Meatballs and pasta (spaghettini, bucatini, etc.) is a favorite combo in this household, especially as I make my own tomato sauce.
This dish has its origins in my late grandmother’s Sunday dinners, for which she would cook meat in “tomato gravy” all day. The meat — usually her handmade meatballs, thin Italian sausage with parsley and braciole –was browned and then fully cooked in the tomato sauce set to the lowest simmer possible. The pot sat atop a pale green Chambers gas stove, which was a work of art. The house filled with the aroma of the tomatoes. I clearly violated tradition here by serving the meat with the pasta. For our family Sunday dinners, the pasta was served first with sauce gently poured over each individual serving bowl. The meat came out on a platter as the second course, usually served with a Boston lettuce salad with oil and vinegar. This was our meal every other Sunday and the drive home to our house provided time to recover from ravioli-itus, or the effects of eating way too much ravioli. We could not help ourselves because the ravioli was from a shop on Arthur Avenue in The Bronx. I cannot quite recreate that experience cooking for two in Houston, so I have adapted. The major difference I have incorporated by living in Texas is using ground venison.
There is very little grease when browning the meat because venison is so lean. That also ratchets down the guilt level with this dish. To get started, I peel a lot of garlic and saute it in a sauce pan with diced onion. Last night, I initially forgot the onion and ended up sautéing that separately on the raclette grill before folding it into my meatballs. Once the garlic turns gold, add canned tomatoes (preferably plum). Bring to a boil, turn down to simmer and add salt and pepper. Cover and move onto the meatballs preparation. Place chopped parsley, breadcrumbs and egg in a bowl. Typically, you use one egg per pound of meat, but given the leanness of venison, I go with two eggs to bind the meat better. Combine with your hands and shape into balls as you place them on the grill. Let them gently cook, browning on all sides.
In the meantime, place a pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta. To put it all together, place the pasta in a serving bowl, ladle on some sauce (but not too much!) and place the meatballs on top. Garnish with fresh parsley and grated Italian cheese (we prefer parmesan for this). Leave excess sauce on the side. I stored the leftover pasta with meatballs separate from the sauce so that the pasta doesn’t get soggy. This was easily pulled together and clean up was a snap because our raclette grill is non-stick. I just put it in the sink, turned on the water and wiped it down with a brush.
Meatballs: ground meat, egg, parsley and breadcrumbs
Tomato sauce: olive oil, garlic, onion, canned tomatoes, salt and pepper
Pasta: Your preference. I think long pasta is better for this kind of dish. Still, ravioli is the best.