Kid Tested, Toddler Approved: Spaghetti and Meatballs

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Honestly, who doesn't love spaghetti and meatballs? If you're vegetarian, I know deep down you still love spaghetti and meatballs. It's ok -- you can admit it -- I won't tell anyone. (winks) Regardless, if you're a kid you definitely love it. And with all the horrendous versions permeating our dining out options (hello Brick Smothered In Sauce), I choose to make it home from scratch because it's shockingly easy and this way I can control the fat and MSG going into my kiddos' tummies.

To make it healthier, I choose organic lean ground sirloin (only 7% fat) and then bake them rather than fry them. Add a box of dry spaghetti and a jar of your favorite organic sauce (or Emeril's or Batali's of course) and you have a hearty meal in 30 minutes. And I'm not Rachel Ray -- I don't bullshit you -- this actually tastes good and is ready, in fact, in 30 minutes. Not 50.

The recipe is based on Andrew's Sicilian Mama's recipe for meatballs, with a couple of tricks I added to make them tastier and moister. The problem is when using such lean meat, you'll get a dry ball. And no one likes dry balls. Moist balls are better than dry balls. So follow my directions exactly and you won't get a brick smothered in sauce, but rather a still-moist and tasty ball. Make it tonight!

Spaghetti and Meatballs
For the meatball:
1 lb lean, organic ground sirloin, at room temperature
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp Italian bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp cream or half n half

For the spaghetti:
1 lb dried spaghetti
kosher salt
1 jar favorite marinara sauce (recommend: Batali's or Emeril's)
1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a rack on top (if using).

Place the ground beef in a large glass bowl. Season liberally with salt and pepper (about 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper is what I usually do when making it for the kids; if for adults then do a full teaspoon of pepper). Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the onions. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper (will help caramelize them) and cook on medium heat until softened, 10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook another minute. Remove from heat and add the onion and garlic mixture right on top of the ground beef in the mixing bowl. Add the basil, oregano, parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, egg, and cream all at once. Then using a spatula or your hands, gently fold the mixture to incorporate all of the ingredients. Be careful not to over mix as that will yield a tough meat ball. You want the mixture to hold together enough but not be too grainy. Once just combined, take out about a heaping tablespoon's worth of meat mixture and gently roll and press it into a ball. Repeat with the remaining mixture. This should yield you 12-15 balls depending on how small or big you make them.

Place each ball on the baking sheet, evenly spacing them out, and place in oven. Cook for 15 minutes.

While the balls cook, make the pasta portion. When water comes to a roaring bowl, add a good tablespoon of kosher salt -- be careful, the salt will make the water jump and bubble so take a step back! Add the pasta all at once and give it a good stir with tongs. Cook according to package directions, about 10 minutes. Drain once cooked and place back into the pot.

Place the pasta sauce in a saucepan and heat through. Once hot, add the remaining basil and give it another stir.

To assemble the dish, simple toss the drained pasta with half of the marinara sauce right in the pot. Reserve the rest of the sauce to top the meatballs. Portion out the pasta on plates or place whole thing in a large serving platter. Portion out the meatballs on individual plates or nuzzle them in with the sauced pasta. Pour the remaining sauce over and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

My Notes:
If beef isn't your thing, you can certainly substitute ground turkey or chicken for the meat balls. But keep in mind you'll probably need to add a little more cream to the mixture then so they stay moist. You want the consistency of the meat mixture to be soft and moistened, and not grainy but still be able to hold together in a ball form.

You can fry the meat balls if you really want to -- just coat the bottom of a pan with olive oil and cook balls on all sides until golden brown. But by cooking in the oven you get a healthier version and easier clean up!


Christa Jeanne said...

Oooooh, yum!!! I was just menu-planning last night and put spaghetti and meatballs on the list. I'll have to give your version a whirl! :)

BTW, good call on the bottled pasta sauce. I tried making it from scratch for the first time earlier this year - totally not worth it! The bottled kind is no more expensive and still delicious. There are few things where from-scratch isn't worth it - in my opinion, pasta sauce is high on that shortlist.

Mishy said...

Generally I agree with you. However, I am a HUGE fan of homemade sauce. For something as basic as a marinara, I always buy. Want arrabiata? Then add red pepper flakes to the marinara. Vodka? Just add vodka and cream to a heated marinara. Marinara is key for so many sauces. But that said, there are two that I absolutely will always make from scratch and ONLY for special occasions b/c it takes forever. One is what I call THE SAUCE which involves pieces of pork, sausage and beef that serve as the base for the most insanely good sauce youv'e ever had. The other is crab. Yes, I said crab. It's made with stewing whole crabs inside that give it the most amazing flavor you've ever had. Then you serve the crab legs tossed with the sauce and pasta after the crab's body has been stewing in the tomato sauce (it's thinner a thickened broth more than a sauce) and it's amazing. And my cioppino of course is always from scratch. ;)

Amanda Ebner said...

I am no pasta fan but this simple recipe might make me a convert...