What makes a meatball tender and juicy? The Filler Man knows. We discuss how to make them, how to cook them, and then things get a little bulgur. Recipes: Chicken and Spinach Meatballs; Cafe Lago Meatballs. www.spilledmilkpodcast.com
SPAGHETTI WITH CAFE LAGO MEATBALLSFor sauce:
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, finely chopped, with their juices
10 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions, halved and peeled
1/2 tsp. table salt
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup whole milk, or more if needed
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 cup finely ground (not grated) Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving
1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 tsp. table salt
5 grinds black pepper
2 large eggs
2 large cloves garlic, pressed
1 lb. dried spaghetti
To make the sauce, combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter, onion halves, and salt in a large, wide pan, such as 5-quart Dutch oven. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, at a slow but steady simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free from the tomato. Taste for seasoning. Remove and discard the onion (or eat them, if desired). Using an immersion blender, process briefly to break up any chunks of tomato. (Alternatively, the back of a wooden spoon works, too.) The sauce will not be perfectly smooth, but its texture should be even.
While the sauce cooks, make the meatballs. Put the breadcrumbs and milk in a small bowl, and stir to moisten the crumbs evenly. Set aside for 10 minutes, or until the crumbs are swollen and thoroughly saturated.
Put the ground meats in a large bowl. Break them up into chunks. Add the Parmigiano Reggiano, parsley, salt, and pepper.
In a small bowl, beat the eggs well with a fork. Add the garlic, and beat to mix. Pour into the bowl with the meat.
Using your hands, squeeze the milk from the bread crumbs, reserving the milk. Add the bread crumbs to the bowl with the meat.
Holding your hand in a claw shape (fingers separated, tensed, and slightly bent) and moving in a strong, quick stirring motion, mix the meats and their seasonings. When the mixture looks well combined, pick it up and turn it over in the bowl, and then mix some more. (Turning it over helps to ensure that no ingredient settles to the bottom and clumps there.) This stirring process should be fairly brief; do not work the meat until it smears on the side of the bowl. Chill until the sauce is ready.
When the sauce is ready, remove it from the heat, and keep it close at hand. Remove the meatball mixture from the refrigerator. Moisten your hands with the reserved milk, and then pinch off bits of the mixture and gently roll them into golf ball-size meatballs. Place the meatball in the pan of sauce. Repeat, arranging the meatballs in a single layer in the pan of sauce. Return the pan to the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through and no longer pink inside.
Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water. Drain, and transfer to a serving bowl. Spoon desired amount of sauce onto the pasta, leaving the meatballs in the pan, and toss well. Divide among plates, and top with meatballs and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Note: If possible, make the meatballs and sauce a day ahead, or even a few hours ahead, and chill until ready to use. Reheat gently on the stovetop.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings