Pasta and meatballs in sauce

I know, you’re like: where are the essays on current world events? Where are the personal illuminations of Diane’s current life? Where are the photos of the new wood floors?

Screw that: let’s talk food.


One meal I make probably every week or two is pasta and meatballs. Not spaghetti and meatballs, because I let the kids pick out the pasta shapes they want and strangely enough, they rarely choose spaghetti. So this is more accurately “Wagon wheels and meatballs.”

And since you can probably follow the instructions on a box of (Di Cecco or Barilla) pasta by yourself, I’m not going to cover that part.

The meatballs I make are so tasty that this has become one of my favorite dishes. Beyond that, I now won’t eat meatballs at a restaurant—why would I? I can’t stand those big bready softballs any more.

This recipe for meatballs and sauce comes from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything. Since this is how I make it now, this is pretty much a free-form recipe:

1 lb. ground meat (beef, lamb, pork, veal—sometimes I mix it up and do half-and-half)
1 tbsp. chopped garlic (or more…)
1 egg
1/2 cup matzoh meal
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
some chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

The original recipe actually calls for bread crumbs instead of matzoh meal, but a)I have matzoh meal on hand, b)have you read the ingredients for commercial bread crumbs? Blech! and c)I am way too lazy to take out the Cuisinart just to make fresh bread crumbs.

Mix all these ingredients together. Use your hands. Just feel the gooey meat slipping through your fingers. It’s fun. It feels vaguely illegal.

Now comes the fun part: make very small meatballs. I think Bittman uses the guideline “walnut sized.” I think mine may be smaller than that: an inch in diameter, roughly. You’ll have quite a few meatballs when you finish.

Fire up Ye Olde Saute Pan. You’ll either need a)a big pan or b)to do this in two batches.

Pour in:

2 tbsp. olive oil

Get it heated up. Now, put the meatballs (or some subset thereof) into the pan. And don’t touch them until the side on the bottom has become a deep copper, on the verge of burned. If the meatball is only slightly grey on one side, leave it. Then rotate the meatballs to do the other sides so that you end up with a lovely dark copper meatball with a tasty, crunchy exterior.

Yes, I said “crunchy.” You are going for crunchy. None of this large soft bready softball crap. You want little crunchy golfballs, only smaller than golfballs.

Now it’s time to saute

one onion, sliced
one green pepper
one package sliced mushrooms

Or whatever other veggies you like in your sauce. Saute, though preferably not all at once. We want to see the brown marks on the sides!

Remove vegetables. Now put:

1 can 28-oz. whole tomatoes
1 tbsp. chopped garlic (or more…)
Some spice, like oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

into the saute pan. On medium heat, cook the tomatoes until they break down. This will take a while, and I like to help it along by breaking the tomatoes in half. You can also use a can of chopped tomatoes, I suppose. This step should take 15 minutes roughly.

When your sauce is nice and bubbly, put in the vegetables. Now you have to decide: do you want crunchy meatballs in the final dish? If you don’t, add the meatballs to the sauce. The liquid of the sauce will soften those crunchy sides right up.

Turn down the sauce and let it simmer. add:

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

This thickens the sauce and gives it a lovely salty taste. Stir the cheese in well. Put the cover on. If the sauce gets too “dry,” you can add maybe half a cup of water or a small can of tomato juice.

Make the pasta while the sauce simmers. Make garlic bread. Make more grated cheese for the finished dish.