What today seems to be a dinnertime staple for busy families, spaghetti and meatballs (or meat sauce) was not something found on my childhood dinner table (see Snow and Spaghetti). And, technically, since I was a farm kid, it’s “supper table”, not “dinner table”.
In college, spaghetti with marinara sauce (usually the cheapest jar of spaghetti sauce I could find) was a once-a-week, affordable, and filling meal. As a splurge, my roommates and I might scrape together a couple of dollars to buy a pound of Italian sausage to add to the sauce. Usually, the smell of the sausage cooking would have the added bonus of bringing the cute guys who lived in the upstairs apartment down for a visit with stomachs growling. Why didn’t I think of subsidizing my college expenses by cooking for other students? Talk about entrepreneurship!
After we were married and had kids, spaghetti with meat sauce was one of the meals my husband would make. He would always mention how his mom would make meatballs and let them simmer in spaghetti sauce for hours and how much he loved breaking apart those tender meatballs.
Shortly after a good friend gave me the recipe for her Sweet & Sour Meatballs, it dawned on me that this recipe could easily be adapted for Italian meals. I realize there are tons and tons of Italian meatball recipes out there but, in my defense, this was before Pinterest (gasp!) and modifying a tried-and-true recipe is always great place to start.
This recipe has become a family favorite, not only for spaghetti with meatballs but also for meatball hoagies, minestrone-style soups, pizza topping, and amazing appetizers. One batch will make about 120 small meatballs (about 1″ diameter) which means I have enough for a big Italian dinner and plenty to freeze for future meals (or for my boys to steal on their next trip home).
No, I am not above bribing my kids with food.
Iowa-Girl Italian Meatballs
- 6 ounces sliced turkey pepperoni
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 pound ground Italian turkey sausage
- 1 cup finely diced onion
- 4-6 cloves garlic minced
- 2 cups flaky breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2-1 cup milk
- Place turkey pepperoni in a food processor and pulse to finely chop.
- In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, except milk, by hand.
- Add 1/2 cup milk and mix, by hand, until well combined. If mixture does not hold together easily or seems dry, add more milk, a little at a time, until the mixture can be easily formed into balls.
- Form meatballs using a cookie scoop to ensure consistent sizes.
- Oven Method: Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of a large roasting pan or two 9”x13” pans and place meatballs inside.Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes for smaller (1 1/2”) meatballs or 30-35 minutes for larger (2”) meatballs. Cut one meatball in half to ensure they are ready. The inside should be consistent in color and texture. Since this recipe contains poultry, it is especially important to cook them properly.
- Stove-Top Method (with sauce): Drizzle olive oil in a large dutch oven or sauté pan and bring to medium or medium-high heat. Add desired number of meatballs to the pan without crowding and brown on all sides. Add spaghetti sauce or favorite pasta sauce to meatballs in the pan, reduce heat, cover partially and simmer for at least 15 minutes to finish cooking the meatballs.
Tonight, I will surprise my husband with the smell of spaghetti and meatballs when he walks in the door. I have no idea how my meatballs compare to those from his childhood and I’m not concerned. I know that they will bring back happy memories of his mom and that, in turn, will make me happy.
That, and the fact that I have more meatballs in the freezer!
Come on home, boys!