I only realised the other day ( after posting a photo on Instagram and being asked about the history of my recipe) that Spaghetti and Meatballs has been on a very constant rotation of our family dinners for nearly twenty one years now. The reason I know this is that my first ever attempt at cooking them stems back to watching a very young and beautiful English cook on the ABC, in her element, creating some extremely classic and delicious food in her passionate, almost innocent, yet sexy and unapologetic way.
That cook, well yes of course it was Nigella Lawson, and that cookbook was the classic How to Eat, published in 1998, the year our daughter was born. I knew I had to have a copy of that book come hell or high water and I still refer to it to this day! I really felt it was my first ever, very grown up cook book, no photos of the finished dishes, you had to use your own imagination and creativity in plating your meal so it looked as beautiful as it always tasted. I often wondered if the TV series came about after people complained there were no pictures so they had no clue how to plate up the dishes 🙂
I devoured that cookbook like a novel in my spare time. I had a small, but perfectly behaved baby ( yes I know I was a lucky one) and found I had a little time on my hands to finally cook some family type meals and set a nice table, where we could actually and finally be a little family and eat and talk about our day and also to our little one ( who couldn’t talk or eat solids just yet obviously), but would happily gurgle and babble away in her little bouncer, and then sooner than later, her very own high chair.
Prior to my new life as a mumma and stay-at-home-wifey, my husband and I would just throw something together late at night and generally devour breakfast foods of eggs, bacon and baked beans on toast or take away dinners of Chinese/Indian/Thai/Pizza/Fish and Chips ( and generally in that rotation too if I remember correctly) at 9pm at night in front of the TV with the dog at our feet and the cats on the back of the lounges. I was a little hamster on the corporate wheel for many years and along with lengthy commute times to the city from the bay and home again, this would mean I would often get home tired, grumpy and very hungry. No longer having to do this every day opened my eyes to a whole new slower and simpler way of life..one I didn’t want to give up on anytime too soon..I am pretty sure my husband was a lot happier with me at home too, he could concentrate on his work whilst I looked after everything else and we were all so happy as we all had time and energy for each other, family and friends. Neither of us were no longer exhausted at the end of each day and life was peaceful and happy.
We were on a one salary income then and Mortgage interest rates were still in the high teens ( our first interest rate on our very modest mortgage was 17.5%), so budgeting became my challenge and my profession whilst I was at home which I enjoyed actually . I knew that I loved this life at home with my daughter and being a homemaker and a stay at home wife and mumma made me extraordinarily happy, and I knew I would have to do everything I could to make the budget cover us for as long as it could if I wanted to be at home for as long as possible. I will be eternally and beyond grateful for the time I was able to stay at home with her which was until she was in her early Primary years. So very thankful..
Learning to cook, learning to love to cook and nurture my family and my extended family was something that I didn’t have time for or understand even really, until I was in my mid thirties. I say better late than never and I had a lot of catching up to do where my experiments were always welcomed by all of my family whilst I learnt and got better at trusting my palate. I also had to do this on quite a strict budget where I would never, ever dream of sacrificing quality, local, Australian food for anything but.. I still don’t…
I remember so clearly the first time we ever gave our daughter her first taste of spaghetti and meatballs. She would have been around twenty months old. I had chopped up the pasta and also the meatballs just a little for her, as she was no longer eating pureed foods. I also thought, “why not add a little Parmesan to the bowl, she loves cheese, she has eaten Parmesan before, surely she will love my fresh Parmesan” …how wrong can one mum get it!! No way was she having a bar of the Parmesan ( yet previously she had loved the granulated parmesan you buy in the dried pasta aisle that is often on the tables in Italian restaurants or was back in the day..)
I remember the huge hissy fit she threw at the dinner table in her high chair with my In Laws seated around us as well, looking on with the kind of smiles you remember always… kind of ‘is she a baby or a she devil’ look on their faces, but I feel sorry for you at the same time but we are glad we are only the Grandparents all rolled into one. This was much to the embarrassment of my husband, who had previously described his daughter to them as a perfectly behaved toddler , take her anywhere he said over the phone to his mum on several occasions..Hmmm, not this time: Spaghetti went flying, meatballs were pummelled into her high chair tray with these chubby little clenched fists, and the tears and screams even made the dog start howling.. long story short, no Parmesan for a few years for this girl. She started eating it again when she was about 8 I suppose.. She still tells me it’s the smell she doesn’t like, not the taste, but will eat it anyway.
So, here you go, my recipe for Spaghetti and Meatballs or as our daughter still calls it: Sketti. Make it with love and give yourself heaps of time to make it properly, glass of red in hand if that is your thing, oh and I always make it in a deep pot so it doesn’t splatter everywhere. I hope you like it and get to make your own family memories as well with the foods that pull at your heart strings. xxooj
For the Meatballs:
500gram Pork and Veal Mince or you can use Beef Mince or whatever you prefer.
One large onion finely diced
1 clove garlic crushed
3 thick slices white bread torn up into little pieces, soaked in a small bowl with a beaten large egg and a 1/4 cup milk until soft and mushy. ( You can help the process along by mushing the bread up in the liquid with a fork)
2 Tablespoons or more to taste if you like of finely grated Parmesan
1/4 Teaspoon of finely grated, fresh nutmeg
1 Teaspoon of Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons of finely chopped parsley and basil mixed together
Freshly ground salt and pepper
How to cook them:
Ok, we are going to heat a small non stick fry pan and gently fry the onion in a little olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic and remove from the heat without cooking the garlic, just warming it up.
In a large bowl, combine the mince, the Parmesan, the milky, eggy bread, the cooled onion and garlic mix, the nutmeg, herbs and salt and pepper to taste.
Mix it all together very well by hand and refrigerate for one hour to settle, cool, thicken, rest and firm up slightly for rolling.
1 onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely diced or crushed
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped into small dice
1 large carrot finely diced or grated
1 Zucchini finely diced or grated
1/2 Red Capsicum finely chopped
1 & 1/2 cups mild chicken stock
1 Can Tomato Soup, either Rosella or Heinz Big Red ( Or if you are not making this for kids, use 1 jar Tomato Passata with 1 heaped Tablespoon of honey)
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1/2 teaspoon Mixed herbs or fresh Oregano, Rosemary, Parsley, Sage, Thyme to taste
2 Tablespoons Sweet Chilli Sauce ( optional)
1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste as always
Fresh, hot cooked long pasta to serve, like Spaghetti or Linguine or Fettucine and freshly grated Parmesan or whatever cheese you love for the top. I usually put the pasta on after the meatballs have simmered for about 30 minutes or so. You can let the meatballs simmer longer if you want though… the flavour will only get better.
How to cook Sauce:
OK, so while the meatball mix is cooling down, start your sauce in a deep pan. I use a Scanpan casserole dish that can be used on the cooktop hob as well as in the oven. Heat the Olive Oil in the pan and add the onion. When the onion is translucent, add all the other veges and turn the heat down a little so they sweat and cook slower, more than colour and brown or caramelise. You don’t want them to be burnt at all or really brown. You can cover them all with a lid and let them sweat and simmer for a while at this stage as well here. The flavour is in the subtlety of this sauce with it’s sweetness , not the bitterness of burnt vegetables.
Once that is done, add the Tomato Paste and the crushed garlic and cook for about 5 minutes on a medium heat until you can smell the Tomato paste and garlic releasing it’s flavours. The sauce’s smell will change. Don’t burn it though, as soon as you smell that Tomato Pastey/garlicky aroma releasing, turn the heat down again. Add the mixed or fresh herbs now and then the Chicken Stock. Stir well until it is all combined but still on a low heat. The sauce should not be bubbling madly or making any sort of sizzling sound when you add the ingredients. Next add the Chilli Sauce if you are using and stir around for a couple of minutes. If you are not using it, add the Tomato Soup, the whole can. Then add about half a can full of water and swirl it around to catch the soup and add that to the sauce. If you are not using Soup, but instead using Passata, do this step now with your honey added at the end and the half cup of water to rinse the Passata bottle as well.
Put a lid on this and cook for twenty minutes or so while you roll the meatballs.
So I take a small Ice cream scoop to roll my meatballs. I roll each one onto a sheet of baking paper on an oven tray ( so they don’t stick on the tray) and then add them all at once to the sauce. I dip the scoop into a cup of cold water every few goes so the meatballs don’t stick to the scoop.
Roll out each meatball to about the size of a large walnut. Place on the tray until they are all rolled out. Once they are all rolled out, gently add them to the simmering Tomato Sauce in a single layer, then popping them in wherever they will fit. The important thing now is that the sauce is hot enough to seal the meatballs so they don’t break up, but they cook all the way through very gently. Leave them about 30 minutes on a very low and slow simmer uncovered, otherwise they may break up. Do not allow them to boil madly or furiously or you will risk them all breaking up. Turn them over gently, and give them another fifteen minutes to half hour depending on their size and how hot your stove is. If the sauce seems to be getting a little too thick as it reduces, add a little more water, but no more than 1/4 cup at a time. The sauce should be a beautiful, rich red colour when they are all done.
Check for seasonings before serving.
When they are cooked, serve up with the cooked pasta, plenty of sauce, piled up in a dinner bowl, top with chopped fresh basil and or parsley and cheese if you like and dig in and enjoy. Very easy, very tasty, very memorable… Let me know if you try them and like them 🙂