RECIPE: Spaghetti and Meatballs

Do you really need a recipe for spaghetti and meatballs? Boil the pasta, dump a jar of sauce on it and add a package of pre-cooked meatballs.

Well... though it is uncharacteristic for us, we actually did use some pre-made meatballs (Trader Joe's Turkey) for this meal. But the sauce is definitely homemade, is incredibly easy and quite delicious. It is our adaptation of a recipe by Lidia Bastianich in Lidia's Favorite Recipes and named, what else?, Spaghetti and Meatballs. It is a nice book and worth owning. Perhaps next time we'll make her meatballs as well.

Dave Coffaro's Italiano Style is a relatively new wine, as of this writing, which we wanted to try for the first time and figured this would be a good test. It was a perfect match.

This serves two or three people depending on appetite (and amount of meatballs).

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and Meatballs

1 28 ounce can whole Plum Tomatoes with their liquid
2 TB (give or take) olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (give or take, we like lots of onion and always use more)
2 cloves garlic, minced or smashed
1 to 2 tsp hot red pepper flakes (we like hot)
1 fresh or 2 dried bay leaves
pinch of sugar
a few drops of Nam Pla (fish sauce), optional
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 ounces spaghetti
1/8 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for sprinkling.

TIP: We use Nam Pla in lots of things. When used sparingly you don't really taste it, but it adds 'umami'. You might even try (instead) a little anchovy paste or an anchovy fillet (chopped and melted into the sauce)

Heat the oil in a very large frying pan (we like to use non-stick for this). Sauté the onion and garlic until the onion starts to become translucent, 3 or 4 minutes. You can pre-chop the tomatoes, or, if you are careful around sharp edges, just reach into the can and squeeze the tomatoes in your hand until they are all broken up, adding to the frying pan along with all the juice from the can. Add the bay leaves, sugar, nam pla (if using) and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then cook at a nice simmer, stirring occasionally for 25 to 30 minutes, give or take. You don't want to let the sauce become completely dry. (But if it does, no problem, just add some of the pasta cooking water to the sauce and cook a bit longer to get it all hot and the consistency you like.)

Bring a large quantity of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until almost 'al dente' (just slightly underdone). Remove the bay leaves from the sauce. Drain the spaghetti and add to the sauce and mix and cook for a few minutes until the spaghetti is done (al dente). Add the cheese and mix again. Divide and serve immediately with more grated cheese as desired. We like to have warm to hot plates (be careful!), it keeps the dish hot longer.

TIPS: if your frying pan isn't big enough to hold the pasta and sauce, you can just drain the spaghetti, return it to the boiling pot and add the sauce to it. You don't really have to undercook the spaghetti and finish cooking it in the sauce. Almost nobody does, but we find it does taste better when we do. It just takes a little more work.

BUT WAIT. What about the meatballs? That depends on what you are doing. We took our Trader Joe's pre-made, frozen (turkey) meatballs and heated them in a microwave and put them on top of the plated pasta. If you are making your own, you usually fry the meatballs following your own recipe until brown and then finish cooking in the sauce, so add them when you start cooking the sauce. No microwave? You could take frozen meatballs and add them to the sauce when you start it and that should be about right. Or defrost the meatballs and add to the sauce about 5 minutes or so before it is done to get them hot.