11 September 2011

Truly Tender Meatballs and Spaghetti... the Presto Pasta Nights Edition

Truly Tender Meatballs and Spaghetti

We all have those tried and true comfort food recipes that we have been making for years. Recipes like meatloaf and macaroni and cheese that wrap us like a culinary version of a warm blanket. We have found the perfect recipe and do not deviate in any way shape or form because it is already the best that it can be. Well I am here to tell you that although the spaghetti and meatball recipe I have used for ions is pretty darn good, I have found a truly tender meatball recipe that beats mine hands down.

Today being the anniversary of 9/11 I think we are all in need of some good comfort food!!! Hug the person next to you and make them some spaghetti and meatballs. I have turned out some satisfying versions in the past, but none of them have ever really knocked my socks off, until these. What is the secret you ask? Ricotta cheese in the meat mixture adds that something extra. Thanks to the ricotta, the meatballs are extremely light and tender. Even the sauce has a depth and sweetness from the port, as well as a bright fruitiness from the wine added near the end that compliments the meatballs nicely. This recipe was entered in the contest by Last Nights Dinner over at Food 52 and I have made it exactly as written my first time out.

Over time I will reinvent the wheel and add my own touches like Parmesan cheese to the meat mixture or change up the spices featuring my regular oregano and basil. What has taken me years to understand is that recipes are merely guidelines and are open to any interpretation. I used to follow recipes to the letter and they always turned out well, but as the years progressed, and I have become confident in the kitchen, I am more open to experimentation and substitution. But this recipe is AOK just the way it is too. I have had this recipe bookmarked for a while but was reminded of it from my friend Deeba over at Passionate About Baking.who made a chicken version.

I am submitting this recipe to Presto Pasta Nights which has been the baby of Ruth over at Once Upon a Feast for over 5 glorious years. Whenever we feel the urge for some pasta we can go over to her site and have years of entries from all over the world to choose from, from pasta salad to lasagna to Pho. There is a pasta for every season, every ingredient and every taste. All of these delicious pasta dishes have been submitted by all of you!!!  Ruth says, " Every week food bloggers photograph and write about their latest pasta creation… if it’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner; served hot or cold; spicy or sweet; from appetizers to mains to desserts." This week the event is being hosted by Sarah of La Cuisine de Sarah.

Back to the Future....

Over four years of blogging I have found many wonderful recipes to share on these pages. Some from my own kitchen, some from your creative blogs and web sites, and some from well known celebrities and chefs. I have been feeling a little nostalgic and was browsing these very pages just the other day, creeping back to the very beginning in 2006 when More Than Burnt Toast was in it's infancy and no more than "knee high to a grasshopper". We all have those stellar recipes from when we first started when we were lucky enough to find one comment and have maybe one reader; in my case even before I was taking photos of the dishes I prepared. My other motivation for reconnecting with the past is to create uniform formatting on this blog and this is a fun way for me to revisit past posts.

So here are a couple of flashback recipes from the very first baby steps here at MTBT with...

**Truly Tender Meatballs**
  • 1 cup soft fresh breadcrumbs 
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup milk
  • 2-3 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup loosely-packed picked fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh marjor
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup fresh ricotta, drained if very wet
  • 2-3 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • oil for frying (I use a mixture of ¼ cup olive oil for flavour, plus ¼ cup grapeseed, a neutral oil with a high smoke point)
1. Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl and moisten them with just enough milk to cover them, pressing gently. Let them sit about 10-15 minutes, until the crumbs are very soft.

 2. Put the shallots and herbs in the small bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Scrape the mixture out into a large mixing bowl and add the egg. Remove the breadcrumbs from the milk, squeezing out the excess liquid, and add to the bowl. Add the ricotta and salt and mix until well combined. Add the beef and pork and, with clean hands, mix gently until the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

3. Scoop or pinch off small amounts of the mixture and roll into meatballs, placing them on a plate or platter.

4. Heat the oil in a wide skillet until shimmering, then fry the meatballs in batches, turning them to brown them well on each side, and draining them on paper towels. Alternatively, you can place the meatballs on a foil-lined sheet pan and bake them in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Either way, you'll finish cooking the meatballs in the sauce.

Makes 2 - 3 dozen meatballs

**Rich Tomato Sauce**
  • 1 28 oz. can whole peeled imported Italian plum tomatoes with juice.
  • 1 baseball-sized onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste
  • a pinch of red chile flakes
  • 1/4 cup port wine
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme and/or marjoram
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine  
  • 1 lb. of hot cooked pasta
  • chopped flat-leaf parsley
  •  freshly grated parmesan
 1.Place the onion, carrot, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
2.In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the chopped vegetables and a pinch of salt and stir through, cooking until the vegetables are soft. Clear a spot in the bottom of the pot and add the tomato paste, allowing it to toast briefly before stirring it through the vegetables. Add the chile flakes and port, and cook for a minute or two before adding the herbs and the tomatoes with their juice, breaking the tomatoes up with your fingers or a spoon.

 3.Add the browned meatballs to the simmering tomato sauce, cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce is nicely thickened and reduced (about 30-45 minutes).

4.Add the red wine and stir through, then simmer for an additional 15 minutes, tasting and adjusting the salt if necessary.

5.To serve, remove the meatballs and place them in a serving bowl with a bit of sauce still clinging to them. Toss 1 lb. of hot cooked pasta (spaghetti or rigatoni work well) in the sauce to coat it, adding a splash or two of the starchy pasta water, and serve the dressed pasta and the meatballs separately, passing additional sauce at the table. Garnish with plenty of freshly grated cheese and a sprinkle of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.
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  1. Those look fantastic! A dish I very much like. So comforting and tasty.



  2. OH MG ! Look delicious Valli, xxgloria

  3. Looks great Val. Amen to comfort for today!

  4. Thank you for your entry Val! I am very much looking forward to hosting my first PPN :-)


  5. Ooohhh meatballs ARE on my list for freezer meals....

  6. I'm so interested to read this. With all your experience, if you loved these meatballs then I'm all ears. The ricotta is a great idea, and I can imagine it would make the meatballs lighter. Great comfort food!

  7. Wonderful post. I savored not only the delicious recipes and the glorious photos, but the words. So often, when going from blog to blog I jump to the recipe and only do a cursory look at the actual post. So glad I took the time to really read it.

    And thanks for sharing this, and all the other pasta dishes you've shared with Presto Pasta Night over the years.

  8. comfort food is DEFINITELY necessary today and spaghetti and meatballs is basically teh quintessential comfort food meal!

  9. Interesting...ricotta in the mix can only be good! :) I think perhaps the milk might help too. I'll have to try it.

    I think you'll be happy with the addition of parmesan -- also I always put garlic in meatballs.

    Also thanks for the tip about mixing oil. I never thought of that.

    P.S. What does the sentence after 1 large egg mean?

  10. A good bowl of spaghetti and meatballs are the ultimate comfort food. Yours look delicious - so classic.

  11. I haven't made spaghetti and meatballs in ages. I remember reading about your tender meatballs, Val. When we get some chilly weather, I'm going to try your recipe.

  12. I'm always in the market for a really good meatball. This one certainly sounds like it delivered what you were looking for.
    It is interesting to look back at our earliest posts. I cringe at my crude photography. Blogging gets better and better, as we keep it up. The best part of all are the friendships we make, as we are all enthusiastic about enjoying good food. Lucky me, I even got to meet you in person!

  13. My culinary thoughts are turning to comfort foods and this sounds delicious. I think my only challenge will be finding fresh marjoram.


  14. That pasta looks just lovely. Personally I like my meatballs with a touch of crunch - so not so tender for me, but I know what you mean!! Hard to believe 10 years have passed since 9-11.... nothing is quite the same the whole world over...

  15. Ricotta? I love it! I don't like hard meatballs, but since I am working on the non-gluten thing, I can't do the breadcrumb/milk thing anymore (and I hate gluten-free breadcrumbs). A little ricotta would be wonderful. I like your intereting combo of spices too. I never would have thought of marjoram. I usually use oregano, parsely and a little greated garlic.

  16. I have to try adding ricotta to meatballs! It sounds fantastic. And, who can resist spaghetti with meatballs?

  17. Comforting goodness Val. I made the same recipe {with a few changes} a few weeks ago. Finger licking good like yours! Mmmmm

  18. I adore a good spaghetti and meatballs dish...thanks for this Val! Great tip about the ricotta and using the port as well. YUM!

  19. This is such a classic, you really can't go wrong!


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