Meatballs with Easy Tomato Sauce

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Once again I find myself at the tail end of the Thanksgiving holiday, wondering how it could have come and gone so quickly. You’d think I’d stop being surprised at the speed of time, but it never seems to cease to amaze me.

We drove up on the Sunday before the holiday, hitting not a whit of traffic while Jim Dale crooned the fourth Harry Potter book into our ears. We made a stop at Scout Coffee in San Luis Obispo to take a homework break, as both of us wanted (and needed) to get work done before the end of the day. I was so in the zone that I drank cup number two before I realized that my limbs were positively buzzing. The rest of the car ride was filled with many more rest stops and a lot more singing, as the coffee forced me to keep making noise or else I would explode. We finally got home around 6:30 PM and were greeted with glad hellos and frantic barking from Pip. We finally got to meet our niece, Khaleesi, AKA Punk (a kitten, not a human). I also realized how much of a wuss I’ve become when I stepped out of the car and the Santa Cruz air felt unbearably cold to me.

Most of the week was spent seeing family members from both sides, as well as friends. Since Dad was going to be working on Thanksgiving, we decided to do our own family Thanksgiving on Wednesday. However, Mom and Dad were to be gone all day since Mom had a show in San Francisco the whole weekend. This left the shopping and cooking up to yours truly, not that I minded. I made apple pie in the morning, since the oven would be used the rest of the day, and then rushed down to the Farmer’s Market. I got Jonji to come to the Market with me, even though he hates it, to at least be there as moral support and a body on which to put some of the bags. Then we hurried home so that I could put the turkey in the oven.

I’ve always heard of the terrors of cooking turkey, but it turned out to be the least stressful meat I’ve ever cooked. Perhaps El Salchichero, who had already brined it and butterflied it, saved me more stress than I know. Bailey helped out by making the brussels sprouts with bacon, while I prepared bacon-wrapped dates for appetizers. Mom and Dad came home in time to make the mashed potatoes, pine nut relish, and cranberry chutney. I also made gravy for the first time which, I might add, should really be a resident at every meal. Cara brought sweet potatoes in orange cups, and Matt, Manga, Emma, and Jonji brought festive cheer—a most important contribution, I might add.

The day of Thanksgiving was gorgeous, and it was especially nice at Uncle Don and Auntie Renée’s house. Mom’s butter and radish appetizers were just the beginning of yet another feast (scroll all the way to the bottom for the bonus recipe). By some strange miracle, our family managed to be the first one there, for the first time EVER. This gave Bailey and I a chance to hide from Kelly and Kerry, which they usually do to us. Unfortunately, our spot was so good that we eventually had to sneak out or die from heat stroke. Perhaps if we can manage to do the unthinkable and arrive first again, we can reuse that spot—as long as we have something to combat the sweat.

The last couple evenings were spent in comfort, with plenty of food and a smattering of card games. Dad, Jonji, and I got to spend a quiet evening playing cribbage, during which Dad and I let Jonji win. Daddad always taught us the importance of allowing someone else to win every once in a while—it’s good for morale. The next night Jonji and I played several rounds of euchre at Jason and Shellie’s, of which I am not sure I will ever fully get the hang of.

We left on Sunday amid storm clouds and heavy rain drops. It didn’t help that Jonji’s windshield wiper decided to come loose and leave the driver’s side completely unclear. Luckily for us, a wrench was enough to solve the problem. We eventually arrived home safe and sound, whereupon Kitty warmly greeted us. After looking at other cats, I realize how chubby our kitty has gotten. I’m not worried, though, because she is happier than ever, and that’s got to count for something.

It’s finally raining in LA! I absolutely love it. It makes me want to stay home even more than usual, which could be seen as good and not so good at the same time. But it also makes me more inspired to cook, and not only because our oven is the only source of heat we have in this apartment. The following recipe is one of those hearty, satisfying meals—I might even go so far as to say it’s comfort food. And what better to cook on rainy days than comfort food?

Meatballs with Easy Tomato Sauce

makes about 20 meatballs / inspired by a recipe in Bi-Rite’s cookbook, Eat Good Food

for the meatballs:
1/2 of one yellow onion, finely diced
1 small shallot, minced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced or grated
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
2 tsp thyme, finely chopped
2 tbsp oregano or marjoram, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 large egg
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork

for the sauce:
1/2 of one small onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 quart homemade passata, or one 28oz can of whole tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock, recipe here
handful of basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp thyme, finely chopped
1 tbsp oregano or marjoram, finely chopped
Reserve a few pinches of chopped herbs for garnish.

1 packet of spaghetti

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Make the meatballs: in a large bowl, stir together the chopped onion, 1 small minced shallot, 2 cloves of minced garlic, 3/4 cup grated parmesan, 1/4 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup yogurt, the chopped herbs, 2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper. Add the ground beef and pork and press into the herb mixture, then mix and squish all the ingredients together by hand—make sure not to mix the meat in too much, as that will make the meatballs tough. Rather, lightly squish the ingredients together until everything is just combined.

Prepare a large rimmed baking sheet for the meatballs. Pour a bit of olive oil onto the sheet and rub around to coat the entire pan. using you hands or an ice cream scoop, portion your meatballs to the desired size (I like to make them roughly the size of a golf ball), roll into balls, and place onto the prepared baking sheet. (To make this meal even easier, you can skip the following browning step and simply bake the meatballs on the baking sheet for 40 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to the sauce once the sauce is done. Browning amplifies the flavor and leaves a lot of good fat for the sauce, but your meal will still be great without.)

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil and, once the oil’s hot, place as many meatballs on the pan as you can without crowding them—you want to give at least a finger’s space between each. Brown at least two or three sides, allowing the meatballs to sit for a couple of minutes on each side to get that toasty brown crust. Transfer back to the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining meatballs. Once they’re all browned, bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Blend the passata or whole tomatoes in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add 1 cup of chicken stock (use water if you don’t have any stock) and blend for a few more seconds. Using the same pan that you used to brown the meatballs, cook the other half of the diced onion in the leftover fat over medium heat. When the onions start to look transparent, add 2 cloves of minced garlic. Cook for one more minute, stirring occasionally, then add the tomato mixture. Bring to a boil, stir in 1/2 tsp fine sea salt and half of the chopped herbs, then leave to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the spaghetti as the package instructs in a large pot of salted water. Drain, toss with cold water until the pasta doesn’t stick anymore, and sprinkle with a little olive oil, then toss to coat. Transfer to a serving bowl.

When the meatballs are done, transfer them to the sauce to simmer for another 10 minutes (30 minutes of simmering total for the sauce). Scatter the reserved herbs on top.

Enjoy your meatballs and tomato sauce over the freshly cooked spaghetti. Sprinkle with any leftover chopped herbs.

Bonus Recipe: Watermelon Radish and Butter Crackers

good quality crackers, relatively plain
1 stick unsalted butter
a few watermelon radishes, very thinly sliced
coarse sea salt

Break crackers into desired size. Then, using a vegetable peeler, take thin (or thick) chunks of butter off the stick. Place one slice, or peel, on each cracker. Place one or two slices of radish on top of each cracker and sprinkle with a generous amount of salt. Eat up!

One response to “Meatballs with Easy Tomato Sauce”

  1. […] Jonji and I), which I enjoyed alongside Shannon, who was in town at the time. Mom also made her Watermelon Radish and Butter Crackers, which are as tasty as they are beautiful. Jonji, Pat, Taz and I enjoyed several games of King of […]

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