February 03, 2011

Spaghetti with Homemade Meatballs + Crusty French Bread

This weekend, I made up another batch of my Chunky Marinara Sauce in order to make Spaghetti with Meatballs.  But while the sauce is something I've made before, I did a couple other new things.  Specifically, rather than use our dependable favorite Graziano Bros. meatballs, I made my own.   I also took my first stab at making bread and cooked up a couple French loaves.

Having had some difficulty with lamb meatballs in the recent past, I consulted some meatball recipes before putting together one of my own.   I ended up closely styling mine after an old Cook's Illustrated recipe, but I changed a few things to better reflect Juli's and my preferences.   Most notably, I changed around the ratio of beef to Italian sausage, going from the 5:1 ratio CI suggested to a 2:1 ratio.  I made this change because I wanted a bit more of the sausage flavor. 

The meatballs turned out great.... nice texture, flavorful and a good complement to the sauce.   I'm not going to claim my meatballs are better than the ones we purchase at Graziano Bros. Grocery - at least not yet - but I'm quite pleased with them.   We'll keep some of the Graziano meatballs around for when we need meatballs in a hurry and with a minimum of hassle, but I'm confident that I'll be making my own meatballs most of the time from now on. 

Jeffrey's Italian Meatballs

yield = 24 meatballs

2           tablespoons olive oil
2           medium yellow onions, chopped fine
4           teaspoons minced garlic
4           teaspoons dried oregano, crushed
1/2        teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4           slices white bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
2/3        cup milk
1           cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/3        cup chopped fresh parsley
2           large eggs
1           teaspoon salt
1/2        teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
2           pounds 85% lean ground beef
1           pound fresh, loose sweet Italian sausage

Heat olive oil until shimmering in a large skillet over medium-high heat.   Add onions and cook until golden-brown, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes and cook 30 seconds, then transfer onion mixture to a large bowl to cool.

Add bread pieces to a medium bowl.  Pour in milk and allow the bread to soak for 5 minutes, then use hands to squeeze soaked bread into rough paste.  Add bread-milk paste to the large bowl with the cooled onion mixture.

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position.    Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Set a wire rack within a rimmed baking sheet and spray the rack and sheet with nonstick cooking spray. 

Add grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, eggs, salt and pepper to the onion/bread mixture.  Stir together to mix these ingredients, then add ground beef and sausage to the mixture.  Using hands, mix all the ingredients thoroughly, then shape mixture into approximately 24 meatballs, each somewhat larger than a golf ball.  Arrange meatballs evenly but without touching on the wire rack and bake until well-browned, 20-25 minutes. 

After baking up the meatballs, I mixed them in with the marinara sauce and served the meatballs and sauce over spaghetti with a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.   Our meal was rounded out with a Caesar salad and slices of Crusty French Bread.  I made the bread using a recipe that came with our Cuisinart Stand Mixer.  Unfortunately, my first try at making bread didn't work out quite as well as did my first tries at cake or pie.   It wasn't bad, mind you, just not as good as I'd have preferred. 

The Crusty French Bread had a great crust and good flavor, and while Juli thought it was okay, I didn't really like the interior texture.   The bread was too dense for my tastes.   I will probably try out a different recipe next time I decide to make French bread, but I suppose this recipe might be a good starting point if I decide to experiment with making my own recipe some day.  Still, it didn't keep us from enjoying this meal, and it didn't in any way dampen my happiness with how the meatballs had turned out.

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