4.236 Spaghettini in Meatball Mash Sauce [recipe]

-Cycle 4, Item 236-
29 (Thu) August 2013

Spaghettini in Meatball Mash Sauce [recipe]


by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Dominic and Ian

At long last, I present a recipe for my meatball mash sauce.    

A couple caveats, however.  

First, I've never made the sauce with a set recipe.  Meat sauce in general is the first real dish that I learned to cook, back in high school, from my mother, who just tossed stuff into the pot, eyeballing/tasting along the way, Italian(Korean)-grandmother-style, and I've been winging it myself ever since.  Whereas my mother's method was generally consistent--1 package of ground beef, 1 can of stewed tomatoes, 1 onion, etc.--I'm more improvisational, making use of whatever happens to be on hand--fresh tomatoes if I have them, bell peppers maybe, wine sometimes, etc.  As such, writing down specific ingredients/amounts felt a bit strange.  This is the initial formulation, but I'll probably be tweaking it as I continue to retest it in future batches.  

Awhile back, I'd cooked a batch for my cousin Eel Sun.  She's been asking me for the recipe, and this is what I came up with.  

Second, on a conceptual level, I have no idea what the sauce is exactly.  As noted above, the progenitor of the base sauce was my mother, who'd gotten it from a colleague (at her engineering firm in Silicon Valley) back in the 80s, who'd probably gotten it from a Betty Crocker cookbook back in the 70s.  The base sauce was getting along just fine for 25 years, developing with minor adaptions through the years, until a fortuitous accident led to the "meatball mash" mutation (see link above)--like textbook Darwinian evolution.   I have no idea where my meatball mash sauce would lie in the classification scheme of classic Italian ragùs, assuming that it would even qualify.

Come to think of it, I have absolutely no frame of reference, because I've never tasted a meat sauce that wasn't made by mother or myself.  Among the countless pasta dishes prepared by someone else that I've had throughout my life, all in restaurants, no one has ever cooked Italian for me in their home, except my mother, the closest has been marinara with (whole) meatballs, but nothing like ragù alla bolognese.  In fact, I'd estimate that 99% of the sauces have been seafood, most tomato-less.  A look back at the restaurant pasta dishes featured on the blog show just 6 (surprisingly) (see most recently 4.153 Spaghetti Napoliana): all 6 were oil/wine/cream sauce, 4 included seafood, 0 included meat.  I can't explain why.  

In any case, here's the recipe.

- - - -

Recipe for Meatball Mash Sauce
(serves 6-8)

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
400 g ground beef
1/2 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced carrot
1/4 cup diced celery 
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp dried Italian herbs (e.g., oregano, thyme)
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tbsp salt
1 can (400 g) stewed tomatoes, juice and solids separated
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup julienned fresh herbs (e.g., parsley, basil)
3 cups stock
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 whole milk
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp sugar

I like to think that sautéing the tomatoes separately intensifies their flavor, but maybe not; probably just as well to skip step 4 and dump in the whole can at step 6.

1 packet of concentrated beef gel + 3 cups of warm water = 3 cups of beef stock.

For so many reasons--quality (better cut of meat), safety (meat grinders in stores tend to be unclean), convenience (any randoms meats on hand)--I prefer making my own ground beef from whole chunks.

My processor is small, so I have to work in batches; so long as the machine is on the counter, I also pulse the onion + carrot + celery + garlic.

The degree of chunky/fine depends on personal preference; for kids, I go finer.

1.  In a large saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tbsp of the oil and sauté the beef for about 2 min.

2.  Drain the beef and set aside.

3.  Add the remaining oil + onion + carrot + celery + garlic + dried herbs  + pepper + salt and sauté for 5 min.

4.  Add the tomatoes and sauté for 5 min.

5.  Add the tomato paste and sauté for about 2 min until caramelization begins to show on the bottom of the pot.

6.  Add the fresh herbs + stock + tomato juice, increase the the heat to high, and bring to the boil.

7.  Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 min, stirring occasionally.  

8.  Remove from the heat.

9.  Using an immersion blender, pulse the sauce directly in the pot to a smooth consistency.

If an immersion blender is unavailable, cool the sauce down to room temperature and pulse in a food processor or standing blender.

Or just skip this step altogether for a chunkier sauce.

10.  Add the beef + bread crumbs + milk + cheese + sugar + salt, return the pot to high heat, and bring to the boil.

If skipping the blending step, the ingredients at step 10 can be added earlier at step 6.

11.  Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for at least 30 min, preferably 60 min, ideally 90 min, stirring occasionally, adding more stock/water if necessary.

In fact, simmering the sauce for 3 hours or more will ultimately break down all the veggies and achieve the same effect.

12.  Serve with pasta (see for example 3.324 Pasta Fresca in Meatball Mash Sauce...) or bread (see for example 4.003 Meatball Mash Sauce with Baguette Chunks) and garnish with fresh parmesan cheese/parsley/basil.

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