Twelve Steps to Meatballs and Marinara

From Cook's Country | October/November 2012
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Big meatballs usually have to be browned in batches, and they often sag under their own weight. We solve those problems and show you how to make marinara at the same time.

1. BROWN ONIONS: Sauté chopped onions in oil until golden. 

WHY? The fond from the browned onions will add depth to the sauce and meatballs.

2. ADD AROMATICS: Sauté garlic, oregano, and pepper flakes with the browned onions until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 

WHY? A brief “blooming” draws out the flavor of these aromatics.

3. RESERVE HALF: Transfer half of the seasoned onion mixture to a large bowl. 

WHY? You’ll use half of this mixture for the sauce and the other half for the meatballs. By starting them together, we’ve streamlined the recipe and saved you time.

4. ADD TOMATO PASTE AND WINE: Sauté the tomato paste for one minute and then add the wine and cook for two minutes. 

WHY? Cooking the tomato paste brings out its flavor. The wine needs to reduce so some of the alcohol will cook out.

5. STIR IN WATER AND TOMATOES: Reduce the heat to low and add the water and tomatoes. 

WHY? The sauce needs to cook for at least 45 minutes to develop flavor—without the water, it would over-reduce and be too thick.

6. ADD CHEESE AND SEASON SAUCE: After the sauce has reduced, stir in 1⁄2 cup of Parmesan and the basil, and then add sugar and salt to taste. 

WHY? The cheese adds flavor, the basil brings freshness, and sugar helps balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

7. MAKE PANADE: Mash bread and milk into the reserved onion mixture to make a paste. 

WHY? The paste, which is called a panade, binds the meatballs and adds moisture and richness.

8. ADD FLAVORINGS: Combine and mash together crumbled raw sausage, Parmesan, fresh parsley, eggs, garlic, and salt. 

WHY? These ingredients season and help bind the meatballs, so it’s important that they’re thoroughly incorporated.

9. ADD BEEF LAST: Gently work the ground beef into the mixture. 

WHY? Overworked ground beef makes for dense, rubbery meatballs. Adding it last helps prevent overkneading.

10. FORM INTO BALLS: Gently roll the mixture into 2 1⁄2-inch meatballs. Use a ruler to measure the first one, and use that first meatball as your guide. 

WHY? Even sizing means even cooking—this recipe makes big meatballs.

11. BROWN IN OVEN: Bake the meatballs on a baking sheet at 475 degrees for about 20 minutes. 

WHY? The hot oven will give the meatballs a tasty seared crust, and baking is easier and neater than browning on the stovetop.

12. FINISH IN SAUCE: Transfer the browned meatballs to the pot with the marinara and cook together for 15 minutes. 

WHY? So the meatballs can finish cooking (and flavor the sauce in the process).

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