Yes, I can hear it already . . . spaghetti sauce and meatballs . . . how terribly bo-rrr-ing, you say? And don’t we all have such a recipe? I suppose, but not THIS one. It’s an oldie but goodie for me. I’ve been making this version of spaghetti sauce and meatballs since about 1966. And before I lose you, let me just say that what makes this version a bit unique is the fresh celery leaves and the freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano IN the meatballs. That’s not common, I know it’s not.
So hopefully you’ll continue reading about this recipe and maybe print out the PDF to try sometime. I’ve not shared this recipe before – I haven’t made spaghetti and meatballs in the 3+ years I’ve been writing this blog. I’ve been meaning to, but we don’t eat much pasta anymore, even though we love it. I do serve it now and then, but haven’t felt the desire to make this old tried and true recipe in a long time.
The recipe came from an old homespun Military Officer’s Wives’ Club cookbook I have. One I’ve referred to over and over, and have shared many a recipe from its pages. And it’s certainly not a 30-minute meal. You’ll want to do this when you have half a day to devote to the different steps. My daughter Dana is visiting and she helped me make it, thankfully. Otherwise I’d have been in and out of the kitchen for upwards of 4 hours. I hope that doesn’t scare you off from making this, though. I always make this in a large quantity so I’ll have some to freeze. I freeze the meat sauce and the meatballs separately – that way I know what I’m getting, quantity-wise – when I defrost both packages. This recipe is something I used to make frequently when our hungry teenagers were in the house. And I heard the other evening, from my daughter, as she slurped up her meatballs from this batch, “oh, this takes me back to my childhood.” Indeed.
So what’s involved? The sauce contains ordinary things like ground beef, onions, garlic, oodles of herbs and spices, canned tomato stuff (paste, sauce and puree). The meatballs are the different stuff: good, highly seasoned Italian sausage, some ground beef too, bread crumbs, onion, milk, eggs, garlic, some cheese and the minced celery leaves. And if you happen to have ample celery leaves, add more. The new celery head I used only had about 1/2 cup of chopped leaves. Not nearly enough for my taste. The meatballs, by the way, are baked for 20 minutes, rather than fried. So much easier!
The sauce doesn’t require anything special, really. I’ve learned to wing it here and there, adding a bit of water sometimes if the sauce is spending too much time spouting medium-sized plops out of the pot. It all depends on the thickness of the tomato products – some are more watery than others, you know. So use your own judgment. Over the years I’ve made some changes to the recipe – different tomato stuff, less water, and a lot more seasonings. Originally the meatballs had that awful dry parmesan cheese in the green foil can. The addition of the real cheese made a huge flavor jump for me! I’ve made it with ground turkey (not as good, so I sometimes use half beef, half turkey) but I always add in the real pork Italian sausage. We buy our Italian sausage at a local Italian deli that makes their own. This batch had some of those and some Sicilian sausages (which contains mozzarella cheese) in it. Whatever I do, I never compromise, though, on the sausage. I buy good stuff. For many years I made this recipe exactly as written (using canned tomatoes with the juice) and the watery sauce always spread all over the plate. Once I changed to using only tomato puree, paste and sauce that didn’t happen any longer. I prefer thin linguine for this sauce, or regular linguine works too. But really, it doesn’t matter what kind of pasta – your choice.
Italian Spaghetti Sauce & Meatballs
Recipe By: Adapted from a Military Officer’s Wive’s Cookbook, circa 1965
Serving Size: 14
Note: Usually I serve this on linguine – thin linguine if you can find it. Or any kind of pasta will work.
1 cup onion — chopped
6 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves garlic — minced
3 pounds lean ground beef
12 ounces tomato paste
16 ounces tomato sauce
3 pounds tomato puree
4 teaspoons sugar
12 ounces mushrooms — chopped
1/2 cup parsley — chopped
2 small bay leaves
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 cup water — approximately
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 pounds Italian sausage — if using ground pork increase seasonings
1 cup onion — minced
4 tablespoons celery leaves — chopped
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup Italian parsley — minced
1/2 cup milk
2 whole eggs — beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes — or to taste
2 cloves garlic — minced
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese — grated
1. SAUCE: In a large pan heat olive oil and add onion. Partially cook, then add the garlic and cook just a few minutes. Add ground beef and sauté for 5-10 minutes until meat is no longer pink. Add the remaining ingredients for the sauce, heat almost to a boil and simmer for about 2 hours. During last 20 minutes add the meatballs and allow them to heat through.
2. MEATBALLS: Combine all of the meatball ingredients and form into small 1-inch balls, or smaller. Bake in a 350° oven for about 20 minutes. Pour off grease and add meatballs to the spaghetti sauce. Or, you can freeze the meatballs separately and add to the sauce before you serve it.
3. FOR FREEZING: Measure cups of the sauce into freezer bags, lay flat to get out all of the air bubbles and seal well. These are best if allowed to freeze on a flat surface (like a cookie sheet), then you can stack any number of them together in the freezer and they don’t get crunched (and stuck) together. Defrosted overnight, the sauce and meatballs will be ready for reheating and serving a quick meal.