to leave that out! Yuck!
Don’t do it.
There are lots of tomatoes in here. Tomatoes are very acidic. The sugar just helps to tame the acidity– the sauce will not taste sweet, but the sugar will help to stop the acid from ruining the soft flavors you are trying to create.
So, when in doubt, add sugar. Yes. I think I will take this as my life’s mantra. Haha.
While your sauce is simmering away, go ahead and make your meatballs. You can use a cookie scoop if you want them to be uniform in size, or you can just grab a hunk of meat and squish it together, if you don’t care about the size. Make sure that the meat mixture holds together and doesn’t fall apart in your hands. If it’s dry, add a little more milk. If the mixture is too wet, add a little more of the breadcrumbs.
Gently place your meatballs into the sauce, being careful not to overlap them, too much, as they are still raw and delicate. Gently push them under the sauce with your spoon. Be careful not to spear any of them or stir heavily, because the meatballs may break apart.
Now you see them . . .
Now you don’t!
Simmer your meatballs for about an hour, and then gently stir and simmer for a bit longer– maybe an hour more. There really isn’t a set timetable to this– you can even make this recipe in the crock pot (add an extra can of tomato sauce to the recipe if using the crock pot, as some liquid will be lost in the longer cooking time). When your kitchen starts to smell like an Italian restaurant, and you feel the impulse to say “Arrivederci!” to everyone, that’s probably about right. Taste some sauce and see what you think. If you get a nice flavor, that’s good enough. You’re the one eating this, so your opinion is the one that counts– when it tastes right to you, it’s right.
Just don’t be surprised, though, if it tastes best on a green plate 😉
You did it. I’m just so proud of you.
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