This is an absolute favourite recipe of mine, which is quite involved. It is excellent for entertaining guests or when you just need the perfect comfort food. The best part is that it is a comfort food that also nourishes, as this sauce is packed densely with vegetables. Its depth of flavour is unparalleled by any plain tomato sauce. Credits for the idea of using a hand-held immersion blender (required in this recipe) goes to my friend Cheslyn (@thee_singing_chef on Instagram) who made me this dish when I visited him in Mallorca in September 2018. Credits for the meatball recipe goes to Chef John on allrecipes.com, which I have modified to suit my needs (i.e., more spicy). A dutch oven is also required for the stovetop-to-oven transfer.
Even more flavourful after a day of intermingling, this recipe makes enough for 8-10 servings with plenty of leftovers (also freezes well).
For pasta, I make fresh spaghetti using Jamie Oliver’s egg pasta recipe. Good quality dried pasta is acceptable, too, in a pinch. I will harp again as I have on previous blog posts on using good quality everything: from the ground meats to the eggs, the wine to the garlic. Make your immense labour of love worthwhile with a truly high quality dish.
This recipe jumps a bit between the ingredient lists given the multi-tasking required. I highly recommend reading ahead before diving in!
Makes 8-10 servings
1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
1 pound ground grass-fed beef
1 pound ground pork
2 free range eggs
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, pressed
4 tablespoons Parmesan, finely grated
Meatball spice mix
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorn, freshly ground
1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1 teaspoon Hungarian hot paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed and rubbed with fingers
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed and rubbed with fingers
2 large red peppers, cored and quartered
2 medium onions, medium diced (1 1/2 cup)
2 large carrots, medium diced (1 1/2 cup)
4 stalks celery, medium diced (1 1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 cup good quality, dry Italian red wine
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
fresh spaghetti, cooked al dente
freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Lay out on a parchment-lined baking tray and lay the red pepper quarters skin side down, lightly drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle a small pinch of salt and a few cranks of black pepper. Give it a little massage. Roast in oven on middle rack for 30 minutes until the skins are charred. Remember to remove and set aside when done and reduce the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Now prepare the meatballs. Leave the ground meat out to let come to room temperature. Soak bread crumbs in milk and let sit for 20 minutes.
- Heat a small amount of olive oil on a cast iron pan on medium-low. Cook and stir the 1 cup of chopped onion until translucent, about 20 minutes.
- In a large bowl, add the beef, pork, eggs, parsley, garlic, Parmesan, “meatball spice mix,” bread crumb mixture, and cooked onions. Massage thoroughly and deliberately using your hand.
- Form 4-cm diameter meatballs with your palms in a rolling-and-compacting motion and arrange on a parchment-lined baking tray so they are not touching one another. Cover with cling wrap and chuck in the freezer for 20 minutes while you prep the sauce ingredients.
- Get ready to brown the meatballs. Heat a splash of olive oil in a large dutch oven on medium-high. Take out the meatball tray from the freezer and shake a tablespoon-full of flour on top of them. After gently rolling each meatball in the flour, add them to the dutch oven. Working in batches, brown the meatballs on all sides until golden brown. Remove and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate.
- Add another good glug of olive oil into the dutch oven. Throw in the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, a good pinch of salt and a few good cranks of black pepper. Cook until tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes.
- Add wine to deglaze. Using a flat-ended wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan, releasing the flavour bombs left behind by the meatball browning. Bring to a boil.
- Add the roasted red peppers and crushed tomatoes and bring to a gentle bubble. Blend using an immersion blender until a smooth. Taste and season as appropriate.
- Add the meatballs back into the dutch oven and stir so they are entirely covered in the sauce. Put the lid on top and braise in the oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 hours.
- Ladle on top of cooked fresh spaghetti and serve with freshly grated Parmesan.