Monday, July 15, 2013

Spaghetti & Meatballs... Italian Grandma Style

After we started cooking this morning, Derek turned to me and said "Those little Italian grandmas did it right... no wonder they spent all day in the kitchen!"  All I have to say is holy moly!!!  If this is how real Italians eat, let's all move to Italy and adopt sweet little Italian grandmas!

Pardon the dirty plate!  This is my second helping...

Before you do anything, start some Italian background music.  I highly recommend the soundtrack for The Godfather which you can find on  I swear this is a key step in the recipe!

Cook your meats (except the meatballs which are made later in the instructions) nearly all the way through.  We used 4 boneless pork chops, 4 thin shoulder steaks (pick inexpensive ones as they're going to cook long and low and get fork tender - flank is a good choice, too), 4 mild italian sausages.  Cool and cut into equal sized pieces to be added to the sauce later.

We used my mom's old cold pack canner and it was just a little over half full when we started the simmering to reduce it down.  I say that just to help you choose an appropriate sized pot in your kitchen.  Add just enough olive oil in the bottom to coat it well and then add 3 cloves of very finely chopped fresh garlic and just leave it sit there to infuse flavor into the oil.  (Note:  it's best to chop the garlic yourself with your fingers and a knife instead of using a garlic press so your hands will have that authentic Italian grandmother smell!)

While the garlic is sitting there basking in the oil, chop up 1 large Vidalia onion as finely as you can.  Add it to the pot and turn the heat on to medium to cook, stirring often, just until you see bubbles around the garlic.  DO NOT OVERCOOK THE GARLIC or it will get crunchy and bitter and ruin your whole pot of sauce!

Turn the heat down between low and medium low, add 1 rounded teaspoon of of crushed oregano (use 1 Tbl if fresh), 1/2 tsp basil (1 tsp if fresh), 1 whole bay leaf and a dash each of salt and pepper and simmer for about 5 minutes to sweat the onions down.

Spoon in a 6 oz. can of tomato paste and a can of water that's been stirred around to get the last bits of paste off the sides of the can.  Turn the heat back to medium and stir vigorously until the paste has liquified and become well incorporated with the garlic and onions.  Cook for about 5 minutes stirring constantly.  Now you have what's called an Italian Roux.  Taste it and adjust the spices so that it tastes good to you.

Add 2 14.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes and 1 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes (or equivalent fresh).  Mix well and simmer for 10 minutes.  Stir every couple of minutes. While simmering add 1 tsp Oregano (yes, add more!), 1/2 tsp Basil, 1-1/2 tsp fresh chopped parsley, just a dash of Cajun Seasoning, 1/2 tsp garlic powder and a dash of coarse black pepper.

Add another 6 oz. can of tomato paste, a can of water and 1 cup (+/-) of your favorite red wine.  Make sure it is well incorporated and break up any chunks that form.  And for goodness sakes, settle down about the wine.  All of the alcohol will cook out long before the dish is ready to eat.  Cook for about 15 minutes.  You want it to just simmer but not boil at all.  Stir about every minute so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.

Add 5 15 oz cans of tomato sauce or puree (or equivalent fresh).  Mix well.  Fill each can 1/2 full of water and swish around to get the bits of sauce off the sides and add to the pot.  Mix again.  Add 1 tsp of oregano (yes, even more... and here's an important note about the oregano:  pour it into the palm of your hand and roll over it with your other hand to crush it a bit more.  This releases the essential oils and gives just a bit more vibrant flavor.).  Also add 1 tsp fresh parsley, 1 tsp basil and 1/4 tsp garlic powder. Mix well and simmer for 15 minutes.  Check and adjust the spices.  If the tomatoes have made your sauce a little to acidic, add honey or brown sugar 1 Tbl at a time to cut the acid.

Add the cooked meat you did first thing.  Keep at medium heat and cover pan. Be sure the sauce is not at a rapid boil. A little boiling is OK but not too much. Heat should be at medium or lower. You want to keep the medium heat on the sauce while you make the Meatballs.  And while you're making the meatballs, you need to remember to stir the sauce every 3 minutes.  (Warning:  You're whole house is going to smell so good, you'll wish the internet could transmit scent so you could send a whiff to all your Facebook pals and make them insanely jealous of what you get for supper!)

Whew!  That's a lot of steps, huh?  Well... wipe your brow and take a few deep breaths 'cuz you're not done yet.

Now you get to make the meatballs.

Cut a piece of salt pork to yield 2 cups of 1/2-inch cubes and fry in your meat pan to render the fat out.  Mix 2 lbs of 80/20 ground beef with the semi-crisped pieces of salt pork, 2 very finely chopped cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup of roughly chopped parsley, a good dash each of salt, pepper, oregano and cajun seasoning.  Add 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 2/3 cup italian style bread crumbs, 2 eggs, a nice slosh of red wine and 3 slices of bread you've run under the tap and then squeezed the water from.  Don't be a wuss with the spoon!  Get in there and mix it with your hands!!  Form into meatballs.

Heat the fat you rendered from the salt pork over medium high heat.  It needs to be very very very hot!  Add the meatballs and cook until all sides are well browned.  They should create some smoke in your kitchen while they fry.  When the meatballs are cooked, add directly to the simmering pot of sauce.  Continue simmering, stirring every 15 minutes, for about 3 hours.

Cook spaghetti noodles to serve under the sauce.  Dust with parmesan cheese.  A cheesy garlic bread is a nice (and classic) accompaniment!

Now  you, too, can cook like an Italian grandma... and that's the next best thing to actually having one!!

Edit:  This will easily feed 12-16 people.  Four of us ate heartily, we sent home a big bowl of sauce with Derek's sister and there's still sauce here for several meals.  I'm off to get freezer containers...

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