What’s not to love about flavour packed meatballs bathed in rich tomato sauce, poured over spaghetti and topped with mounds of parmesan cheese – comfort food just doesn’t get any better which is why this pasta dish is loved by young and old alike. I was a little shocked the first time I had spaghetti and meatballs in the States. What faced me on the plate were two of the most ginormous meatballs I’d ever seen, each one easily the size of a tennis ball! I’ve since found out that large mammoth meatballs are the norm in the States but I have to say this isn’t the way I like them. I prefer small walnut size meatballs, maybe even a tad smaller. They seem to carry the flavour better and meld with the sauce and the spaghetti in a much nicer way. But hey, if you’re a big meatball fan then by all means go for it and shape them balls as big as you like. I like to flour the meatballs and fry them before adding them to the sauce. I find the texture of the meatballs better when they are fried and the flour helps thicken the sauce. Once fried, the meatballs can be cooked in the sauce for a nice long time without the risk of them falling apart, it’s an extra step but I think it’s worth the effort.
Ingredients – Serves 6 and freezes well
500g minced beef
300g minced pork
1 onion, finely chopped
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cloves of garlic, crushed in a garlic press
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly grated black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
⅓ cup finely chopped parsley
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
Pinch of chilli flakes
1 x 400ml can crushed tomatoes
1 x 400ml can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
Parmesan rind, optional – I always keep the rind from parmesan and store in the freezer, they add great flavour to sauces
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 heaped tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
125g dried spaghetti per person
Freshly grated parmesan cheese to serve
To make the meatballs heat a little butter in a small fry pan, add the onion along with a pinch of salt and cook until soft. Leave aside to cool. Place all the other ingredients, other than the olive oil and flour, into a large bowl and add the cooled onions. Using your hands, where disposable gloves if you wish, combine the mixture thoroughly. Take small amounts of the mixture and form into balls, I like walnut size balls but make any size you wish. Heat some olive oil in a large fry pan over medium high heat. Lightly dust some meatballs with flour and place into the hot oil. Place enough meatballs into the pan to form a single layer. Cook turning occasionally until the meatballs are nicely browned on all sides. Repeat with the remaining meatballs, adding more oil as needed.
To make the sauce heat the oil in a large heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook for about 5 minutes until slightly softened. Add the carrots and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until caramelised and golden. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Add the red wine and bring to the boil and reduce by half. Add the chilli flakes and canned tomatoes, swirling some water into each can and adding it to the sauce. Add the chicken stock, parmesan rind, salt, sugar, tomato paste and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then cover and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.
Cook for 20 minutes then add the fried meatballs and gently stir them into the sauce. Cook covered for another 45 – 60 minutes. You can cook for longer if you wish, the sauce will get more flavourful but ensure your heat is very low and check every now and then to make sure there is enough liquid, adding some water if needed. I like my sauce to be fairly thick so at the end of the cooking time I sometimes remove the lid and increase the heat to reduce the sauce a little but this isn’t always necessary.
Towards the end of the cooking time bring a large pan of well salted water to the boil add the spaghetti and cook according to package instructions, or until al dente. Drain well, reserving about a cup of cooking water. Place the pasta back in the pan it was boiled in and add a couple of ladles of the tomato sauce and a little of the cooking water. Stir to incorporate the sauce and water into the pasta. Place some pasta onto each plate, topping the pasta with a generous serve of the meatballs and sauce. Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.