April 4, 2013

Penne and Meatballs

It turns out that I love spaghetti and meatballs!

Although, it makes more sense to me to eat meatballs with a pasta that is a different shape, like penne. Many Italian pasta dishes that have sausage and the like in them employ smaller pasta shapes. Penne might not be among those traditional selections, but it's my personal favorite and I like it for pasta and meatballs.

Of course, start with a good tomato sauce.  I love, love, love the ubiquitous internet butter-tomato sauce.  It's so simple and so good.  Start with any quantity of tomatoes, be them canned, frozen, or, in the summertime, fresh!  (The above is not a current photo.)  Simmer them down with a few tablespoons of butter, some salt, and an un-chopped onion half.  You simply simmer until the sauce comes together and pull out the onion half.  That's (just about) it!

I like to make a double quantity of sauce ahead of time. Fortunately, I had a good tomato season last year and I put up about 24 quarts of canned and frozen tomatoes. As a result, I make a lot of my favorite tomato sauce about once a month.

Making and forming the meatballs isn't too tricky.  I think the timing is great if you put together the meatballs, fry them while you heat up the water for the pasta, and simmer the cooked meatballs in sauce while the pasta actually cooks.  I suppose you could make a salad, too, if you're so inclined.


Tomato Butter Sauce

  • 2 quarts tomatoes - fresh, frozen, or canned
  • 4 T. butter
  • onion half, peeled with root end intact
  • 1-2 t. sea salt
Place tomatoes in large sauce pan and bring to a simmer.  Add butter, onion half, and salt.  Cook for 30 minutes to an hour until the sauce is thick and has pulled together.  Don't worry, you'll be able to tell. Remove onion and discard. If you used frozen tomatoes, pass the sauce through a food mill to remove the weirdly-textured, post-frozen tomato skins.  Make ahead.

  • 2 slices artisan white bread, torn into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 12 oz. ground beef, 80-85% lean
  • 4 oz ground pork
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 T. parsley, minced
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 t. salt
  • generous grind of black pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1 lb. penne
  • salt
  • more grated parmesan to top
Mash together milk and bread in a large bowl.  Let sit for 10 minutes to make a panade.  Mix in meat, cheese, parsley, yolk, garlic, salt, and pepper. Combine ingredients using your hands.  This is a little scary for a newly-nonvegetarian, but it's the best way.  Form into 1 1/2-inch balls, leaving them in the bowl as you go.  Wash those hands thoroughly!

Heat a generous about of olive oil in a 12 inch skillet over a medium-high flame. Place meatballs in oil in a single layer and fry until browned on all sides.  This will take about 10-15 minutes, while turning the meatballs occasionally for even browning.  Remove the browned meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate.  Discard cooking oil and rendered fat.  Meanwhile, set a few quarts of water to boil in a pan large enough to cook a pound of pasta. Make sure to add plenty of salt to the water. 

Add the meatballs back to the skillet with about half of the prepared tomato sauce. Boil pasta in your hopefully-boiling-by-now water. Simmer meatballs in sauce while the pasta cooks, about 12-15 minutes.

Drain pasta and return the cooked pasta to the pot, saving a bit of pasta cooking water in a cup.  Add the meatballs and sauce and stir to coat.  If the sauce is too wet, simmer it down all together for a few minutes.  If the sauce is too dry (unlikely until you get to leftovers), add back some of the pasta cooking water until you get a consistency you like.

Serve in bowls and top with grated parmesan.

Serves about 6 people!  Or two with lunches for a couple of days.

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