May 31, 2009

A Classic Standby...Pasta and Meatballs

I had planned to grill some new recipes today, but it's extremely windy here, and not very warm. There's even a frost warning for tonight, so the flowering baskets I bought last week are "hanging out" in the garage. I guess my outdoor planting projects will have to wait until another day. Instead, I'm pulling recipes together for summer canning and freezing, while everyone else seems content doing their own thing; especially Mr. Grumps, who is "putzin' out back".

The great part of this day, is that dinner is in the freezer. Every third Sunday or so during winter and spring, I make a huge pot of tomato sauce and about 3 dozen meatballs. They all get packaged into dinner portioned containers, and are ready to be cooked on days like today. You can make pizza, meatball subs, or my Sunday favorite...pasta and meatballs.

The sauce was made by trial and error. Even though my favorite way of making sauce is from fresh picked tomatoes, sometimes I have to resort to the canned variety because of the cost and quality of store bought tomatoes. I've experimented with a few brands, and my favorite as far as taste, color and texture is Furmano's. All that follows sounds like a lot of work, but it's worth it when you have a few weeks of meals stockpiled and ready. For freezing, you'll need: one box of gallon sized, ziploc freezer bags, and 4 or 5 ziploc storage containers (32 oz/4 cup size).
Italian Tomato Sauce w/Meatballs
Tomato Sauce
1 28 oz. can Furmano's tomato puree
1 28 oz. can Furmano's tomato sauce
1 28 oz. can Furmano's chunky crushed tomatoes (w/basil, garlic, oregano)
1/4 cup dry, red wine
1/4 cup chicken stock
7-8 basil leaves, chopped
olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
3 garlic cloves, chopped
sea salt/cracked pepper

Pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a large stock pot, or dutch oven. Saute the chopped garlic quickly without browning. You just want it to soften.

Add the 3 cans of tomato sauces, then the wine, chicken stock, salt/pepper, sugar and basil. Cover and simmer on medium low heat while you prepare the meatballs.

Sunday Meatballs
1 pound of 95% lean ground beef
1 pound of 80% ground beef
1/4 pound ground pork
2 cups Italian bread crumbs
1/4 cup romano cheese
1/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons dried parsley (or freshly chopped)
1 small sweet onion/chopped very fine
2 garlic cloves/chopped very fine
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
sea salt/pepper

Remember that the size of your meatballs depends on the amount you'll want to freeze. I like to shape mine into "golf balls"; sometimes even a bit smaller. If you're lucky enough to have a stand mixer, you're going to combine all the meatball ingredients together, and mix on medium speed with a dough hook for about 3-4 minutes, or until well combined.
You can mix everything together in a big bowl too; just wet your hands with a little warm water, and it will be easier to handle.

When all those delicious ingredients are mixed together, get out a big platter, and start rolling. After all the meat balls have been made, I place as many as I can right into the hot sauce. They will need to gently simmer (covered) for at least an hour. A lot of recipes call for frying or baking the meatballs before placing them in the sauce, and that's okay if you want to do that. I prefer them cooked directly in the sauce, but you can bake them at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes first.

(If you want to freeze some for later, place single layers of uncooked meatballs in ziploc freezer bags. Be sure to lay them flat in the freezer until thoroughly frozen.)

Once the meatballs are completely cooked and the sauce is nice and thickened, you can ladle everything right into the ziploc storage containers, leaving about a 1 inch headspace. Let the containers sit uncovered for 15 minutes to cool down, then cover and place right in the freezer.
Now be sure to have your favorite pasta stocked in the cupboard, and you'll always have a great meal ready to go. Grab some fresh Italian rolls, make a green salad, and your family will thank you again and again.

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