After a very busy December, I am enjoying the slower pace of life. I have never liked cold weather or the shorter days, but I think I've finally made my peace with it. The lack of sunlight doesn't affect me like it used to and I've learned to embrace the grayness that is winter in Pittsburgh. And when the bright sun does happen to come out, I take notice and appreciate it that much more.
Unlike in the summer, I have an excuse to stay inside, within the coziness of a warm kitchen while the snow falls quietly outside the kitchen window. So while I am hibernating this month, I am taking the opportunity to make some of my family's longtime favorite recipes (like this one), along with trying some new ones, and freezing the leftovers when possible for that inevitable day when things are crazy again and there is no time to cook.
Homemade marinara sauce freezes wonderfully and the best way to freeze meatballs is right in the sauce, so make a double batch of this recipe and freeze the rest in quart sized containers. Square Ziploc containers are my favorite for freezing. I use a permanent marker on peel-off address labels to label the containers with the contents and date. When thawing, either take the container out of the freezer and place in the refrigerator overnight, or run hot water over the bottom of the container and transfer the sauce and meatballs to a bowl to heat in the microwave, or to a pot to reheat over the stove. (Never heat plastic containers in the microwave, especially with tomato sauce. The plastic will get pitted and stained.)
Spaghetti and Meatballs
adapted from a little pamphlet-type cookbook called Pasta Favorites
Note: My kids like a smooth sauce with absolutely no chunks, so often I will use only garlic and spices in the sauce and omit the onion. Alternatively, if you are not chunky-averse, you could also add a diced carrot or two along with the onion to increase the veggie content of the recipe. Just be sure to cook the carrots until they are pretty soft before adding the garlic and spices.
For the Sauce:
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped (see note above)
2 large cloves garlic (more if desired)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes in puree
2 16-ounce cans plain tomato sauce (not marinara sauce)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano, rubbed between your fingers to release flavor
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf (if you have it on hand)
For the Meatballs:
Note: my supermarket sells packaged ground meat labeled meatloaf mix which is a combination of beef, pork and veal side by side in one package. It works quite well in this recipe, although I'm not sure the beef is always as lean as I would like.
1 pound lean ground chuck
1/4 pound ground veal
1/4 pound ground pork
1 large egg
1/2 cup fresh or dried plain breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 pound of spaghetti
To make the sauce:
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and carrots, if using (see note above), and cook over low heat until the onion is translucent and the carrots are soft, about 5 minutes or so. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for one minute more. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes while you make the meatballs. This is a good time to start heating the water for the pasta.
To make the meatballs:
Place all of the meatball ingredients into a large bowl. Using clean hands, gently mix and fold the ingredients until they are well combined, but be careful not to overwork the mixture. It should stay relatively loose. Form the mixture into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter (or use a medium cookie scoop to portion the meatballs). Gently place the meatballs directly into the simmering sauce. When all of the meatballs are added, carefully push any exposed meatballs down into the sauce so that all the meatballs are covered. Continue to simmer, partially covered if the sauce is thick enough or uncovered if the sauce still needs to thicken more, for 15 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through. Remove and discard the bay leaf and spoon off any excess fat that rises to the surface. Serve over hot cooked spaghetti with some grated parmesan cheese for sprinkling.