Big Boy Meatballs

I’m always asking Jeremy for meal suggestions, but most of the time he asks for the same things over and over again, which is flattering because I know he really likes it, but gets kind of boring for me after a while. I’ve made this recipe twice in the last month already, and I can tell it is going to go in that category, especially since our 15-month old “big boy” likes them too. Fortunately, it is a pretty easy meal to make, particularly if I’ve got jarred spaghetti sauce on hand.

This is a Rachel Ray recipe, and I could probably bang it out in 30 minutes if I had everything organized. But that’s just not going to happen, and I usually have to do some cleaning up as I go, so it took me a little bit longer. Not much, though, and I was shocked at the reviewers who said this recipe took them half the day to complete. I also made several adjustments to work with ingredients I had on hand: fresh bread crumbs, dried sage, and ordinary spaghetti. I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen bucatini for sale in my area. I had no pancetta, so I left it out the first time, and subbed in some bacon the second time. The first time around I used a jarred sauce with portobello mushrooms, and the second time I made a quick version of Marcella’s basic tomato sauce with onion and butter. I prefer smaller meatballs in my spaghetti, so I used a 2 T disher to shape them, and then baked them off for about 10 minutes.

Spaghetti with Big Boy Meatballs

1 1/2 lb ground sirloin
1 medium yellow onion, grated or very finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg
1/2 to 2/3 C Italian bread crumbs
1/2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus some to pass at table
1/4 tsp ground allspice
3 T nonpareil capers in salt, soaked and drained
2 T chopped sage leaves, or 1 tsp dried sage
A couple generous handfuls flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
3 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus some for drizzling
1 lb spaghetti
1/4 lb pancetta or bacon, chopped

Preheat 400 degrees F. Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil.

Mix meat with the grated onion, 3 cloves chopped garlic, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, allspice, capers, sage, a handful of the chopped parsley, salt and pepper and a healthy drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Mix meat, score the meat into 4 sections and make 3 very large balls from each section. Arrange the 12 balls on a nonstick cookie sheet and roast 15 minutes until firm but not hard.

Drop bucatini in salted boiling water to cook off. Drain.

Add another tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil to the skillet and the pancetta. Cook 3 to 4 minutes then add the remaining garlic and mushrooms to the pan and cook 5 minutes. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper. Add remaining chopped onion and deglaze the pan with wine, cook off 1 minute, add in stock and whisk up remaining drippings. Stir in the tomatoes and season sauce with salt and pepper, if necessary. Stir in parsley. Simmer 5 minutes.

Toss pasta with half the sauce. Remove balls from oven and add to remaining sauce and turn to coat. Serve large balls, 3 per person, along side pasta. Spoon any remaining sauce over the pasta. Pass extra cheese at the tables.

Source: 30-Minute Meals

Update 6/1/10: My basic meatball recipe plays off this one. I always use fresh or frozen homemade breadcrumbs, Parmesan or Romano cheese, and season with sage or Italian herbs like basil (leaving out capers and allspice). If I have ricotta cheese on hand, I add about 1/2 C of that. I also mince onion, garlic, and a little carrot, and saute that until tender, then mix it in with everything else when it has cooled a bit. Ground beef is most commonly on hand, but I use pork or a pork-beef blend when I can, or at least add a few tablespoons of minced bacon, pancetta or prosciutto for porky flavor. Most recently, I did a beef/prosciutto meatball with sage and Romano, scooped out in 2T balls into a 12″ cast iron skillet. When they were browned on one side, I turned them and stuck the whole pan in a 375F oven for 10-12 minutes, until cooked through. Then I tossed them into some simmering spaghetti sauce (a jarred shortcut this time) and gave them another 15 minutes or so to meld while the spaghetti cooked.

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