I wrote a tell-all memoir for an Italian chef in New York who claimed, as his greatest influence, his mother’s recipe for meatballs. In fact, read enough chef memoirs and you’ll learn that EVERY chef worth his salt attributes his success to his mother’s meatballs. That includes me and I’m not even Italian.
I was raised in the age of raw chuck. “Chopped meat,” my mom called it, and whenever she and my dad were going out in that ditzy Madmen era formerly known as the late ‘60s, she prepared home-made meatballs – ground in a hand-cranked grinder that attached to our green-flecked, formica kitchen counter top. Dipping my hands into the Pyrex mixing bowl for a sample of that well-seasoned, egg-inflected mix? Without a doubt, that is where my love of cooking (and steak tartare!) was born.
The ballast, heart and soul of raising my precious boys as a formerly single dad involved cooking for them every night of the week. No matter if work held me up, the subway was an hour late, or snow was filling my desperately hole-y work boots. I still squished into our grocery store, and especially on the late nights, grabbed the easiest ingredients I could to whip up something that resembled dinner.
Two things have changed since my boys were little. One, they’ve each topped 6-feet. And second, when they see that bowl of chopped meat on the counter, they both volunteer to roll up their sleeves and help Dad make dinner.
Spaghetti and meatballs hits all the right notes for feeding your children and your soul, whether you’re going it alone or simply exhausted at the end of an impossibly long day. It takes 15 minutes start to finish, the house smells great, and whomever you are serving will drop the technology and tuck into a meal that rivals the best Italian in your neighborhood. Get that garlic sautéeing and who knows? You might even have a child or two poking their fingers in the bowl and helping you roll those balls.
Foolproof Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp of Dijon mustard (moutarde)
- a couple of cloves of garlic, a tbsp. of extra virgin
- a few pinches of Italian breadcrumbs
- a shake of Worcestershire or soy sauce
- Lawry’s, Crazy Jane or any fun salt and black pepper
- 14-ounce can of store-bought plain tomato sauce
Throw the meat in a decent-sized bowl.
Crack the egg and portion out maybe 1 tsp of egg yolk and dump on top.
Add in the salt, Worcestershire and moutarde.
Mix and knead with your hands until it starts to feel firm. Add the breadcrumbs and this will help firm it up (and give it crunch when cooked).
Heat oil and garlic to medium high in a 10-12” stick-free frying pan.
Roll and add meatballs to pan, one tasty plop at a time. Brown for several minutes per side, shaking them in the pan like a pro.
Once browned, add the sauce, cover and simmer, shaking slightly every so often. Done in 15 minutes, max.
If sauce seems too little, add another can, or better yet, 3 or 4 broth ice cubes you’ve frozen and saved from last week’s soup!
Pluck your meatballs from the pan and serve in a pretty dish. Dump the sauce on a pound of spaghetti or any fun-shaped pasta. Serve with salad, red wine for the chef, and discuss anything but homework and grades with children. Finish with Oreos or gelato.