Classic Spaghetti and MeatballsCourse: MainCuisine: Italian AmericanDifficulty: Medium
Name a more iconic dish. I’ll wait.
We all know that once you put something on the internet, it’s never really yours again. As such, I dragged my feet sharing this recipe. This recipe is very special to me because I developed the sauce in 2005, when I was a baby chef, working as the Executive Chef at a Banquet Center. And it has a secret ingredient! Nope, not sugar. That’s not secret. Every Sicilian grandmother I knew growing up in New York put sugar in their sauce.
The secret ingredient is Worcestershire Sauce! I know. It seems odd, but it works. Among other ingredients, Worcestershire Sauce contains anchovies, which impart a flavor called umami. Umami is known as the “fifth taste”, (sweet, sour, bitter, salty are the others) and is characterized by a savory “meatiness”. It is naturally occurring in mushrooms, tomatoes, and many other fermented foods, as the flavor comes from the presence of glutamate, an amino acid.
A small amount of Worcestershire sauce used in tomato sauce heightens the naturally occurring umami flavor of the tomatoes, which really boosts the flavor. I cannot wait for you to try it and tell me what you think!
Also, a word on tomato product. Growing up my mother always used canned whole tomatoes. I prefer strained tomatoes because I believe that a smoother sauce clings to pasta and meatballs better.
I am also VERY brand loyal. I only use Pomi brand tomatoes. I was introduced to them in culinary school, and I will never go back to another brand. Pomi tomatoes are the least acidic tomatoes I have ever tried and have the most consistent flavor. They contain no salt, no citric acid, and because they come in a box, they do not have a metallic taste.
One last and very important word about SALT. I developed the meatball recipe because I was so tired of having to cook off a tiny piece of my meatball mixture every time I made meatballs so I could taste it for seasoning. My recipe below has the perfect amount of salt for my tastebuds, but it is based on my using Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. If you are looking to elevate your cooking I highly suggest buying it. Chefs use it because it has half the salinity of regular iodized salt, which means it is harder to oversalt food with it. Also, it has an ideal texture for sprinkling. If you are using a different type of salt in your meatballs, you will need to cook off a small piece of your meatball mixture before shaping the mixture into balls. I say just save yourself the time and buy the Diamond Crystal.
1 1/2 lbs. spaghetti
1 batch Caramelized Onion Meatballs (recipe below)
1 medium onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced or sliced thinly
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tbsp grapeseed oil (This we will use for sautéing onions/garlic. You could use olive oil, but if you do, sauté onions/garllic over medium heat, as olive oil has a low smoking point and tastes unappetizing when used in high heat cooking.)
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
- Caramelized Onion Meatballs
1 lb Vidalia onion (about 2 medium onions), diced
2 lbs ground turkey (NOT breast, dark meat ensures more flavor)
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt* (please read the last paragraph above if you are using a different brand/type salt)
1/2 tsp black pepper
- Over medium high heat, heat 1 1/2 tbsp grapeseed oil in an 6-8 quart stock pot. Add onions, garlic, 1/4 tsp Kosher salt, and stir. Reduce heat to medium. Sauté onions and garlic until softened, and slightly browned at edges about 10 minutes. Add tomato, basil, oregano, 1 tsp Kosher salt, pepper, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and balsamic vinegar to sauce. Cover and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, while preparing the meatballs. Season to taste with additional Kosher salt and pepper as needed. (If making the sauce on a separate day from the meatballs, allow to simmer for at least an hour.)
- Prepare meatballs using instructions below.
- Coat the bottom of a 12 inch non-stick pan with grapeseed oil and place over medium-high heat. Toss a little piece of meat into pan to gauge oil temperature. Oil is ready when it bubbles around meat. Using tongs, gently add meatballs one by one to pan, giving each meatball a light jostle so that it doesn’t stick to the pan immediately. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Once all meatballs are in the pan, swirl the pan gently so that meatballs continue to stay unstuck from the bottom of the surface. Repeat as necessary. When the first meatball surface is browned, flip to brown another side. Repeat as necessary. Once meatballs are browned, transfer to pot with sauce. It is okay if they are not cooked through because the heat from the sauce will continue cooking them. Make sure the meatballs bathe in the sauce for at least 20 minutes before serving.
- Prepare pasta until al dente, according to instructions. Don’t forget to salt the pasta water (to quote one of my favorite instructors from culinary school, Anne Burrell, “pasta water should be salty like the sea!”). Once pasta is cooked, drain, return to pot, and add 1-2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Toss pasta with tongs to separate. Ladle several large spoonfuls of the sauce over the spaghetti and toss until well coated. Divide pasta among serving plates and top with a little more sauce, 2-3 meatballs, and a few tablespoons of grated cheese.
- Caramelized Onion Meatballs
- Add 1 tbsp grapeseed oil to a 10 inch skillet over high heat. Once oil shimmers, add onions and sprinkle 1/2 tsp Kosher salt evenly over them. For the next 5 minutes, stir onions frequently, encouraging them to release their moisture. Reduce heat to medium and set timer for 45 minutes. Stir onions every 5 minutes for the next 30 minutes, keeping them in one cohesive mass. When there are 15 minutes left on the timer, push onions to one side of the pan, as they will have lost a significant amount of volume and need to remain in a cohesive mass. If possible, adjust pan so that only the portion with the onions is making direct contact with the heat. Keep stirring every 5 minutes. Once timer is up, onions will be sweet, jammy in texture, and caramel colored. If you prefer your onions to have a deeper color and more intense flavor, cook for another 15 minutes.
- Allow onions to cool to room temperature, then add to a large bowl. Add ground turkey, 2 tsp Kosher salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, and panko bread crumbs to bowl. Stir until just combined, as overmixing will make meatballs tough.
- Roll meat into balls (I use a 1/4 measuring cup for 2 oz. meatballs) and set on a sheet pan. Refrigerate while preparing the sauce.
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