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spaghetti and meatballs for a crowd

November 10, 2011

A few weeks into apartment-living, Chris and I had a few friends over for dinner. As soon as I knew people would be coming over, this recipe jumped to my mind. It’s a pretty interesting method from the masterminds at Cook’s Illustrated–I mean, not only do you not have to saute the meatballs and wait for them to fall apart under your over-eager spoon (oh, is that just me?), but you bake *and* braise them. How cool is that? However, I could never really justify making enough meatballs to serve 8 to 10 people when it was just the two of us. Enter dinner party!

I have to say, these were probably some of the tastiest meatballs I’ve ever made. They were super-tender, and the flavor of the sauce laced itself throughout them. A couple of notes: this makes a lot of spaghetti. Like, a lot. We were eating it for weeks afterwards. (Okay, okay, so I probably should’ve listened to Chris when he questioned my decision to make three boxes of spaghetti.) If you’re serving 8 to 10, you could probably get away with just two boxes, maybe two and a half. Also, I found that there was too much sauce to fit all the meatballs and all of the tomato-y goodness into the Dutch oven at once. It didn’t end up being a big deal because the excess got stirred into the pasta anyway and I don’t think it made a huge difference, flavor-wise, but just something to watch out for before you spill tomato sauce all over yourself trying to get it all into the oven. Not that that’s ever happened to me before.

Spaghetti and Meatballs for a Crowd
2 1/4 cups (6 oz.) panko crumbs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk or 1 cup plain yogurt with 1/2 cup milk
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 lb. 85% lean ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
6 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped fine
3 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin dissolved in 3 tablespoons cold water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated onion from 1 to 2 onions [the food processor works magic with this step]
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
6 cups bottled tomato juice
3 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes
6 tablespoons dry white wine
3 lb. spaghetti [or 2…or 2 1/2]
1/2 cup minced fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1.  Place wire racks in 2 foil-lined rimmed baking sheets. Adjust oven racks to lower-middle and upper-middle positions and heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine bread crumbs and buttermilk in large bowl and let sit, mashing occasionally with a fork, until smooth paste forms, about 10 minutes. [It’ll look really appetizing. Try not to wolf it all down at this point.]
2. Add eggs, beef, pork, prosciutto, Parmesan, parsley, garlic, gelatin mixture, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to bread crumb mixture. Using hands, gently mix until thoroughly combined. Lightly form about 1/4 cup mixture into 2-inch round meatballs (about 2 oz.); repeat with remaining mixture to form approximately 40 meatballs.
3. Spray wire racks with nonstick cooking spray [this part is reeeeally important–don’t forget to spray or you’ll end up with sticky meat-bits] and place meatballs, evenly spaced, on racks; roast until browned, about 30 minutes, rotating trays from front to back and top to bottom halfway through.
4. While the meatballs roast, heat olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden around edges, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato juice, crushed tomatoes, wine, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.
5. Remove meatballs from oven and lower oven temperature to 300 degrees. Gently add meatballs to sauce, cover pot, and place in oven. [If needed, take some sauce out before covering.] Cook until meatballs are firm and sauce has thickened, about 1 hour.
6. Meanwhile, bring 10 quarts water to boil in 12-quart pot. Add pasta and 2 tablespoons salt to boiling water; cook until al dente. Drain pasta and return to cooking pot.
7. Stir basil and parsley into sauce and adjust seasoning with sugar, salt, and pepper. Toss pasta with 1 1/2 cups sauce until lightly coated. Serve pasta, passing meatballs, remaining sauce, and grated Parmesan separately.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated

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