Who is Nonna? Well, if you’ve got an Italian Grandma, you’d know!
I was heavily running behind time last evening. Was on the phone since more than an hour speaking with multiple people for my littlest one’s upcoming birthday. Mr. Man just informed that he was on his way back, was hungry and that he needed me to get his food ready soon. It was half past seven and I still wasn’t in the kitchen to make dinner, while my 6 year old was constantly after me to help her ‘get busy’. J said she wanted to do a sand art, or make hundred cupcakes with her Play-Doh, or open up her new Marker making kit or may be spend some time on her spin-art. Which meant that I’d have to sit with her through the course of her art to make sure she doesn’t spoil the rugs, carpets, her clothes and to supervise that my crawling-walking 10 month old doesn’t catch any of her sister’s art work! I had a very long day and it was all more than what I could handle together. So what do you think I did?
What else, than to get J have fun helping make what I had to do and spare myself some breathing space! And her incentive? I told her she could get her hands dirty and mix and mould and shape……she said it’ll be more exciting than she’d expected!
And what was I going to do? Well, Spaghetti and Meatballs was what flashed in my mind first, as the easiest, yummiest and quickest thing to do without much work, in the time I was left with.
Spaghetti Meatballs is a Italian-American fusion food, dominated by the flavors of a tomato-based thick sauce and seasoned meatballs. They say it were the immigrant Italian workers in New York City during the period of mass immigration in the early 20th century and post-Civil war, who innovated this combination of meat with pasta, to suit their appetite and pockets, as well as for their own “Little Italies” near Manhattan, that were becoming increasingly Americanized! And since majority of these immigrants came from southern Italy, and because combining meat with pasta remains a tradition of Sicily, Molise, Campania, Abbruzo, Calabria and Apulia — the American version of Spaghetti and meatballs are believed to have been built over the foundation of ethnic south Italian cuisine. Food from south Italy is considered the soul of Italy, and is said to play a big role in the country’s culinary history. Yes, true that. Though influenced from the region, if you travel across Italy, you would not find Spaghetti and Meatballs — they’re considered completely non-Italian. But come to the US of America and you’ll see each household and every other restaurant goer, relishing this comfort food. Spaghetti meatballs are very popular convenience food in this part of the world.
Among the main cast and crew of this dish, the meatballs undoubtedly are the super-star performers. They’re generally about the size of a ping-pong ball, but I like mine slightly bigger and “meatier”, with more body. The meatballs can made with any ground meat you have (chicken, turkey, beef, pork), and could be made by grilling, boiling, frying or baking. I like to bake mine – it nicely seals in all the juices. Meatballs are tossed in with sauce on the pasta before serving or could be simmered in base sauce so as to soak in some more juices. Then comes spaghetti. Among the surplus types of spaghetti out there, I love using enriched Angel hair more than others. And unlike several spaghetti dishes, we do not mix pasta and the sauce here. We rather “season and top” the pasta with our sauce. And the sauce? Well, it is obligatory to use a rich, pleasantly thick tomato-based sauce. Using classic Marinara is a very American way of doing it. The sauce is also prepared by simmering a blend of tomato juice, tomato chunks and some base-tomato sauce or ketchup with garlic and basil. The Prego® brand’s, flavored Italian meat sauce is another popular sauce that’s used in the US. However, I am more biased with Italian Ragù – especially the Old World style traditional Ragù sauce, which isn’t meat based. Generally speaking, Ragù sauces are predominantly meat and tomato sauces. The ones from North Italy uses minced or chopped meat, while southern Italian Ragù’s use luxurious whole cuts of meat simmered in the seasoned tomato-sauce. The best and most famous meat-based Ragù are the Ragù bolognese and the Neapolitan ragù. They’re as great too!
Usually, in spaghetti and meatballs, the sauce is a classic simple, and seasoned one. But to rid myself of the guilt of not using anything additional from the large plant kingdom or their extended relatives from Kingdom Fungi, I dressed my sauce by tossing in some onions and mushrooms. They provided that lovely extra surprise to the dish.
J had fun mixing and shaping them into meatballs, and greasing the pan – she loved doing it all! So, here’s how J and I prepared our super dinner…
SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS
Serves 4 – 6
- 1 lb or 0.5 kg minced Meat of your choice (I used ground chicken) — you could also use a mixture of 2-3 meats
- 1 egg contents
- 1 cup (150 gms) plain or seasoned breadcrumbs or 2 slices of day old breads (I used plain breadcrumbs)
- 0.5 cup or about 75 gms shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
- 1/4th cup or 35 gms Parmesan cheese powder or fresh grated (Optional)
- 1 tsp Garlic powder
- 1 tsp Onion powder
- 0.5 tsp (or more) fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp of your favorite fresh shredded or dried herbs like Parsley, Basil, Cilantro or Spring Onions (Optional)
- 0.5 tsp salt or more to suit your taste
- Light Olive Oil for greasing and brushing
- Take the minced or ground meat in a large mixing bowl. My minced meat was pre-cleaned and packed, so didn’t have to rinse them. If you choose to rinse, make sure the meat is almost completely patted dry before use.
- Onto the meat, add all ingredients from the list except oil. Mix and mash all ingredients with clean hands or use a grinder. If you feel it needs more binding, add a little more bread crumbs.
- Rub oil on your palms, and shape little portions of the mixture into compact spheres of the size of golf balls. Ideally, it should make 18-20 meatballs.
- Pre-heat the Oven to 350°F or 175°C.
- Line and grease, a sufficiently large oven-safe dish with heavy duty aluminium foil. It make the clean-up and life much easier!
- Place the meatballs on the oven-safe dish, taking care that they do not stick to each other and have a little room to swell.
- Brush the meatballs with light olive oil, so they don’t dry up too much in the oven.
- Bake the meatballs for 30 minutes. Take them out when you see them nicely done and turn golden.
- 14 oz or 400 gms jar of Traditional Ragù Sauce (store bought)
- 1 medium Onion (I used white onion)
- 4 oz or about 100 gms White button Mushrooms
- 2 – 3 tbsp Light Olive Oil
- 0.5 cup or 150 ml Water
- Salt to taste
- Peel and slice the onion lengthwise. Clean and slice the mushrooms
- In a large deep pan, heat olive oil and saute the onions.
- When onions turn translucent, add the mushrooms. Fry for 1-2 minutes and cover cook on low heat, till almost done. (Note: To make traditional sauce, proceed with the steps without adding onions or mushrooms and use only 1tbsp olive oil)
- Pour in all the Ragù Sauce, add water and adjust salt. Let it simmer for 1-2 minutes.
- Carefully drop all the meatballs, and mix contents to coat the meatballs with sauce. Cover the pan and let the meatballs soak in some juices from the sauce for about 1 minute over low heat.
- Take out from stove and mix the contents once.
- 16 oz or 450 gms packet of your favorite Spaghetti (I used Angel Hair pasta)
- Sufficient water to cook spaghetti
- 1 tsp salt
- Cook your spaghetti in water with the salt, as per the package instructions till done and al dente.
- Drain the spaghetti in a colander.
- Run cold/tap water through the colander for a few seconds, so the spaghetti strands don’t stick.
Spoon and serve the sauce with meatballs over spaghetti. Sprinkle and garnish with Parmesan cheese! You could also add a little of your favorite seasoning herbs if you like. Enjoy a mouthful of those tasty meaty mounds and a fork twirling strands of the gorgeous spaghetti!! And happiness to you all…