Thursday, July 18, 2013

Noah's Spaghetti and Meatballs

About a month or so ago, my eldest son Noah came home and announced he wanted spaghetti and meatballs for supper. I have never made meatballs before, and usually challenges like that don't stop me. But that day, we were in the middle of one of the early heat waves in Toronto and I really just didn't feel like standing over the stove. So I suggested to Noah that he make the dish himself, and I offered to supervise.

We pulled out our bible, The Joy of Cooking, and searched for an appealing-sounding recipe for the meatballs. The sauce we were not too concerned about since you don't really need a recipe for a good sauce. The meatball recipe we settled on involved a final step of baking the meatballs in the oven in some sauce, so logically we concluded that Noah needed to make the sauce first.

He began by heading out to the deck to our herb garden and cutting a few hefty stems of fresh basil. The smell followed him as he came back in through the door - mmmmmmmm. He loves eating fresh herbs and I could see him munching on a leaf as he washed his handful.

We had some tomatoes that we had frozen previously (You know when you have tomatoes in your fruit drawer in your fridge and they are just a little past their prime? Puree them or dice them, pop them into a freezer bag and throw them in the freezer. Pull them out for recipes that call for crushed or diced tomatoes.), so he took that bag out of the freezer to thaw. He grabbed a nice big sweet onion and started to slice and chop. He needed 1/4 cup for the meatballs too so he chopped some extra.

Next step for the sauce was to sauté those onions in a cast iron pot with some olive oil (medium heat).

I suggested to Noah he add some chopped celery, carrots and zucchini - he and his brother are not fans of large chunks of vegetables in things, however, I reassured him that he could puree the sauce before serving it and then the large chunks would disappear. He's generally a good sport so he went along with this plan. Once the veggies were chopped, he added them into the pot with the onions.

When the veggies had a nice softness to them (after about 5 minutes), he added some crushed fresh garlic and sautéed for another minute or so. Then he added the tomatoes, salt and pepper, dried oregano and a bay leaf, as well as about a tablespoon of sugar (to help counter the acidity from the tomatoes). Finally, he added the fresh basil near the end of the cooking process.

This pot of deliciousness simmered on low heat for about 20 minutes. He let it cool for about 5 minutes and then went to work pureeing it.

With the sauce complete, he set to work on the meatballs. The agreement was that we'd keep some sauce in a separate pot for me, since I am a vegetarian, and the boys would enjoy the bulk of it with the meatballs.

Here is the (slightly modified by us) recipe for Italian Meatballs from The Joy of Cooking, by Marion Rombauer Becker and Irma S. Rombauer, otherwise known as our bible.

Italian Meatballs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F

Mix together:

about 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs
1 1/2 lbs of ground beef
2 eggs, beaten well

Finely chop 1/4 cup of onions.

Melt 1 tbsp butter and sauté 1/4 cup finely chopped onions. Add the onions to the meat, breadcrumbs and eggs. Mix it all up.

3 tbsp chopped parsley
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp grated lemon rind
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 chopped clove garlic
3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp dried oregano

Mix that all together and then form into balls (about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter).

Brown the balls lightly in 2 tbsp butter.

Place in a casserole dish and half cover with some of the sauce you made.

Bake, covered, for about 30 minutes. Remove them from the oven and serve over pasta.