I don’t know why but I keep coming back to this recipe and refining it a little more every time, and every time there is far more meatballs, sauce and pasta than is needed, but it is so tasty that it is hard to complain.
This past weekend there was a large art installation (called GLOW) on the beach about a mile from our house. The plan was to gather a few friends, have some comfort food in the garden by the fire and then walk down the beach to take it all in.
This pretty much fit the bill for an early autumn outdoor gathering.
First up are the meatballs themselves. We used a combination of ground beef, ground pork and ground lamb – about 3/4 lb of each. But any combination of three (or even two of them) works fine, the below proportions work with about 2.25 lbs of meat. Have those handy but set to the side for the moment.
Quickly sauté 1 large onion and 4-5 cloves of chopped garlic in 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat for 5-6 mins, until softened but not too brown. Take it all out of the pan and let it cool in a bowl.
Combine in a large bowl: 1.5 cups of bread crumbs (we just used plain Progresso, but any type will do), 3 eggs, 1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano, 1 Tbsp grated lemon zest and about 1 Tbsp lemon juice. (n.b. we used chopped, fresh herbs for this as they were readily available, but dried versions of each would work fine).
Add in your cooled onion & garlic mixture and gently combine the whole thing with a wooden spoon.
Work in all the meat with your hands. Take your time and don’t over mix, but do ensure that all of the meats and all of the ingredients get equally mixed throughout, especially the liquid from the eggs and the breadcrumbs, as these will bind the meatballs properly.
Again, with your hands, roll out (between your palms) 1.5″ balls. Don’t make them too big or too small. About the size of a golf ball is pretty good. Set them in rows on a lightly oiled, aluminum foiled, baking pan as you go along.
Once all the meatballs are rolled out, preheat your oven to 350 and put 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
Quickly brown the meatballs on all sides – 2-3 mins each side – trying not to let them brown too much or settle too much on one side (making them flat). As they are browned remove them back to the lightly greased baking tray.
Keep the grease in the pan and quickly deglaze (after all the meatballs are browned and removed) by adding about 1/2 cup of red or rose wine over high heat. After about a minute the resulting “sauce” will thicken – keep it moving by shaking the skillet until reduced by half. Hold on to this for a few minutes as it will be added to the sauce.
Place the browned meatballs on their baking tray in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 mins.
Now for the tomato sauce.
Sauté 2 medium onions and 4 chopped cloves of garlic in 3-4 Tbsp olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed pot. Don’t brown too much, but get soft, 5-6 minutes over medium-high heat.
Add 1-3 Tbsp chopped, fresh herbs to this – your choice – but I used oregano, parsley and basil. Stir over medium heat until coated, about 1 minute.
Add x3 28 oz cans of crushed San Marzano tomatoes (yes, using the slightly more expensive San Marzano Tomatoes does make a difference), 2-3 Tbsp tomato paste, 1 cup red wine (I didn’t have any red opened, so I used Rose and it worked great), 2 non-green apples de-cored and cut into quarters, salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1 Tbsp sea salt and 1/2 Tbsp fresh ground pepper, some people add some red pepper flakes here too, about 1/2 Tbsp). The wine and apples add the right amount of sugar, so there’s no need to add any more sugar to this – however, if you don’t have apples, add about 1 Tbsp brown sugar).
Stir everything together, add in your “wine glaze” you’ve set aside from above, get it to all to a bubbling point, and reduce the heat to just simmering, partially cover and let cook for 20-30 mins until reduced by about 1/3 and thickened. Remove the apple chunks after about 20 mins or they will start to break apart.
Remove the meatballs from the oven. They can either be used immediately or they can stand, covered, for a period of time if you need them to. Once the sauce it at a thickness you feel works for you, add the meatballs, and stir everything together with a large wooden spoon. Let it all simmer for about 5-10 minutes while you boil the spaghetti to al dente (about 8 minutes – we used about 10 oz of dried pasta and it was plenty).
Drain the pasta, toss with 1-2 Tbsp olive oil to prevent it from sticking and place it into a large, family stye serving bowl. Put the sauce and meatballs over the top, and grate some parmesan cheese over all.
Serve with very large serving spoons and crusty bread.