Three-Meat Meatballs in Red Sauce

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What is it about Sundays that makes me want to eat a big, Italian, family meal? I didn’t grow up around extended family and I don’t have a drop of Italian ancestry. Yet Sunday afternoon rolls around and I dream of a kitchen full of chatty relatives, chopping, stirring, drinking wine, and good-naturedly yelling at each other. (In my fantasy, I’m mostly drinking wine and yelling. Or is that in real life?)

I can’t claim Italian blood and thus neither can I claim authenticity for these meatballs, but mamma mia, are they good. Yet another recipe from the paternal grandmother, this one was always reserved for special occasions. In fact, up until her death, only my grandmother was allowed to make them, which meant we couldn’t eat them unless we endured an arduous car trip from North Carolina to New Jersey. Hours spent bickering on the gridlocked Garden State Parkway were rewarded with tender meatballs and chewy Italian sausage swimming in red sauce. I still salivate when I see Exit 82.

I always make a huge batch of meatballs so I can eat them for lunch later in the week. If you double the meat, you’ll probably only need to increase the bread, onion, and grated Parmesan by 50-75%. If you can’t find ground veal (or don’t want to use it), just use pork and beef or all beef. To stretch the meal (and make less work for yourself), brown some fresh Italian sausage and simmer it alongside the meatballs.

The sauce may or may not be the world’s most awesome invention. I’ve seen lots of variations around the interwebs so I can’t take credit, but I do think the red wine is crucial. You can add fresh or powdered garlic, double the onion, whatever. A lot of recipes call for using whole peeled tomatoes and crushing them after some cooking time, but if you’re adding meatballs this becomes rather difficult. Save yourself the trouble and just used the already-crushed tomatoes: taste-wise, it’s identical and although the texture is different it won’t be so obvious with the other stuff floating in it.

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Three-Meat Meatballs

1/2 lb. ground beef
1/4-1/3 lb. ground pork
1/4-1/3 lb. ground veal
1 large egg
1 tsp. each salt, pepper, garlic powder
2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
4 slices of white bread or one large white roll, soaked in water
olive oil
1 lb. sweet or hot Italian sausage, cut into 2-inch chunks (optional)

1. After soaking the bread, press out as much water as possible by squeezing, then tear into small pieces.

2. Combine all ingredients thoroughly: use your hands to really mix it all together. Form into 2-inch balls.

3. Coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Brown meatballs in batches on all sides, turning gently. If you’re also cooking Italian sausage, brown it after the meatballs.

4. Add the meatballs and sausage to hot red sauce and simmer slowly for 1.5-2 hours. Serve over the pasta of your choice (I prefer rigatoni).

Awesome Sauce: World’s Easiest & Tastiest Pasta Sauce

Ingredients for ~1 lb. of meat and pasta; double for larger portions:
2 large (28 oz) cans of crushed tomatoes like Sclafani, Contadina or Cento
1 onion, peeled and cut in half but otherwise intact
4 Tbs. butter
4-6 Tbs. red wine

1. Empty the tomatoes into a heavy pot with lid. Add the onion, butter, and red wine and simmer 1.5-2 hours.

2. Just before serving, remove the onion and discard. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve.


Spätzle with Beef Goulash

Goulash and spätzle

Last week in New York was bitterly cold, a genuine arctic chill descending on the city with scathing, raw cruelty. It gave new meaning to the familiar imagery of winter’s icy fingers stabbing through thick coats and beneath woolly hats. As dank and cold as Edinburgh was throughout last winter and well into spring and summer, its predictable and consistent chilliness felt like an unpleasant bruise. The teeth-chattering, breath-stealing freeze of lower Manhattan in January feels like a slap to the face—a series of them. Brrr.

When the weather forces me to hurry from place to place in an effort to lose as little body heat as possible, I like to use my time in the kitchen as a counterpoint and cook long, slow dishes full of flavor and warmth. I don’t mind standing over a hot stove when outside the wind is howling and the snow is swirling. In fact, the steam rising from a pot of boiling water creates a humidifier effect, killing two birds with one stone as my dry skin takes on much-needed moisture!

I’m not sure if this dish qualifies as a true goulash but it shares enough ingredients with more traditional versions that I think it’s okay to use the name. It is not a soup. It’s not even really a stew, as it uses very little liquid. It’s just a braised meat dish that goes perfectly with my homemade spätzle, which is why I came up with it. I need no excuse to make these noodle-dumplings because they’re chewy little addictions; however, they do taste best paired something rich and slightly stew-y. If you’re a vegetarian, they’d go great with spicy lentils or vinegary, warm red cabbage.

The spätzle (also spelled spaetzle) comes down from my grandmother, the progeny of a Bavarian mother and an Alsatian father. Her recipe has no exact proportions and each time I’ve made it, somehow the amounts of flour and water are always slightly different. The best guidance is to get the mixture to the consistency of waffle batter—thick but still pourable—knowing you can always adjust by adding more water or flour if the first couple rounds don’t turn out the way you like. I also recommend making the batter about 20 minutes before cooking, as it thickens slightly with the wait.

Beef Goulash with Mushrooms

1.5 lbs sirloin tip or other stewing beef, cubed
1 med. onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. sweet paprika
1 tsp. tomato paste
1/4 c. red wine
1. c. beef broth
1 lb. button or cremini mushrooms, thick sliced
olive oil
4-6 Tbs. sour cream

1. In a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, heat olive oil on med-high and brown beef in batches, setting aside after each batch.

2. Drain any excess fat, leaving 2 Tbs. Still on med-high, sauté onion and garlic for five minutes. When softened and onion is getting brown, add paprika and tomato paste and stir, 30 seconds.

3. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and cook down, 1 minute. Return the beef and stir to combine.

4. Add broth and mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste, stirring all to combine. Cover and cook on low 45-90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Just before serving, turn off heat and stir in sour cream to taste. Serve immediately over hot spätzle.

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2 eggs
2 + cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1. Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. While it’s heating, make the batter and let it sit for a few minutes.

2. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Whisk in eggs.

3. Starting with 1 cup, whisk in water, adding more gradually until the mixture has the consistency of waffle batter.

4. When the water is boiling, hold the bowl in one hand, tilting it over the pot, and use a dull knife to “cut” the batter into the rolling water. (See photo.) Cut 3-4 noodles at a time. Allow them to rise to the surface and boil a further 2-4 minutes. (As the water gets low, the spätzle may stick and you may need to “help” them up by gently loosening them from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.)

5. Remove the noodles using a slotted spoon or spider. Place in a hot casserole dish and rub with butter to keep from sticking together. Keep the dish in the oven to stay warm while you cook the remaining spätzle.

"Cutting" the batter off the edge of the bowl.

“Cutting” the batter off the edge of the bowl.