Anyone who knows me well knows that for some reason, I love Top 10 lists. Whether it’s food, athletes, musical groups, or in this case, movies. You could break down the movie category (and every category for that matter) into genres. In the genre of Mafia movies, I think the “Godfather” series, minus “The Godfather Part III,” takes the cake as the top. And just in case you are interested, I think “The Godfather Part II” is slightly better than the first edition, but only slightly. “Godfather III” is an abomination.
Anyway, we had “Godfather” night with the family this past weekend, and the meal of choice was spaghetti and meatballs.
The irony is that this dish as a whole is primarily American, not Italian. Meatballs are more closely linked to Italy, but they were smaller, and served by themselves, not with pasta. They were called polpette, and they were an affordable dish. Whatever cheap protein was available was ground up and combined with grain, bread and spices to make the protein go further.
When the Italians began migrating to the U.S., they were financially stretched thin, so they began making polpette, along with inexpensive pasta and canned tomatoes shipped over from Naples. Voila. Spaghetti and meatballs. It was our early Italian Americans who created this great dish. This recipe made enough for 8 servings. Adjust accordingly.
Smoked Meatballs With Spaghetti
11/2 pounds ground beef
11/2 pounds ground pork
1 large yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs
3/4 cup whole milk
11/2 cups fresh chopped parsley
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons kosher salt
11/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Tomato sauce ingredients:
1 28-ounce can of Cento Italian peeled tomatoes
1 12-ounce can of tomato sauce
5 cloves garlic, crushed
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch of Italian parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Basil leaves (optional)
For the meatballs: Mix the breadcrumbs with the milk and set aside for 20 minutes or so. In the olive oil, saute the onion over medium-high heat until translucent. Now add the chopped garlic and saute for another couple minutes. Set aside. In a very large bowl, add the ground pork and beef. Whip the eggs up and add them to the meat. Now add the milk and breadcrumb mixture, as well as everything else. Get in there with your hands and mix thoroughly. Set in the fridge for half an hour to let it solidify a bit.
While chilling, place a sheet of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet and spray with a nonstick spray. Wet your hands (meat won’t stick as much to your hands) and make your meatballs the size you like them. Ours are slightly smaller than a pingpong ball. Don’t smash them together. Form the balls gently.
Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature is around 160 degrees. I smoked ours at a lower temperature for one hour or so. I highly recommend it.
On to the sauce. I highly recommend using Italian tomatoes, as they are sweet, and to be honest, it’s cool to use Italian tomatoes when making spaghetti sauce. It just seems right. They are now available at most supermarkets. This sauce is really simple, quick and delicious.
For the spaghetti: Start cooking your spaghetti according to the directions on the box. We cooked two boxes of thick spaghetti noodles. With an immersion blender, smooth out the tomatoes. Over medium-high heat, saute the garlic for a couple minutes.
Now add the salt and the parsley and saute for another minute or so. Then add the puréed tomatoes and the tomato sauce. Cover and let come to temperature, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta and place back in the large pot, flame turned off, with a drizzling of olive oil.
Toss the pasta with the oil. Now add the tomato sauce and toss. The sauce will be mostly absorbed into the noodles, giving the noodles a beautiful light red/pinkish color. This is what you want. You don’t want it soupy or saucy.
Plate the pasta and top with grated Parmesan cheese and a basil leaf. Nestle it up to a hearty helping of delicious meatballs, some delicious bread, a salad and a nice Chianti wine. I want to officially say thank you to our Italian American forefathers for coming up with this delicious dish. It’s definitely Top 10. Enjoy!