Sunday, May 15, 2011

Two Meatballs in the Italian Kitchen: Polpettine con Spaghetti (Meatballs with Spaghetti Coco Pazzo)

I'm not a big spaghetti girl.  Or pasta in general.  So basically every time I have the option of Italian or something else, I'm choosing the something else.  But once every great while I feel like having some meatballs.  Tender, beefy meatballs in a tomato sauce.  But not just any meatballs.  Homemade meatballs in a homemade sauce.  No jars here.  And each time I make it, I remember how really delicious homemade Italian food can be.

Note: In addition to some other tinkering which is included in the instructions below, I added 10 leaves of fresh basil (chiffonade) to the sauce.  Because it's awesome.

Polpettine con Spaghetti (Meatballs with Spaghetti Coco Pazzo)
Adapted from Two Meatballs in the Italian Kitchen by Pino Luongo and Mark Strausman

For the meatballs:
1 cup day-old sourdough bread cubes (crust removed)
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
8 ounces ground veal
8 ounces ground chuck
8 ounces lean ground pork
8 ounces sweet Italian sausage (about 2), removed from casings and crumbled
3 tablespoons dried oregano, preferably Sicilian
½ cup (2 ounces) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ cup (2 ounces) freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium red onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup dry red wine (such as Chianti)
2 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, with the juice, puréed in a food processor or food mill
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste (optional)

2 tablespoons kosher salt
1½ pounds spaghetti or linguine

To make the meatballs:
Place the bread and milk in a medium bowl and let soak for 5 minutes.

Heat a 7- to 8-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, and when it is hot, add the olive oil. Add the onion and cook until soft and golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.

Place the veal, beef, pork, and sausage in a large bowl and, using your hands, mix well. Add the oregano, cheeses, eggs, garlic powder, parsley, and bread one at a time, mixing until thoroughly combined after each addition. Add the onion and mix until very well combined. Add the salt and pepper. Set aside.

To make the sauce:
Heat a 10-quart casserole over medium heat, and when it is hot, add the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook until wilted. Add the tomato paste and stir for 1 minute. Add the wine, tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of salt, and red pepper flakes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt, dried basil, and red pepper flakes to taste if necessary.

While the tomato sauce is cooking, form the meatballs:
Take a piece of meat the size of a golf ball and roll it between the palms into a ball. Add it to the sauce, and repeat with the remaining meatballs.

Return the sauce to a simmer and simmer gently until the meatballs are cooked through, about 1½ hours. Be sure to cook the meatballs at a very gentle simmer; if the sauce boils, the fat will separate from the meat and they will dry out. When you think they are done, remove one from the pot and cut into it with a paring knife. If it is still pink in the middle, continue to cook until done, another 10 to 15 minutes.

Just prior to serving, fill a 10-quart stockpot with 7 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add the 2 tablespoons of salt and spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain, add to the pan with the meatballs and sauce, and carefully toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings, 16 to 18 meatballs with sauce

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