So, when you think of spaghetti, what is the first accompaniment that comes to mind? Why, meatballs, of course!
Firm, finely textured meatballs make a fabulous addition to sauce. It is important, however, to make sure they are fully cooked and their fat rendered out before adding them to the sauce or they can disintegrate in the sauce and even make it greasy. It is also important to make sure ingredients like onion and garlic are finely minced so that the meatballs will compact well and hold their shape.
Sorry, but I don’t have a vegetarian version for this one! You are welcome to include your own in a comment, though!
2 lbs (1 kg) extra lean ground beef (ground chuck is best)
1 large onion, finely minced
1 large egg, beaten
⅔ cup catsup or tomato paste
6 slices moistened (see below) white bread (or 1 cup sieved bread crumbs)
2 tbsp dried oregano or Italian seasonings
1 clove garlic minced or put through press
½ tsp salt
Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
If using bread: hold each slice of bread under cold running water until thoroughly moistened. Squeeze firmly to remove water.
Combine meat, onion, garlic, seasonings, egg, salt and bread or bread crumbs in a large bowl. Add half the catsup. Mix thoroughly with hands, making sure to rub bread crusts so they disintegrate and blend into the meat mixture. The mixture should be firm but not dry: if too dry, add a little catsup so soften, if too moist, add a little bread crumbs to absorb excess moisture.
Make meatballs by taking handfuls of meat slightly larger than a walnut and rolling the mixture firmly in the hands to make a ball. Meatballs can be slightly larger, but anything bigger than a golf ball can have problems retaining its integrity as it cooks and the fat renders out.
Place the meatballs on the baking sheet, allowing a small space between them. They should shrink slightly during cooking, so they don’t need much space. You can “crowd” the pan with them.
Bake until a meatball, pierced with a skewer, releases clear juices. If the juices are pink, they are not done. Begin checking after they have been in the oven for 25 minutes.
When the meatballs are done, remove from the oven and set aside to cool on absorbent paper. This is an important step, because as the meatballs cool they will contract further and the outside will dry and toughen up a bit, allowing them to go into the sauce later without disintegrating.
During the last 20 minutes of cooking the sauce, add the meatballs. Remove them to a separate platter for serving.
Photo of meatballs by Powi, Flickr