On a recent Saturday morning here in sunny southern California, I woke up fully expecting to go for a long run, when I look out the window and see a phenomenon that I rarely experience and always despise—RAIN! God, I hate the rain. I’ve got an underground lawn sprinkler system that is fed by the water we steal from Colorado, so why do I need rain? Now what do I do to fill my day? Guess I could cook something…but what would take all day to make and yet still be worth the effort? Hmmmm….wait, I’ve got it! Meatballs! What’s better on a rainy afternoon than spaghetti and meatballs? And considering that I’ve already had a bottle of wine and some crusty bread for breakfast, it makes perfect sense!
First I’ll make my usual large pot of tomato sauce and while it simmers for a few hours I’ll make a batch of my world-class meatballs. Being that I was raised on meatballs made by some chef named ‘Boy-ardee,’ I don’t have any warm childhood memories of great-tasting Italian dishes. I came from a Polish family and our version of spaghetti and meatballs was sauerkraut and sausage. So over the years I’ve tried many different versions and methods of making this dish, and this is the recipe that I’ve come up with. I don’t know what is considered a ‘classic’ version but this one never gets any complaints… except that I should have made more. Maybe it’s the medical marijuana talking but my friends seem to like it. I hope you do too. It just takes a while to put together so rent The Godfather 1 and 2 and open a couple bottles of good Chianti or <erlot. As they say in Italy, “Divertanosi”! (Look it up!)
Katt’s Rainy Day Meatballs
1 lb each of ground beef, ground veal and ground Italian sausage
6 oz of chopped pancetta
10 garlic minced cloves
2 lightly beaten large eggs
1/3 cup of freshly grated Pamigiano-Reggiano
2 large chopped shallots
¼ cup each of finely chopped parsley, oregano and basil
1/3 cup of parmesan Panko bread crumbs
About 4 oz whole milk
1 tsp each of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Canola oil for browning
I describe this as an all-day event because it IS. I like my tomato sauce to cook for at least 3 hours, and it takes about an hour to prepare so half the day goes to just the sauce. The meatball recipe makes around 30 golf ball sized portions and it takes 20-25 minutes to brown each batch of 10, so I usually start preparing the meatballs 1 ½ hours after the sauce simmers. You can’t rush perfection, so don’t make this the first time if you’re in a hurry.
First, combine all of the ingredients except the bread crumbs and mix well in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl slowly add the milk to the panko and mix with a fork until you get it to the consistency of oatmeal. Add that to the meat mix and knead it well with your hands, then put the bowl into the refrigerator for about a half hour.
Get a large non-stick skillet and add around 3 tablespoons of canola oil and bring it up to medium-high heat. Then pull out the meat mix and form your meatballs. I use an old-fashioned, open-ended ice cream scoop to measure out my meatballs, but you can free hand it with a little practice. Brown the meatballs on all sides (in batches) and then transfer them to a deep, oven-proof casserole dish or roasting pan with a lid.
While you’re browning your last batch, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Now we’re ready for the tomato sauce. Put the last batch of browned meatballs in the casserole dish, and ladle the sauce over the meatballs. Make sure that you completely cover them. Pop the lid on and bake the little rascals for 1½ – 2 hours, depending on how well-done you like your meat.
To serve, boil up a batch of your favorite pasta, place that into a deep bowl, ladle on the sauce and meatballs and then shave some fresh Pamigiano-Reggiano cheese on top. Refill your glass of wine, grab a hunk of crusty bread and dig in!