Spaghetti and Meatballs. Doesn’t that sound good? Simple. Classic. Comforting. Makes me want to curl up on the couch with a big steaming bowl, a bottle of wine and some old movies. It’s the little things in life.
She positively raved about how good this tomato sauce is. And stupid easy. Literally, just three ingredients: canned tomatoes, onion, and butter. You don’t even need to chop the onion. Simply peel it and cut it in half. In it goes with the tomatoes and the secret ingredient to all things delicious (butter), and let it simmer. The result is really something phenomenal.
I tweaked the recipe slightly by adding a spoonful of sugar (I always add a little sugar to my tomato sauce, it helps balance out the acidity). I also added an extra can of whole peeled tomatoes. The original recipe didn’t make enough sauce to satisfy my saucy craving, and was a little too rich with the tomato:butter ratio.
A note on the canned tomatoes. If you can find San Marzano tomatoes, they are the best quality, but you do pay a lot more for them. I went budget on this and went for three 14.5 ounce cans of grocery store brand whole peeled tomatoes. The sauce turned out delicious. With that much butter how could it not be delicious?
The butter is the secret weapon here. It adds such a luxurious, full flavor to the sauce, and brings out the best in the tomato and onion.
With a solid sauce done, easy peasy, I turned my attention to meatballs.
I adapted a straightforward, traditional recipe from an episode of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown. “Grandma Maronis Meatballs 100 Year Old Recipe” consisted of the classic mix of ground chuck, bread crumbs, eggs, milk, cheese, onion, garlic, and herbs.
Three key changes I made:
1) Caramelize the onions before adding them to the mix. I do this when I make hamburgers too. By developing the sugars in the onion, you end up with a much greater depth of flavor.
2) Brown the meatballs in a pan before sticking them in the oven. Browned meat = More flavor. Plus, you get that nice crispy sear on the outside.
3) Add a few spoonfuls of Concord grape jelly.
That’s right, the secret to awesome meatballs is Grape Jelly. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.
I picked up this family secret from Dom, a friend from school who studied abroad with me in Bologna. His grandma swears by this. Grazie mille, Nonna Musacchio, you are brilliant. You would never guess that grape jelly is in the recipe, but it adds a little sweet sumpthin’ sumpthin’ that just works.
Sauce, check. Meatballs, check. Now who has an old copy of The Godfather I can borrow?
Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion
Adapted from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking
Serves: 4 (makes enough sauce to coat a pound of spaghetti)
43.5 ounces canned whole peeled tomatoes *
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt to taste
1. Put the tomatoes, onion, butter, and sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.
2. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.
3. Remove from heat, discard the onion, and salt to taste (you might find, as I did, that your tomatoes came salted and that you don’t need to add more) and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.
* If you can find San Marzano tomatoes, they are the best, but I made this with sauce with grocery-store brand canned tomatoes and it still came out delicious.
Nonna Knows Best: 100 Year Old Meatball Recipe
Adapted from “Grandma Maronis Meatballs 100 Year Old Recipe,” courtesy of Mike Maroni
Serves: 8 to 10
1 pound ground chuck
½ cup dried bread crumbs
4 large eggs
4 ounces whole milk
¾ cup grated Parmigiano
½ large yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons Concord grape jelly
¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat parsley
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil.
2. Caramelize the diced onion.
3. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly in large bowl. If the mixture seems a little loose add more bread crumbs.
4. Roll meatballs loosely about the size of a golf ball and place on baking sheet. Brown the meatballs in a frying pan until they have a nice golden crust.
5. Place the meatballs back on the baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for approximately 25 to 30 minutes.