Almost every night at my place it's a challenge to cook for the kids. They go through stages of what they like and dislike. Right now, for example, they love sushi and cannot get enough of it. But they also can't have it all the time. So I need to come up with meals that are simple, fast, nutritious - and fun.
Now that my son is in school full-time, dinner will become that much more important. When I was a kid it was my favourite part of the day, as it was the one time we were all together. I want the same experience for our kids, and since I love to cook I know it will be a treat for all of us.
Another thing I know: My children go crazy for my mother-in-law Trish's meatballs. The kids enjoy helping to make them - and the meatballs are gone as soon as they came out of the oven.
They also love a good spaghetti and meat sauce. So I got to thinking that maybe I should combine a great meatball with a great spaghetti and meat sauce and really wow them. It worked!
The recipe I am sharing today is one I have made for the kids on several occasions. They love it. And what's great for adults is that it can be made in advance, so it's on the table when they're ready for it. Whatever they don't eat is another meal for another day.
Enjoy, and remember that the secret to good meatballs is top-quality ingredients, from the meat to the garlic, cheeses and herbs. If you like spicy food just add more chili flakes. And always season well.
Spaghetti and meatballs and meat sauce
For the meatballs
½ pound lean ground pork
½ pound lean ground beef
3 garlic cloves crushed and chopped finely
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
½ cup chopped basil and sage
2/3 cup bread crumbs
½ cup parmesan
½ cup ricotta
Zest of one lemon
One whole egg
1 tsp chili flakes
1/3 cup of olive oil
In a large bowl combine all the ingredients and add a touch of salt. Mix together and let rest in the fridge for up to one hour.
When ready to go, preheat oven to 375 F. Roll 2 tbs of mixture into balls. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and over med high heat. Add balls and brown on both sides. Transfer to the oven and cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Hold until ready to serve.
For the pasta sauce
½ cup of olive oil
10 oz lean ground pork
10 oz lean ground veal
1 medium carrot peeled and diced
1 celery stalk diced
½ white onion diced
2 garlic cloves crushed and chopped
¼ cup of white wine
4½ cups chicken stock
¼ cup of tomato paste
One can of peeled plum tomatoes
¼ cup of sage leaves finely chopped
¼ cup of basil leaves finely chopped
1 lb of spaghetti (whole wheat if you prefer) cooked al dente
¼ cup of grated Parmesan
¼ cup of pancetta diced
In a large heavy pot heat half of the olive oil over a med high flame. Add the pork and the veal, season with white pepper and salt. Cook until browned, using a wooden spoon to break up the lumps. Remove from the heat and drain all fat through sieve. Reserve meat and discard the fat. Place the same pot over a medium high flame once again; you do not have to clean it as there is a lot of flavour still in there. Put 1 tbs of olive oil in and place the carrot, celery, onion, pancetta and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the cooked meat, wine, chicken stock, tomato paste, canned tomatoes and herbs and simmer for one hour.
When ready to serve take warm pasta in a large pan add sauce and toss over a low flame with the parmesan. Place on a large plate put the warm meatballs on top, add some more basil, more cheese if you wish and drizzle with a touch of olive oil.
Rob Feenie is the food concept architect for Cactus Restaurants in Western Canada. He has also published three cookbooks.