I once watched a television programme with Nigella Lawson where she said, 'I like to pretend I'm Italian'. Well, Nigella, so do I. I like to pretend I'm Italian because I identify with the food - simple and delicious and made to share. Break bread, drink wine, eat spaghetti, fill your heart and stomach joy. Italian, and pasta more specifically, is my comfort food and food is my identity. Really it's little wonder why I identified with Nigella and why I carried that sentence, from an obscure show I'd caught on the TV, with me for years after the credits rolled.
And I find, to eat good spaghetti and meatballs is to eat, and live, well regardless of my British passport. Even the cooking process makes my heart happy. The baritone spit of a nearly-boiling, slow-cooked crock pot of tomato sauce, the rush of steam from freshly drained, silky spaghetti and the curls of Parmesan cheese falling and instantly melting on meatballs, piled high into bowls.
So it's frustrating to make bad meatballs and I've made terrible meatballs in the past. Loose, bland and underwhelming. And until recently, I had resigned myself to the fact that delicious piles of soft, herbed meatballs cooked in rich tomato sauce and piled high onto steaming heaps of pasta only existed in Disney movies and the very depths of Italy. But with some trial and error, and combining a few recipes together along with some of my own tricks, I've created my favourite spaghetti and meatballs recipe yet. We've been known to eat this dish, every Saturday night for 3 weeks in a row because for us, this recipe is utter comfort. I hope it is for you to.
To make My Favourite Spaghetti and Meatballs (serves 2):
For the slow-cooked tomato sauce:
2x 400g tinned plum tomatoes
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
For the meatballs:
250g lean minced beef (or 50/50 beef mince and pork mince)
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
15g Parmesan cheese, grated
small handful parsley, finely chopped
small egg, beaten
Spaghetti and grated Parmesan cheese to serve
- To make the tomato sauce, crush the tinned plum tomatoes into a slow cooker crock pot. Add in the rest of the tomato sauce ingredients, mix together and cook on low for 6 hours. You can make the sauce in advance and keep it in the fridge, or freeze it. Plus, with these quantities you'll only use half of the tomato sauce, so can use the rest another day.
- To make the meatballs begin by combining the milk and breadcrumbs in a small bowl and set aside.
- Whisk together the egg, parsley, Parmesan and a pinch of sea salt. Then add in the meat, onions and garlic and combine with your fingers.
- Then add the soaked breadcrumbs and combine with the meat mixture. Make sure the breadcrumbs are thoroughly mixed in, but do not overwork the meat.
- Place half of the tomato sauce made into a large frying pan or skillet and put on a low heat and then roll the meat mixture into 14 walnut-sized meatballs.
- Nestle the meatballs into the bubbling sauce and cover and cook for 30-35 minutes, turning the meatballs half way.
- Cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions and serve with plenty of Parmesan when the meatballs are cooked through.