This recipe was adapted from my Aunt Sally’s recipe for her spaghetti and meat sauce. If I had to name the all-time favorite family recipe of my immediate family and my Aunt Sally and Uncle Nat’s family, it would be this recipe for spaghetti with meat sauce. My cousins Paul, Bobby, and Janie, and my brother Kenny and I all loved this dish. And when you are dealing with picky eaters, and my cousin Janie and my brother Kenny would both get first place in that category, that’s pretty good.
My mother made this recipe at least once or twice a month. My father (Murray Fried) also adored this dish, and it was one of the few meat dishes he really loved. I can picture my wonderful father sitting across from me eating his spaghetti and sauce with pure delight as he sopped up some of the extra sauce with one piece of garlic bread after another. My father always had a piece of garlic bread in his left hand at all times! I still remember the bowl that my mother used to serve the sauce in. It was a pink, plastic bowl. (Just the other day when I was over my mother’s house, I checked up in the kitchen cabinet to make sure that pink bowl was still there. I was actually relieved when I found it. It’s amazing how we can associate certain inanimate objects with some of our most treasured memories.) Anyway, back in the day when my mother brought that bowl of steaming, red, thick sauce over to the table, I thought I was in heaven! I couldn’t wait to spoon a ton of that sauce on top of my plate of spaghetti.
When I began to cook for my own family, of course this became one of my children’s favorites. Of all my children, my youngest son Benji was the one who really went crazy for this. He literally would (and still does at 18 years old) pick the plate up and lick every last drop of sauce off the plate. Benji could eat this 3 times a week and never get tired of it. I loved watching Benji eat his food! Of course, I also enjoyed cooking this dish for my parents. I got such pleasure looking across the table at my parents as they enjoyed my spaghetti and meat sauce the same way my parents kvelled as they watched me devour my plate of spaghetti when I was a child.
The meatballs were something I added because my children started to request them. My mother contended that there was no need for meatballs, since there was so much meat in the sauce. But my father loved the meatballs, and so did my children, my husband, and I. So the meatballs stayed, and I’ve been making the meatballs ever since. These meatballs are light and juicy and tasty. Everyone who eats them says they are the best meatballs in the world!
for the sauce:
- about 2 pounds chop meat- 85% – 90% lean (original recipe called for 2 1/2 lbs)
- 2 medium onions or 1 large onion
- 6-7 garlic cloves
- 4-26 oz. boxes of Pomi strained tomatoes or 4-28 oz. cans whole plum tomatoes in either thick puree or tomato juice – You don’t need to do anything with the Pomi strained tomatoes; they are already pureed. If you are using the plum tomatoes in the can, then you will need to put the tomatoes into the bowl of the food processor with the metal blade, reserving the puree or juice in the cans, and pulse until the tomatoes are just slightly chunky- about the consistency of chunky applesauce. If you use tomatoes in thick puree, your sauce will be thicker. If you use tomatoes in juice, then your sauce will be a little less thick. I use the Pomi strained tomatoes because they are amazing, and they don’t need to be chopped or processed in the food processor!)
- 3 6-oz. cans of tomato paste- I usually use Contadina or organic if I can find it.
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- kosher salt to taste (about 2 teaspoons)
- freshly ground pepper to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
- red pepper flakes to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon)
- herbes de provence or Italian seasoning (about 1/4 teaspoon)
- light olive oil- about 1/4 cup
for the meatballs (meatballs are optional):
- 2 pounds of chop meat (85% – 90% lean)
- 2 eggs, large or extra large
- 1/2-3/4 cup plain bread crumbs
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup ketchup
- kosher salt, ground or freshly ground pepper to taste
Peel and cut onion into quarters. Put quartered onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until onions are very finely chopped and look about the consistency of apple sauce. (In the original recipe, the onions were not this finely chopped, but I started to do this because my children did not like to see pieces of onions in their sauce.) Then peel and crush garlic cloves and set them aside. Put about 1/4 cup oil in bottom of very large pot. Sprinkle the red pepper flakes in the oil Heat for a minute. Add the onions, and saute for 5 minutes or so until totally translucent. Add the crushed garlic. Cook for one minute more. Add the 2 pounds of chop meat. Cook for 2 minutes or so. You do not really want to brown the meat too much. (I use a potato masher to make sure the meat does not clump up while it is starting to cook.) Add all of the Pomi strained tomatoes, or all of the plum tomatoes which you have processed as well as the reserved puree or juice. Then add the tomato paste. Mix well with a spoon or a potato masher to totally incorporate the meat with the tomatoes. (I use a potato masher because it works great!) Add salt and pepper. Cook covered over a low flame for about an hour, mixing every 15 minutes or so. Then add some more seasonings, the 1 teaspoon of sugar, and a light sprinkling of herbes de provence, and maybe some more salt. Cook for another half hour to hour, mixing every 15 minutes. If you are not adding meatballs, continue to simmer over a very low flame for another 1-2 hours until the sauce has turned a deeper red, and the sauce is done. Check for seasoning every so often, and add more salt or red pepper flakes if you like your sauce a little hotter. Your sauce should have cooked somewhere around three hours altogether if you are not making meatballs.
If you are adding meatballs, prepare them while the sauce is simmering. You will want to add the meatballs about 1 1/2 hours after the meat sauce has been simmering. So you have plenty of time to get them ready to go into the pot of sauce. In a large bowl, place the 2 pounds of chop meat. Add 2 eggs, about 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, about 1/2 cup of ketchup, and about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper . Mix gently with a large fork or with your clean hands. If the mixture seems too dry, add a little more ketchup. If it seems extremely loose, add a little more breadcrumbs. Do not over-mix. Make your meatballs, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Set them aside on a large plate until you are ready to place them in the sauce.
As mentioned above, add the meatballs into the pot after the sauce has been simmering for to 1 1/2 hours over a very low flame. Carefully place the meatballs in the sauce. Cover the pot, and after about 20 minutes, take the top off, and rotate the meatballs gently. You can be less gentle after the meatballs have cooked and firmed up some. Continue to simmer the sauce covered on the lowest flame possible for another 2 hours or so after you put the meatballs in. During this two hours, mix every 15 minutes or so. Taste periodically, and add more salt, pepper, hot pepper flakes if you think it’s necessary. When you mix, be sure to get to the bottom of the pot to insure the sauce doesn’t burn. Serve over pasta.
Note #1: This sauce is very meaty. You can reduce the meat to 1 pound or 1 1/2 pounds and the sauce will still turn out great!
Note #2: Freeze any leftovers in quart containers, dividing the meatballs evenly between the containers.
Note #3: I usually double this recipe when I make it, and I use 1 huge pot or 2 very large pots. If you are doubling the recipe, you can reduce the meat in the sauce from 4 to 3 pounds, but still use the 4 pounds of meat for the meatballs, because you can never have too many of these meatballs.
Note #5: If you enjoy casual entertaining, make this and serve it with salad and garlic bread, and everybody will be happy!
After I made a batch of the sauce, my son Benji, loved it so much (I think he was a senior in high school around 2007) that he actually sat down on the floor of the family room with me and asked me exactly how I made that particular batch, and wrote down the recipe- so that he could make it someday himself. I just found his written copy of the recipe (he is now going into his senior year of college), and as a tribute to how much he adored eating it and even more how much I love making it for him and watching him lap it up, I am writing it down here- exactly as he wrote it.
Judy Kahn’s Meatballs & Meatsauce
1) Coat bottom of big pot with olive oil.
2) Crush and put in 7 large garlic cloves.
3) Sautee 1 minute.
4) Put in 2-3 very large chopped in prosessor onions (very fine).
5) Sautee 1-2 min.
6) Put in 2 1/2 – 3 lbs chopped meat.
7) Use potato masher to mash meat.
8) Add 6 boxes of Pomi strained tomatoes (I recently used 3 boxes of Pomi and 3 28 oz. cans of Cento crushed tomatoes in puree)
9) Add 4 small cans of tomato paste (Contadina).
10) Mash up.
11) Add salt & pepper, herbs de provence (1/4 tsp.), 1 tsp. sugar, crushed red pepper (I have since eliminated the herbs de provence)
12) Simmer w/top on (low heat) 1 1/2 hours.
1) 3 lbs. chopped meat.
2) Add 3 eggs.
3) Add 1 cup ketchup.
4) Add 3/4 cup Jason’s plain breadcrumbs ( I now use Trader Joe’s organic bread crumbs)
5) Add salt, pepper.
13) Add meatballs to sauce.
14) Cook 1 1/2 hours low heat (covered).