Friday, August 12, 2011

Best Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs

This weekend I am going to visit my grandmother. Yes, you read that correctly, my grandmother. I am 48 years old and I am blessed to have one grandparent still living.  She is full of life and an inspiration to us all. One of her favorite meals is spaghetti and meatballs so I am cooking a good pot to take with us.

Several years back, I made sauce with Italian sausage, removed from the casing and browned and chopped up to look like ground beef, and loved the way it flavored the tomato sauce as it cooked.  Then a couple of years back I watched a Jamie Oliver show where he used sausage but pinched an inch or two out of the casing at a time to make meatballs, which he pan-fried before adding them to the sauce. I thought this was brilliant and, for a time, that was the only way I made meatballs as well. Happily, this coincided with our move from KL to Singapore and Cold Storage in Singapore has wonderful, flavorful fresh sausages in a variety of flavors. To cook with Puy lentils, I would buy the small herb and garlic ones. For spaghetti sauce, the spicy Italian.  Lamb with rosemary worked beautifully for a dinner of mashed potatoes and a vegetable of some sort. Quick, easy, delicious.

Now, of course, you know if you’ve been following along lately that since reading Eating Animals, I try not to buy meat from a regular supermarket (at least not here in Houston because alternatives are readily available) because I cannot know its provenance and how the animal was treated. I would prefer to support the family farmers who raise cows and pigs and chicken out in the pasture, eating what animals should eat, by which I don’t mean antibiotics and other unnatural feed.  Unfortunately that means the selection of sausage is not that great.   So, I was back to making meatballs the old-fashioned way, but trying to mimic the flavor of my beloved sauce with Italian sausage.  

3 lbs or 1360g ground pork, preferably pastured pork
1 oz or 30g hot Italian sausage seasonings (I bought mine from a great supply store off of I-45 at Airline but you can get them online at Penzeys or in their store, also near me. I love the Heights in Houston! If you buy Penzeys, you might want to add cayenne or crushed red pepper since theirs isn’t hot.) 
1 large yellow or white onion
4-5 cloves of garlic
One large 28 oz or 794g can whole peeled tomatoes
One large 12 oz or 340g can of tomato paste – not sauce – paste. The really thick stuff.
2 heaping tablespoons of oregano
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons of sugar

For the meatballs

Preheat your oven to 375°F or 190°C.

Mix half the seasonings into the pork thoroughly. 

Fry up a small piece to taste. 

Add more seasonings, frying a little piece after each addition. Only you know your family’s taste and you don’t want it too spicy or salty.  That said, some of the seasonings will be transferred when the meatballs cook further in the sauce so don’t panic if you find it suddenly spicier or saltier than you think it should be.

Grease a baking tray with olive oil and drop the meat mixture spoonful by spoonful on the tray. 

With your oily hands, roll each piece into a ball and return to the greased tray.  

When all the balls are rolled, pop the tray into the oven for 20-25 minutes.

Tray one

Tray two
Meanwhile, get started on your sauce.  Chop your onion and garlic and sauté them gently with a little olive oil.  

When they are soft and translucent, add the can of tomatoes (and a can full of water) and the can of paste (and a can of water.)  Add oregano, bay leaves and sugar and bring to a boil.  Turn down to simmer and cover. (Yes, my meatballs are already in for this photo. Truth is, I forgot the oregano and bay leaves and had only added the sugar.  It doesn't really matter if you put them in before or after the meatballs but I thought the instructions should reflect how I MEANT to do it.)

When the meatballs are browned, add them to the sauce pot, making sure to scrape any sticky meaty goodness out of the pan and add it to the pot as well. (Add a little water to the pan if you have to.) Stir gently and cover the pot again. 

Simmer for as long as you can before serving over pasta boiled according to package suggestions. The finished sauce you see here is a little thicker than I would usually serve it but since I am transporting it across state lines, I let it cook down and will add some more water as I reheat it.

All my life, my grandmother has cooked for the family and, like most folks from New Iberia, LA, everything she makes is made with love and spice. She doesn’t cook as much as she used to, although she’ll still fry chicken when begged. (I have watched her and written down her every move but I will be darned if I can replicate her chicken. Hers is still the best!) Every summer I am grateful that Gram is still around and grateful that she can still enjoy some good home cooking.  Preparing one of her favorite meals has given me great joy and it will be even more joyful when we can sit together to share it.  (I’ll add photos after the meal.)

The finished bowl
After note:  The spaghetti and meatballs were a hit!  I could not get a good photo of Gram, despite younger daughter and I both trying with two different cameras.  She does not pose and when we asked her to smile, it reminded us of the Friends where Chandler and Monica were taking engagement photos. Here are a couple anyway.

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