Midwinter Break-Busting Meatballs

February 26, 2012 § 4 Comments

My children’s school district has invented a week-long holiday called ‘Midwinter Break’.  It falls about three minutes after ‘Winter Break’ and two minutes before ‘Spring Break’.  There are no Christmas presents to play with, and the weather outside is usually awful.  Sometimes I think Midwinter Break exists to derail my daily routine, sometimes I think it is a wonderful chance to spend hours alone with my girls.  It just depends.

Generally, I consider myself very lucky to be a ‘stay at home’ parent (I like that description better than ‘underemployed’).  But at the dawn of Midwinter Break, 6 1/2  days ago, as I watched my husband leave for his desk job I felt raw envy.  Luckily I had a plan.  Phase one: The 2012 Midwinter Break Film Festival, an annual event held in my living room (sometimes there are double features).  Phase two: Cook and eat and cook some more.  And do it with such enthusiasm and verve that my daughters want to do it, too!  Yaaaaaaay!!  A key component to getting the girls revved up about helping me peel and chop vegetables is to promise a favorite dish at the end.  That could be 1) Home-made Potato Chips, 2) anything involving duck fat, or 3) spaghetti with meatballs.  This week called for Spag & Balls.  

Meatballs fall into the category of Food That Is Not Worth Making In Small Quantities.  They freeze beautifully, and if you’re going to make 20 anyway, you had might as well make 60.  That’s my bare minimum, and if I can get help from those little workers I created, I’ll go for 100 balls.  I will.  Did I ever tell you about the afternoon I single-handedly rolled 350 meatballs…?   My children are great meatball makers: they have quick, small hands and they are not averse to getting gooey.  When they helped me roll dozens of meatballs the other night, it almost made me willing to pretend I was a pinto pony.  So close.

My favorite recipe follows.  I’ll share my three meatball-related epiphanies.  Number 1: Sauteeing the onion and garlic before you add them to the meat mixture mellows their flavor quite a bit, and you avoid the sharpness of raw onion.  Number 2: Baking the balls on sheet trays produces moist, succulent balls with a fraction of the work of pan-frying.  Number 3: I can get through an entire spaghetti & meatball blog post with barely a hint of ball-related innuendo.  How unexpected.

Spaghetti w Meatballs (adapted from a recipe by Gourmet Magazine)

Serves 6

(Note: This recipe will make approximately 30 meatballs with sauce.  I recommend double or tripling the meatballs and sauce and freezing them for another day.  You’ll be glad you did.  Cook the balls in sauce and freeze them & the sauce in an air-tight container for up to three months.)

For tomato sauce:

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1 medium onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

For meatballs:

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1.5 cups torn day-old Italian bread
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (2 oz)
  • 3 Tblsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1  pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground beef (not lean)

For pasta:

  • 1.5 pounds dried spaghetti
  • grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

Make sauce: 
Drain tomatoes, reserving juice in a large bowl. Crush tomatoes with your hands and add to juice.

Cook onions in oil in pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes with their juice and simmer sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Season with salt.

Make meatballs while sauce simmers: 
Preheat oven to 350.

Cook onions in extra-virgin olive oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Soak bread in milk in another bowl until soft, about 5 minutes. Firmly squeeze bread to remove excess milk, discarding milk.

Stir together cooled onion mixture, bread, eggs, parmesan, parsley, oregano, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper until combined. Add meats to bread mixture, gently mixing with your hands until just combined (do not overmix).

Form meat mixture into about 30 (1 1/2-inch) balls with dampened hands, arranging meatballs on 2 large, oiled baking sheets.

Bake the meatballs for 30 minutes.  No need to turn them – you’ll never notice that slightly flat side when you’re devouring the meatballs.

Add meatballs to sauce and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1o minutes.

Prepare pasta:
Cook spaghetti in boiling salted water until just al dente, drain and toss with a bit of olive oil.

Serve with meatballs, remaining sauce, and grated cheese.

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§ 4 Responses to Midwinter Break-Busting Meatballs

  • Anny says:

    I love you for this.

  • Jennifer Wilson says:

    Hannah, sounds yummy, but i am not sure if you are saying it is best to mean freeze the meatballs in the tomato sauce? I was thinking for the extra, maybe i would just freeze the meatballs after baking and not make extra sauce. We have a pork allergy, so i would probably use lamb instead of pork or maybe all ground beef. Thank you for sharing!

    • panaceafood says:

      Hi Jennifer, I usually freeze meatballs with sauce – one less step to do later! But if you’d rather freeze them without the sauce, I’m sure that would work fine. You might want to tuck a layer of saran wrap over the meatballs as extra protection against freezer burn.

  • Sue says:

    I never thought to put them on a baking sheet what a good idea!

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