Friday, May 25, 2012

Italian Meatballs and Veggie Ragu

Who doesn't like spaghetti!?

This completly from-scratch red sauce is packed with veggies - and there are meatballs for the carnivores - you can't go wrong!

Veggie Ragu:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 zucchini, diced
  • 3 ribs of celery, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper diced
  • 4-6 mushrooms, diced/chopped
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 6 medium to large vine ripened tomatoes, shredded
  • 1/2 cup good red wine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 4-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced

Start with 2 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot - add onion and saute for 2-3 minutes.

Add zucchini, celery and green pepper, saute for another 2-3 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and carrot, cook another 2-3 minutes.

Shred the tomatoes.
I know, that sounds weird, but it's a technique I recently learned about, it leaves them with this great consistency, and once the shredding is done, all you're left with is the skin - you don't need a separate pan with boiling water to remove the skin!

I had 6 medium to large vine ripened tomatoes There are only 5 pictured, you say? Yeah, not sure what happened to the 6th, but I assure you, I used 6!

Using a box grater (this one is from IKEA) I started shredding! And, voila! Shredded tomato, 1 piece of skin.

There is a decent amount of liquid - you can drain it out, or use it... this time, I threw it all in the pot and let it cook down, but for a thicker sauce, you can remove it.

Add in the rest of the ingredients, red wine, balsamic, salt and pepper, minced garlic and lemon juice - and allow to cook for at least an hour - more if you have time - this can cook all day on real low heat and would be fabulous!

While the sauce cooks, you can make your meatballs.

Italian Meatballs:
  • 4 large slices sourdough bread
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. Italian sausage
  • 1teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigano cheese
  • 5 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs - Italian parsley, basil, oregano, celery leaf - whatever you like
Preheat your oven to 350`. Tear the bread into small pieces, place in a large mixing bowl. Pour the milk and egg right on top of the bread to soften it.

Add the rest on the ingredients to the bowl.

When it comes to the herbs, I used mostly Italian parsley and celery leaf, with about 6-8 leaves each of basil and oregano - but you can use whatever you like - or leave it out if you don't like it at all!

Now comes the fun part - mix with your hands!
Julian got a kick out of this!

Make sure it is combined really well.

Get your broiler pan ready by spraying with non-stick spray to keep the meatballs from sticking. I like to use a broiler pan because it drains the fat away from the meat. Scoop heaping tablespoons and roll into balls.

Note - this is a 6 year old's hand - my meatballs were not this huge! You can make really big meatballs if you want, but they will have to cook longer in the oven!

Arrange them on the broiler pan for baking - they need to have a little space so they don't stick, but they can be pretty close together.

Bake in the 350` oven for about 20 minutes, until they are cooked thru.

Now, if everyone is eating meat, add these all to the ragu for the last 20 minutes of cooking to soften and combine flavors.
For my family, I usually remove about 1/4 to 1/3 of the ragu, and place it in a separate pot to continue cooking, and add the meatballs to the original pot for the boys and Nate. This total recipe of meatballs will fit nicely in the total recipe of ragu, so depending on what ratio you are having with/without meat judge how many meatballs you should add. The remainder will freeze well for another use. (Nate LOVES the leftovers as meatball sandwiches for lunch!)

About the time you add the meatballs, you can start the pasta water boiling. I cook about a lb. of pasta in salted water for my family - there are always leftovers. Today, I used fettuccine, but anything works - penne, spaghetti...

After about 20 minutes in the sauce - the meatballs start to soften slightly, and their flavor combines with the sauce.

I usually like to toss the noodles with a little sauce right before serving, then add a little more sauce on top along with the meatballs.
This is for the boys:

And this is mine, without meatballs, topped with fresh shredded Pecarino Romano:

Serve with a tossed salad, crusty Italian bread and a glass of wine!



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