Often when you order spaghetti and meatballs in a restaurant, you get a ginormous meatball–hard as a hockey puck–in a generic red marinara sauce, which is why I never thought I really liked spaghetti and meatballs. I thought meatballs were just a poor substitute for a rich bolognese sauce, which is how I preferred my meat to top my spaghetti.
This recipe by Campanile’s Mark Peel helped change my view on meatballs: By using a mixture of three different kinds of meats, he manages to create the most tender and light meatballs I’ve tasted. The sauce isn’t your average bland marinara either. The flavour of the olive oil and the freshness of the basil make for a bright and tangy tomato sauce that tastes like it has been made from fresh tomatoes. This recipe does take a while to make, but is a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon, especially if you have a good glass of wine in your hand. The meatballs and sauce freeze really well for up to 1 month too if you needed an added incentive. This recipe makes enough spaghetti and meatballs for 8 very generous dinners at $2.56 per serving.
Spaghetti and Meatballs, from Mark Peel’s New Classic Family Dinners
For the Sauce:
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, halved and thinly sliced
3 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
about 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
about 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 large fresh basil sprigs, plus 1/2 cup leaves
For the Meatballs:
about 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 ounces mushrooms, chopped
2 teaspoons cracked fennel seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
About 2/3 cup cold dry white wine, divided
4 ounces crusty bread, crusts removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
3/4 pound cold ground pork
3/4 pound cold ground turkey, dark meat
3/4 pound cold ground beef
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 pounds spaghetti
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
To make the sauce, get a 5- to 6-quart pan and cook the oil and garlic over medium-low heat until the garlic softens, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cover the sauce and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer it, stirring often, until thick, 45 minutes to 1 hour. If needed, crush the tomatoes with a spoon to break them up. Stir in the basil sprigs and then turn off the heat.
While the sauce is cooking, make the meatballs by heating 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Add the mushrooms, fennel, salt, and pepper. Cook everything until the mushrooms are tender, 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 cup wine and the bread crumbs until the liquid is absorbed.
Transfer this mixture to a food processor and pulse to finely chop. Scrape everything into a bowl and let it cool. When it has cooled down, add the parsley, meats, and 1/3 cup wine and mix everything together until well blended, 1 to 2 minutes.
Using wet hands, shape the meat into 1 1/2-inch balls. Be sure to use both hands and firmly press the meatballs into shape so they won’t fall apart later. Heat 2 large frying pans over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of oil in each. Brown about a third of the meatballs in each pan, turning once and adding more oil if needed, 6 to 8 minutes per batch. With a slotted spatula, transfer the meatballs to a platter. Repeat with the remaining meatballs and oil.
Scrape all the meat drippings from the pans into 1 pan. Whisk in the flour, then cook it over medium heat until bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in 2 cups of sauce to loosen up the browned bits then scrape everything into the pan with the rest of the sauce and stir.
Return the sauce to a simmer. Gently stir in the meatballs; simmer, covered, until the flavors are blended, about 20 minutes. Discard the basil sprigs, and cut the remaining basil leaves into fine slivers and stir into the sauce. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti according to the packet directions. Drain the pasta and serve by topping with meatballs and tomato sauce with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.