That title is a bold statement…
Spaghetti and Meatballs – the ultimate of all comfort foods, right? Would you believe me if I told you this is the best spaghetti and meatballs you’ll ever have? I wish I could take credit for it, but honestly, I can’t since it’s my Mom’s “recipe.” I put the word recipe in quotes because she doesn’t really have a recipe per se, she just kind of goes by feel each time she makes it, and I don’t know how, but it always tastes the exact same each time– which I love. I guess she’s made it so many times that it’s just engrained into her mind – never to be forgotten. God’s honest truth, we have yet to go to a restaurant or home kitchen where the meatballs were superior to hers, call it bias, call it favoritism, call it what you want, but it’s true – there is NO spaghetti and meatball recipe like this one.
When I was in college I tried to come up with my own perfect spaghetti and meatballs, because I was all into making every single recipe my own (establishing my independence… or something like that), but mine never ever turned out as delicious as hers. I perfected the soft meatball, but hers were slightly denser with so much more texture that was missing in mine. I used the most expensive San Marzano tomatoes, but my sauce was always lacking depth of flavor and the smooth, thick consistency of her sauce. After five or six failed attempts, I had to waive the white flag of defeat and call her up to figure out what her secret was….
Four secrets to be exact…
1. Saltine cracker crumbs
2. A ground beef and Italian sausage combination
3. Red Wine
4. Tomato paste
Shall we start with the meatballs?
Of course there’s ground beef, but what makes these meatballs extra special is the addition of Italian sausage (secret number two) and saltine cracker crumbs (secret number one). The Italian sausage adds a flavor that you just can’t get anywhere else and the cracker crumbs aid in a softer, but still toothsome meatball. There are the typical accoutrements; onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper; and the only thing I do differently than my Mom typically does is to grate in a little bit of yellow onion for added moisture and flavor. This step is especially helpful when using a ground beef that’s lower in fat, like a ground sirloin which I occasionally use, but if you’re a first timer I’d use a 85/15 or 80/20 beef to fat ratio.
It’s important to remember to just mix the meat until it’s combined, otherwise you’ll end up with a tough meatball which is no bueno.
Once everything is mixed, you form the mixture into meatballs, and in our family, the meatballs are ginormous – I find that the bigger they are the more likely they are to stay moist. So after all of the big guys are formed, brown them in a good amount of olive oil – about an eighth to a quarter cup. Make sure to brown them on ALL sides, and don’t worry about cooking them through, they will finish cooking in the sauce later.
Now…the sauce. This was always where my main problem was. I could never get the sauce to the right flavor or consistency, and after talking to my Mom and re-making it her way I found out it was because I wasn’t using red wine and I was using whole canned tomatoes instead of tomato paste which was making for a slightly watery, less flavorful sauce. Now, I use tomato paste in almost all of my sauces – pizza sauce, marina sauce, soups, stews – the depth of flavor it adds is unbelievable, almost like you’ve been letting it cook for hours and hours – of course you don’t have to let people know that wasn’t the case….
Once the meatballs are done browning, transfer them to a plate and throw the sliced onions and peppers into the pan, wilt them a bit, then deglaze with a splash (or two!) of red wine. Add in your tomato paste, water, sugar, salt, Italian seasoning and garlic powder, then give it a quick stir. Transfer your meatballs (along with all those juices!) back into the tomato sauce and simmer away until the meatballs are cooked through, the sauce is thick and your house smells like an Italian grandma’s kichen. Mmmmmm….
And there you have it…the best spaghetti and meatballs there ever was… the end.
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 Italian sausage links, removed from casing
- 1 egg
- 1 cup saltine cracker crumbs (crush by hand)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ½ small onion, finely diced
- ½ small onion, grated
- 1 large garlic clove, grated
- 2 tablespoons parmesan
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 green pepper sliced thin
- 1 small onion sliced thin
- 2 6 ounce cans tomato paste
- 4 cans water, plus more if needed (tomato paste can)
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 pound spaghetti
- Using your hands combine, ground beef, italian sausage, egg, cracker crumbs, salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning, diced onion, grated onion, garlic and parmesan. Form into 9-10 meatballs. In a large skillet, heat ⅛ – ¼ cup olive oil over a medium-high heat. Brown meatballs on all sides, remove from skillet.
- Add in sliced onion and pepper, cook for two to three minutes. Deglaze pan with red wine, scraping up brown bits as you go. Add in tomato paste, cook for 1-2 minutes. Add in water, Italian seasoning, sugar, salt and garlic powder. Stir. Add meatballs back into the sauce and simmer for 30 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through and sauce is thickened. If needed add more water. Season with salt, pepper and sugar.
- While the sauce is simmering bring a large stock pot of water to a boil. Add a small handful of kosher salt. Cook spaghetti until aldente.
- Serve with grated parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.