Featured, My Kitchen, Recipes

Spaghetti & Meatballs | A Staple Meal

If you’re anything like most people today, you’re short on time and long on things you have to get done. I hear ya – same, same. The last year saw a lot of changes for us, including promotions and moving to a different city. With all that was going on, we needed a good staple meal that we could whip up together quickly and well. So I defaulted the trusty classic: spaghetti & meatballs.

But this isn’t the Spaghetti & Meatballs from our childhood

We moved to a tiny city condo within walking distance to a specialty Italian market. But with a higher cost of living, we didn’t necessarily have a specialty-Italian-market budget. The key was to focus on a small few ingredients where higher quality would go the distance and make some sacrifices on the other aspects.

Investment Pieces

The key stars of a good spaghetti & meatballs are the pasta and the sauce. So, to make yours taste less like Ragu and more like a rustic Italian chef cooked it, invest in the noodles and the tomatoes. We combined the power of good canned tomatoes from San Marzano, Italy (a region known for its superior tomatoes) and a hand-made dried pasta from Italy. Don’t make the mistake of thinking fresh pasta will improve the dish: you can’t get a good al dente chew from fresh pasta.

We also added tomato paste from a tube to add some more depth to the tomato flavor. The tube will help you keep the tomato paste fresh while giving you the flexibility to use as little as you like — when was the last time you used a whole can of tomato paste? Never.

Finally, to give the sauce an extra dose of umami, add one anchovy fillet. It’s like fish sauce: you wouldn’t guess that it’s there, but you’d definitely miss it if it wasn’t. And if you don’t have an anchovy fillet, you can use a dash of fish sauce in its place.

Where to be frugal

Buy frozen meatballs. No, I am not kidding. First of all, they’ll hold together better in the sauce than if you were to try to make them fresh. Second, you’ll save yourself so much time and clean-up by using this shortcut. One of the local markets here sells frozen meatballs that I have grown to love, and I keep several bags of those on hand just for this recipe. If you have a recipe for meatballs you like, then make some ahead of time and freeze them if you insist. But remember: it’s spaghetti & meatballs, not meatballs & spaghetti. Keep your priorities straight.

Technique

Just as the ingredients play a major role, so does your technique. I prefer to cook my noodles without draining off any excess water. The water you throw down the drain takes with it tons of valuable starch – a.k.a., liquid gold for Spaghetti & Meatballs. Starch helps the sauce adhere to the spaghetti and contains nutrients and flavors. Don’t waste it!

How I do it is that I start with a really large saute pan, the diameter must be the same length as or longer than the spaghetti to ensure the spaghetti is submerged. I add my pasta (just enough for the two of us, which I eyeball), then I just barely cover it with boiling water and turn the burner up to medium. Then I watch it. I diligently stir it as the water cooks off so it doesn’t stick to the pan, and once the water is all cooked off, I test a noodle.

Don’t bother with tricks like flinging your noodles at the fridge to see if it sticks (someone really recommended that once). Just grab a noodle and eat it. It should be just a tad undercooked, but nearly al dente. Then put a lid on the pan and let it set while you get your dishes ready for plating. By the time you’re ready for them, they’ll be a perfect al dente.

Finally, go light on the sauce. Just enough to lightly coat the noodles is fine, they shouldn’t be swimming in it.

And…a recipe!

WordPress recently rolled out a new version which includes an update to our UI for creating and editing posts. I haven’t spent any time learning how to use it, yet, and a few of my plug-ins aren’t compatible. This includes my recipe editor (which, admittedly, I use in a non-conventional way).

So, I published the recipe for the sauce I use with my spaghetti here: Tomato-Based Pasta Sauce and Meatballs

Thank you for bearing with me as I get back up to speed! Finally, I edited my pictures a little more dark than usual. I welcome any feedback about the changes in the comments 🙂

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