A pasta and meatballs classic

Unless you have the entire Mafia Womens’ League on your unpaid payroll, this Italian-American pasta and meatballs classic is a great moment to display your skills as a solo cook.

A pasta and meatballs classic
Photo: FJ Potgieter
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To feed four diners you will need:

  • 500g of spaghetti
  • 400g of minced beef
  • 2 onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cans of tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 big bunch of fresh parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
  • 200g of Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper and salt on demand

You will note two things about this ingredient list.

First, no wine. Second, this is not SpagBol in a fedora. Next, buy standard, industrially made pasta. You can, of course, make your own. You can also get up at 3am to bake your own bread and train your own bees to bring you their honey. Artisanal cooking, while lots of fun for children, is nothing but trouble for those in a hurry.

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With focus and stalwart determination, you can get this meal on the road in under half an hour.

1 Rinse the parsley before finely chopping the bunch and reserving it in a bowl. Next, make the breadcrumbs by dumping a couple of slices of yesterday’s bread into a food processor and revving it to the red line. You can also buy breadcrumbs at your local supermarket, if you don’t have a food processor. Reserve the crumbs.

2 Place the minced beef into a large bowl. Grate the cheese, add half to the meat and reserve half for later. Pour in half a cup or so of the chopped parsley, four tablespoons of breadcrumbs and the egg. Season lightly with salt and black pepper, then combine all the ingredients with some light, high-speed stirring with a wooden spoon.

3 Now for the finesse. Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a cast-iron skillet or a large heavy-based stainless steel frying pan to medium-high. Roll the meat mixture into golf balls. Carefully add these to the hot oil, ensuring they do not touch. Drop the heat marginally and let them fry unmoved and undisturbed for five minutes. Add thinly sliced onion and finely minced garlic to the pan, surrounding, but not submerging, the meatballs. Drop in the bay leaves.

4 Decant the canned tomatoes into a bowl and mash them with a potato masher. Pour the mashed tomatoes and their juice into the frying pan, over the meat, onions and garlic. Drop the heat to a mild simmer, fit the lid and let the sauce thicken. Inspect from time to time to avoid burning.

5 Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil while the sauce is thickening. Cook the pasta according to the manufacturer’s instructions on the packet. When done, drain and return to the pot.

6 Meanwhile, back in the skillet or frying pan, gently shift the meatballs to one side. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper if necessary. Chuck out the bay leaves. Transfer 50% of the sauce to the cooked pasta in its pot. Stir for a few minutes over low heat.

7 Serve the pasta in warmed bowls. Add the meatballs and the rest of the sauce. Complete the adventure with the remaining Parmesan cheese and a generous sprinkling of parsley.

David Basckin is a freelance journalist and videographer.

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