Serve up an Italian classic that pleases a crowd, with the best recipe ever for spaghetti and meatballs. In this episode of Food Network Canada Chef School, Mark McEwan delivers tried and true tips for making the time-honoured comfort food speciality, including the requisite marinara tomato sauce, with ease. And, if you’re wondering how to make real-deal meatballs on a weeknight, Mark has the answers, guiding you through an Italian meatballs and spaghetti dinner, complete with salad and baguette, by utilizing your pantry and freezer.
How to Make Classic Italian Meatballs for Spaghetti
In Mark’s meatball recipe, you’ll see there’s more to meatballs than meat. Ricotta makes them tender, while Parmesan acts in lieu of breadcrumbs, elevating the mix and keeping everything neat and tidy when rolling. Onions, cooked and cooled, are added for depth, while a good bit of salt and pepper season the mix.
Mark favours a medium-sized meatball, which gets rolled in flour before being seared, creating a flavourful brown crust – at this step, he notes, it’s important to not overcrowd the pan so the crust can form.
Of course, the perfect meatball needs the perfect marinara sauce, the heartbeat of the Italian kitchen.
A Simple Tomato Sauce Recipe for Your Meatballs
Canned San Marzano tomatoes are preferred by Mark because their sugar content is dialled-in for pasta sauce perfection, picked and canned within 24 hours. For this ultimate spaghetti and meatballs recipe, they’re worth seeking out. A bit of butter in the tomato sauce enriches the dish and creates a glossy, restaurant-quality look and taste.
For the pasta, keep your noodles al dente, with a touch of bite in the centre. The starch from the pasta binds the sauce, bringing everything together. The three components briefly cook in one pan, melding to create something super-special and ultra-delicious.
How to Freeze Meatballs
For those who want to get ahead of the game, freezing meatballs is essential for making a cozy, gourmet weeknight meal, in a flash. And Mark knows the perfect way to prepare meatballs for the freezer.
“I would cook them and then freeze them [in] plastic sealed containers. My wife does this all the time, she’ll make 300 meatballs and she’ll make a big batch of San Marzano tomato sauce. And then she puts eight meatballs in each container and then she covers them in sauce, lets them cool, pops them in the freezer and we eat perfect meatballs all month long. It’s the greatest fast dinner.”
To defrost the frozen meatballs, he recommends bringing them out the day before or slowly defrosting in the microwave (on a low setting) before finishing heating on the stovetop.
“They’re just the most amazing thing to have in your freezer,” Mark adds.
Batch-Cook Your Way to Dinner
Batch cooking helps this Chef create homemade meals that feed and please a crowd, any night of the week. It’s all about planning ahead, creating a pantry, refrigerator and freezer that works in your favour.
“We keep actually we keep Bolognese in the freezer, meatballs in sauce, and we keep straight sauce in plastic containers so that we can do a quick little meal,” says Mark. “One Saturday you do a bunch of stock, one Saturday you do your meatballs, the next Saturday you do your Bolognese and then you do your San Marzano [sauce], or you can do those together. You create this great inventory of products and you can always make a wonderful meal.”
An Italian Feast, Thanks to the Freezer
Continuing with a well-stocked freezer, Mark likes to keep baguettes in there, which would also pair nicely with meatballs and tomato sauce, with or without the pasta.
“I always have a baguette that gets cut in half, wrapped in foil and then [put in zip-top] bags,” he says. “I have them in the freezer so I can always take a baguette out, thaw it in the microwave throw it in the oven, crisp up the crust on it and I have a fresh baguette.”
And no pasta dinner is complete without a bright, fresh salad.
To make this happen, Mark keeps a well-stocked pantry, filled with such things as, “Good vinegars and good oils for throwing together a simple vinaigrette. A little bit of mustard, a little bit of anchovy paste, tiny bit of garlic. Boom. Fresh greens tossed. So healthy, so simple and it escapes a lot of people because…they overthink it.”
With spaghetti and meatballs on the table, an effortless salad ready to go and a baguette at hand to tear up and soak up that glossy San Marzano tomato sauce, dinner is served. Of course, a bottle of wine to complement the meal is a nice touch, if you have one handy.
All that’s left to do is twirl, slurp and dig in.