In a recent chat with my Uncle the topic of Italian versus Italian-American cuisine came up. (Note: we concluded that both are amazing!) He spent some time making me drool by talking about the great Italian-American dishes of his youth that he enjoyed both at home and in restaurants, from pizzas to sauteed chicken livers. Although you can argue all day long about regionality and ingredients in the Italian ghettos of America and that of the ‘Old Country,’ the common thread that runs through Italian and Italian-American cooking is thriftiness! Both focus on making something truly fantastic out of even the tiniest of scraps and feature dishes incorporating parts of animals that most Americans would ignore.
Today, I pay homage to the iconic dish of ‘Little Italys’ across this nation of immigrants with Spaghetti and Meatballs. So throw a red checkered tablecloth down, pop the cork on a bottle of chianti and play a tune from the Rat Pack while you tuck into a big old plate of pasta!
These recipes, for the marinara sauce and for the meatballs, have great potential on their own or together. This marinara sauce is a great vegetarian tomato sauce! Swap the meatballs for some sauteed mushrooms and veggies and you have yourself a great vegetarian meal. I love these meatballs, they are soft and flavorful but still hold together quite well, I added some chicken livers to lighten the texture without skimping on a ‘meaty’ flavor. Any leftover meatballs would make a fine meatball sandwich or be yummy in a calzone.
Makes approx 8 cups – cost approx $2.41 per batch
- 1 large onion ($.25)
- 2 carrots ($.10)
- 2-3 ribs celery ($.15)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 1 small can tomato paste ($.50)
- 1/2 cup red wine ($.20)
- 1 large (28oz) can crushed tomatoes ($.88)
- 3 cups vegetable stock or water
- 2 bay leaves
- dried Mediterranean herbs – use any sort you like, I added about a teaspoon each of basil, thyme and oregano
- salt and pepper – to taste
- 1/2 cup milk ($.08)
Cut the onion, carrot and celery in to large pieces. Puree the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in a food processor until very fine and homogenous.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pot over medium heat and sweat your processed veggies for 5 minutes. Next, add the tomato paste. Cook for 5-10 minutes, allowing the tomato paste to brown, stirring occasionally. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and be sure to scrape the brown deliciousness from the bottom of the pan. Add all remaining ingredients, except the milk, and allow to simmer and reduce for 2 hours. To finish the sauce, taste it and adjust the seasonings if necessary and stir in the milk. Simmer for another 5 minutes to meld all the flavors.
Makes approx 12 meatballs, serves 3-4 – cost approx $1.09 per batch
- 1/2 onion ($.10)
- 2 oz chicken livers – I save them in a baggie in the freezer from my roast chickens, a bit of bacon would be an awesome substitution if you are liver-wary
- 8 oz Italian sausage ($.50 coupons, baby! Woot.)
- 4 oz bread crumbs
- 2 large eggs ($.24)
- Salt and pepper – to taste
- 2 Tbs olive oil
Cut the onion into large pieces and pulse several times in a food processor until minced small. Add the chicken livers and sausage into the food processor and pulse a few more times until everything is fully mixed. In a bowl, mix all other ingredients, except the olive oil. If the mixture seems too loose, add a little more bread crumbs. Roll meatballs into whatever size your little heart desires, I like mine about golf ball sized. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan and make up a tiny meatball to check the flavors and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Brown the meatballs on all sides.
At this point the meatballs aren’t fully cooked, so simmer them in the marinara sauce for 15-30 minutes, depending on the size of your meatballs. Add some pasta and you’re good to go! Buon Appetito!