By Carmel Karni — See the recipe
My little one loves meatballs. Especially the ones from that huge international Scandinavian furniture store. You know the one. He was never pleased with my homemade ones no matter how hard I tried until I realized that like many kids, for him the texture of the meatballs is about as important as their taste. Those from that furniture store are very soft and that was a huge part of the draw. I tried many things- soaking chunks of bread in milk and and using all kinds of breadcrumbs until Dave came up with the answer. Nancy, Dave’s mom, makes a family recipe that uses oats instead of breadcrumbs. Whizzing them in the food processor along with onion and other decidedly simple flavors was the winning combo. These meatballs cook soft but meaty and full of flavor. Of course I snuck some greens in there. Why not??
Now my little one says that they are at least equally good to the ones from the store. I beg to differ (come on! Mine are waaaaay better) but I’ll take it.
These meatballs are a quick and simple weekday dinner or lunch. They come together in about 45 minutes, start to eating. No, they aren’t Nonna’s simmered-all-day-stuff-of-dreams, but they are sure to please every meatball lover, big or small. We serve them with pasta and some sautéed greens or broccoli, but they will be great with a salad or grains. You can play with the seasoning, add herbs and spices to make them more adult, but sometimes we all crave simple deliciousness. Nothing wrong with that.
Note: You can certainly add 1/2 a cup of dry red wine to the sauce after you add the tomato paste and let it cook for about a minute before you add the can of tomatoes. Especially if you plan to drink some with this meal.
Quick Weeknight Spaghetti and Meatballs
- A good glug of olive oil
- Half a large onion, chopped fine (the other half will go to the meatballs)
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1-2 heaping Tbsp tomato paste
- 28 oz can (the big one) whole or crushed tomatoes
- A little water, sloshed in the empty can
- A pinch of dried oregano or a couple of sprigs of fresh oregano Salt
- Other 1/2 onion
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 30 grams / two thumb sized chunks parmesan
- A handful of greens (kale, chard etc) or a small bunch of mixed soft herbs (parsley, chives, basil) or both
- 3/4 cup oats (quick cooking, regular or thick cut all work well)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 1/2 lb ground beef
- 1 egg
Spaghetti/linguini/fettuccine for serving
Heat the oven to 425. You will broil the meatballs later and it’s better to have a hot oven when doing so.
Start with the sauce, halve your onion and dice one half fine, heat the olive oil in a large pan (it will need to hold all the meatballs in one layer later, so keep that in mind) add the onion and sweat until soft but not colored. Add the chopped garlic and tomato paste and fry for a couple of minutes, until the tomato paste gets darker. If using whole tomatoes, crush them, whiz in a food processor or cut and add to the pan (if using crushed tomatoes, just add them) add the oregano, mix, add some water sloshed in your now empty can. Taste and add salt to your liking, bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cover.
Now for the meatballs. In a food processor, add that leftover half onion, garlic, parmesan, greens, oats and salt. Pulse until you get a greenish paste. Stick your finger in there and taste for salt. Now scrape the contents of the food processor into a large bowl and add the meats and egg. Mix everything together with your hands until uniform. Oil a baking sheet lightly. With wet hands, make small balls (I like slightly smaller than ping pong balls) and place them on the sheet pan. By now your oven should be hot, turn it to broil and place the pan of meatballs on the second to highest slot in your oven- right below the broiler. Broil for 5-7 minutes, turning the pan a couple of times so that all meatballs brown evenly. (This is a good time to start your pasta water boiling). When the meatballs look nicely browned, take them out and gently place them in your sauce using tongs or a spoon. Shake your pan a coupe of times to cover the meatballs with the sauce, cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes while you cook the pasta. cook your pasta in well-salted water until al-dente.
To finish the dish I like to fish the meatballs out onto a plate, mix the cooked pasta with the tomato sauce, check for salt and if it needs a little pasta water (to loosen the sauce) and then slide all the meatballs back on top. If its too fussy, serve the sauce and pasta separately and let the eaters build their own plate. We like extra parmesan on top, of course.