So, in addition to endless magazines and this insane book that really exists, the beach house had a copy of Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa: Family Style cookbook: simple, hearty and clear recipes with lots of pictures of photogenic children and food. We made her ‘Real Meatballs & Spaghetti’ which were pretty damn good, and given the ongoing cold, gloomy weather we’re having just a day away from April, they feel sadly appropriate for right now.
Our tweaks were based on availability and affordability, so I’m not sure I would vouch for them as I usually do. I know that meatball-making tends to be one of those closely-guarded-family-recipe situations, but if you don’t have an Italian grandmother and want to fake one, you could do worse than start with these.Start with a big bowl. Fill it with 2lb ground meat – we used approximately half beef and half pork. The BC suggests a mixture of veal, pork, and beef, but I didn’t trust the “hamburger mix” that was the only source of veal in the big NC supermarket – I can’t count the wrongnesses of cheap veal. To the meat, add 1 1/4 cup breadcrumbs*; 2tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley; salt & pepper; a pinch of nutmeg, 1 egg (beaten); and about 1/2 cup warm water.
*Re: breadcrumbs. The BC recipe calls for a mixture of fresh white crumbs (one cup) and the rest dried. We didn’t have any fresh, so used all dried to no particular ill effect, but I can see that the softer crumbs would make the meatballs a little lighter, so I would recommend the combination, even if it seems like a bit of a faff.
Using your hands, combine everything and form the mixture into roughly two-inch balls. I think ours must have been smaller than the BC’s, because we had a lot more than the 14-16 she promises. But hey, the more the merrier. And it’s *meatballs*. If you are using a ruler and a calculator here, you have other problems.
Pour about 4tbsp oil into a large, deep skillet or sauté pan – a light olive oil or a mix of olive and vegetable oil works best. Heat, then carefully add the meatballs to the pan and brown them in batches over a medium heat. You’ll need to keep a close eye and turn them often, but they hold together well. As the BC says: don’t crowd the meatballs. Remove the browned meatballs to a plate lined with paper towels.
Chuck any excess oil, but don’t clean the pan. Add 1tbsp good olive oil and heat, then add one medium chopped onion and sauté for a few minutes until soft. Add 3-4 cloves garlic (minced) and cook for another minute or so, then add a glass of red wine (Italian, of course) and whack up the heat, stirring and scraping up all the pieces of meat and garlic and onion, until most of the liquid has evaporated. If anyone in your house, or possibly neighbourhood, is hungry, expect them to show up at the door of the kitchen right about now.
Stir in 1 28oz can tomatoes (crushed or chopped); 1tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley; salt & pepper. Return the meatballs to the pan and turn them gently so they’re covered. Simmer on the lowest heat for about half an hour, until cooked through.
About ten minutes before serving, cook about 1 1/lb spaghetti. Serve up in a huge dish, scattered with parmesan and a little more torn parsley.