April 28, 2010
In this post, I talked about making burgers and fries from scratch (as much as I was able to do from scratch, anyway). I also tried this recently with spaghetti and meatballs.So, I served spaghetti and meatballs, this grape bread, and celery braised in some beef stock.
Making spaghetti and meatballs was interesting; I’ve never done this in any form. I didn’t make the spaghetti from scratch this time, just the meatballs and the tomato sauce. I’ll treat each component separately.
Meatballs are pretty easy to make. Here are some comments on the recipe I used:
It includes bacon, which is somewhat noticeable, together with a bunch of other tasty ingredients including cheese and roasted red peppers. The bacon is pureed, becoming a paste. I’m sure there are lots of delicious applications for this.
It says to use pretty much any ground beef with 15% fat. I wonder if there was a specific type they were thinking about? I sort of ignored this and just used the ground beef I had on hand, which may have been a mistake.
The recipe calls for marjoram, which I had a lot of trouble finding and which I have never really encountered before. It has a strong, fresh, almost soapy taste which I couldn’t recognize in the final dish.
Anyway, as probably everybody else knows, once the various meatball ingredients are combined together with some eggs, it’s easy to form them, and then you stack them for when you’re ready.
The “best” tomato sauce recipe appears to be a pretty serious bone of contention among certain segments of the population; _de gustibus _etc.. Because I like things that are simple, I decided to use this well-rated “Simplest Tomato Sauce Ever” recipe.
It’s tomatoes and butter, and some onion, and that’s pretty much it. As I was making it, it did smell and taste incredible - the butter and tomatoes really go together in kind of a weird way.
Butter, by the way, is another one of those things (along with braising) that is magical about cooking. Not only does it perform a number of important chemical functions, it also tastes delicious. I added some marjoram, too, to go with the meatballs but it didn’t show up in the final dish.
One really important step that the recipe leaves out is pureeing the sauce once it has been cooking for a while. It says that you should “[mash] any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon”, but this doesn’t work. Because I didn’t realize this until after I had combined the meatballs with the tomato sauce (about which more below), I had to pick a lot of tiny tomato pieces out of the sauce, puree them, then add them back in. But once I did this the consistency problem was solved.
As I said above, I didn’t make the spaghetti myself so there’s not a lot to write about here. I did make sure to pull the spaghetti out of the water early, because it needs to finish cooking in the actual tomato sauce. This allows the flavors to come together better, without overcooking the pasta.
This is where things got a little messy.
As I started cooking the sauce, I also sauted some of the meatballs so that they would hold together, as recommended in the recipe, and so they could be cooked together with the sauce.
This didn’t work - they fell apart as soon as I tried to move them around in the dish. At my fiancee’s suggestion, I tried baking them at 350 for about 15 minutes. This worked extremely well to cause the meatballs to stick together, and also baked out some of the extra fat. I was very happy about this. Meatball size is important for just this reason - a small meatball cooks more even and thoroughly, more easily, than the giant meatballs I remember eating as I was growing up. So.
Unfortunately, when I took the baked meatballs and dropped them in the sauce, there were a number of unpleasant effects.
They were stable enough not to disintegrate right way, but tomato sauce needs to be stirred from time to time and most of the meatballs didn’t survive this stirring.
The meatballs continued to ooze fat, making the sauce a lot more oily than I would have liked.
The presence of the meatballs made it impossible to puree the sauce without picking lots of little tomato pieces out.
Overall, not good. I was able to improvise around many of these problems, but I didn’t think the results reflected the effort I put into the dish. Next time, I will bake the meatballs for longer, and then finish / warm them completely separately, with a little separate bit of sauce. I’ll then add them back to the dish when it’s ready to be served - this will look better, too.
- The last issue was that the meatball recipe calls for way too much spaghetti (note to attentive readers: I scaled up the “simple tomato sauce” quantities to give the same amount of sauce I would have gotten from the sauce recipe associated with the meatballs). I would estimate about twice as much as was necessary. This was another problem, since the sauce essentially disappeared among the spaghetti strands.
The completed dish tasted fine, but again wasn’t up to my standards. I know enough now, though, that I think my very next attempt at this will be much, much better.
I also note that I sometimes combine dinner components at random. I think this plate has a sort of wacky feel to it (bright green, purple polka dots) which I like.