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The second of 2 recipe's from the Today Show On 11 Oct. 2007 Spaghetti and meatballs may seem like an odd dish for a fancy restaurant like Coco Pazzo, but my customers are always looking for the tastes they remember from childhood. I don’t fry my meatballs, as Pino does. I simmer them in the tomato sauce until they’re cooked through. Pino may turn up his nose at this classic Italian-American shortcut, but a lot of fine chefs simmer ground meat this way so that it retains its moisture. When I trained with a chef in Germany, I watched him simmer his sausages before he grilled them. They never shrank or dried out. I thought of those plump sausages when I was working on my meatball recipe in the kitchen of Coco Pazzo and decided to just drop the uncooked meatballs into the tomato sauce, with no breading or sautéing. The result was plump, juicy meatballs. What’s more, the sauce was deliciously flavored by the meat. A lot of home cooks use bland commercial white bread in their meatballs, but it’s worth it to seek out bread with some flavor. I like sourdough bread for the slight acidity it lends to the meatballs; it adds another flavor dimension. If you are like Pino and can’t bear the idea of meatballs on top of spaghetti (I’d like to know how many of you there are out there!), you can prepare this dish without the spaghetti and simply serve the meatballs in the sauce with lots of crusty artisan bread.
for the meatball
- 1 cup day-old sourdough bread cubes (crust removed)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
- 8 ounces ground veal
- 8 ounces ground chuck
- 8 ounces ground lean pork
- 8 ounces sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings and crumbled (about 2)
- 3 tablespoons dried oregano, preferably Sicilian
- 2 ounces freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- 2 ounces freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
- 2 large eggs
- 1⁄4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, for the sauce
- 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1⁄2 medium red onion, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1⁄2 cup dry red wine
- 2 (28 ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, with the juice, pureed in a food processor
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (to taste)
- 1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more)
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1⁄2 lb spaghetti or 1⁄2 lb linguine
- To make the meatballs: Place the bread and milk in a medium bowl and let soak for 5 minutes.
- Heat a 7- to 8-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, and when it is hot, add the olive oil. Add the onion and cook until soft and golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.
- Place the veal, beef, pork, and sausage in a large bowl and, using your hands, mix well. Add the oregano, cheeses, eggs, parsley, and bread one at a time, mixing until thoroughly combined after each addition. Add the onion and mix until very well combined. Add the salt and pepper. Set aside.
- To make the sauce: Heat a 10-quart casserole over medium heat, and when it is hot, add the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook until wilted. Add the tomato paste and stir for 1 minute. Add the wine, tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of salt, and red pepper flakes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste if necessary.
- While the tomato sauce is cooking, form the meatballs: Take a piece of meat the size of a golf ball and roll it between the palms into a ball. Add it to the sauce, and repeat with the remaining meatballs.
- Return the sauce to a simmer and simmer gently until the meatballs are cooked through, about 11/2 hours. Be sure to cook the meatballs at a very gentle simmer; if the sauce boils, the fat will separate from the meat and they will dry out. When you think they are done, remove one from the pot and cut into it with a paring knife. If it is still pink in the middle, continue to cook until done, another 10 to 15 minutes.
- Just prior to serving, fill a 10-quart stockpot with 7 quarts (6.5 liters) of water and bring to a boil. Add the 2 tablespoons of salt and spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain, add to the pan with the meatballs and sauce, and carefully toss to coat. Serve immediately.
- Tips: To see if you’ve added enough salt and pepper to the meatball mixture, before shaping the meatballs, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Pinch off a grape-sized piece of meatball mixture, roll it into a ball, and drop it in the pot. When it is cooked through, in about 2 minutes, taste it and adjust the seasoning before rolling all of your meatballs.
- To roll nice round meatballs without having the meat stick to your hands, moisten your hands with cold water before you start, and then again as necessary.
- Wine: This calls for a solid but not murderously expensive Chianti. No need to buy a Riserva; just don’t buy anything in a straw-covered bottle. If an American wine is in order, try a good Zinfandel from Ridge Vineyards.