Comfort Food: Italian-American Spaghetti and Meatballs
My neighbors are Italian-Americans from New York City. Those two can cook like nobody’s business. Most Italian-Americans can cook like nobody’s business. Ten pounds may have found its way to my body alone on their homemade desserts and cookies. Not alone from their spaghetti and meatballs.
Bob who’s family is originally from Sicily – and yes I know most Sicilians and Italians will agree that Sicily isn’t really Italy – tells stories of Sunday dinners. Coming back from church, the smells of tomato sauce simmering on the stove came from apartment’s kitchen window. Sunday dinner was tomato sauce with sausages, meatballs, and oxtails simmered all day to perfection.
To me, spaghetti and meatballs are the ultimate comfort food even though I am not Italian-American. I love making it. It is a process of love. Forming the meatballs. Making the sauce. The smell of it all on the stove. The look of it on the plate. Lastly, the taste of complete satisfaction. You will overeat when you make this. And that’s OK.
Italian-American Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipes
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4-6 stems fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
- 4-6 stems fresh oregano
- 2-4 stems fresh rosemary
- 2-4 stems fresh basil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Add ¼ cup olive oil to a 10-inch high sided sauté pan or a saucepan over medium heat.
- Add the parsley, oregano, rosemary and basil and cooking until the herbs become crisp.
- Remove the herbs and discard.
- Add the onion and garlic to the oil cooking until the onions are transparent.
- Add diced tomatoes.
- Season with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes.
- Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the sauce reduces and thicken, stirring occasionally.
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 tablespoon parsley
- Salt and pepper
- Combine ground beef, breadcrumbs, cheese, eggs, garlic powder, basil, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add a little bit of water.
- Mix until well blended.
- Form into 1.5 inches in diameter.
- Set aside and allow them to rest.
- Heat oil in large pan.
- Brown meatballs on all sides.
- Place in tomato sauce allowing them to cook through.
A Bit of University with Meat Sauce Belgian-Style
Having lived with Europeans when I was at university then living in Belgium, meat sauce over spaghetti was a staple meal. It feeds a crowd and cheap. All good things when you are a student.
One of my favorite cookbook is Ruth van Waerebeek’s “Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook.” It is true. Everyone does eat well in Belgium. This cookbook is filled with amazing recipes that will bring your taste buds alive and satisfy your soul. Worth having in your cookbook collection.
Back to the meat sauce. This is a clean out your veggie bin recipe. Most veg will work. I usually make this with mushrooms, red peppers, and onions. Thyme is an addition to the recipe which I love. Most tomato sauces just have basil and oregano. While I do not drink wine, I do cook with it and buy drinkable wine. Best to cook this recipe the night before or in the morning giving the flavors time to blend.
Meat Sauce Belgian-Style
- 3tablespoons olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 8 oz package white mushroom, sliced
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced or couple of handfuls of baby carrots
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1lb ground beef
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 heaping teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 heaping teaspoon thyme
- 1 heaping teaspoon basil
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
- 1 28 oz can peeled plum tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
- salt and pepper
- 1lb thin spaghetti
- Tabasco sauce(optional)
- 1 cup grated gruyere cheese or Swiss cheese
- Heat olive oil in deep pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, bell pepper, mushrooms, and carrots. Cook until soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Add half the garlic and all the ground beef. Continue cooking over medium heat, using a wooden spoon to stir and break up the meat with, until meat is no longer pink.
- Stir in sugar, oregano, thyme, basil, red pepper flakes, and parsley. Add tomatoes and juices, red wine, and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 35 minutes.
- Add remaining garlic.
My hands smell like fresh tomatoes and basil just picked from the garden… and chopped garlic. Glorious smells. Smells, which say something wonderful is being prepared.
In the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta you can have this wonderful sauce. This is a no-cook sauce. It is so fresh. And it is so simple.
Pull out the food processor. A cutting board and a knife.
Quarter 1.5 pounds of beefsteak tomatoes. I would only use garden ripened tomatoes or ones gotten from a local farmer’s market. The key is to have the tomatoes bursting with flavor.
Put the quartered tomatoes in the food process, add one clove of chopped garlic, some olive, salt, and pepper. Give it a whirl to puree the mixture.
Drain the pasta, spoon the sauce over the pasta, then add the chopped fresh basil mixing gently. Grate some fresh parmesan cheese on the top.
You’ve got dinner. In a flash. And healthy.
Let’s make some Sunday Gravy!
Mama Mia! Cue some Dean Martin music. Turn on Moonstruck!
For years I’ve had this recipe for traditional Italian-American tomato gravy (or sauce). It has traveled with me through 3 moves in my well-worn recipe binder. I clipped it out of the New York Times Food section in 2002 with all the good intentions of making it. The recipe accompanied an article about traditional Italian-American food made by a cook in a New York Fire Department.
Today was the day I decided it was time to make this recipe for Sunday Gravy. There is a reason it is called Sunday Gravy; because, it can not be rushed. The meatballs are made from scratch as well as the tomato sauce then it is simmered on the stove for a good part of the day or at least it should be in my book.
Speaking of gravy… Italian-Americans friends… does anyone know why it is called gravy not sauce? Just wondering, but back to making this Sunday dinner.
Let’s make the Sunday Gravy now…
I cried my eyes out chopping lots of onions and garlic. I’ve never met an onion I don’t cry to… And my hands still have a hint of garlic.
I love sharing my passion for cooking with my son who is almost 5-years old. It is something we both can do together. He enjoys it, too.
I used “meatloaf” mix, which is beef, pork, and veal combined. Add in the seasoning, eggs, and water and we’re ready to mix.
My son helps me by putting in the seasoning, but he really loves the mixing part. He molded the meatballs.
He did a pretty good job forming the meatballs… Pssst… I did help him a little.
Browning the sausages and meatballs in the softened onions and garlic. The house was starting to smell wonderful!
Tomatoes and spices are in! Now for it to simmer. I let it simmer for over six hours allowing the flavors to blend.
And by the time it was dinner-time, the aroma was overwhelming… mouth-watering…
Heaven! It was worth all of the work! Really. The recipe feeds a whole fire house so be prepared to either invite a crowd over or have a couple of dinners and lunchs out of it. And it is only going to get better with time.
Buon Appetito! E mangiare!
After all, I can say that being a Momma now! So eat up!