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Mamas Meatballs

Originally aired

INGREDIENTS
  • For the Ragu:
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 celery stalks with leaves, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds (about 8) meaty, bone-in pork spareribs, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 pounds (6-8) sweet Italian sausage with fennel seeds, pierced all over with a fork
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 35-ounce cans tomato pure
  • A handful of fresh basil leaves
  • For the Meatballs:
  • 1 small loaf stale Italian bread (about 8 thick slices), torn into 2 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2 pounds 80% lean ground beef chuck, broken up
  • 5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Canola oil for frying
  • 2 pounds spaghetti
PREPARATION

For the ragu, warm the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the celery and onion, generously season with salt and pepper, and saut partially covered, about 5 minutes, until golden brown and soft. Add the ribs and sausage in a single layer. Raise the heat to medium high and saut, again partially covered, turning occasionally until the meat is nicely browned all over. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato pure and the basil, and season generously with salt and pepper. Partially cover, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let the sauce simmer quietly for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent it from boiling.

For the meatballs, put the bread in a bowl and add enough warm water to cover. Let stand for 5 minutes, turning to moisten evenly. Squeeze gently to remove as much water as possible from the bread chunks (they will fall apart which is okay) and place in a large bowl.

Add the beef, garlic, parsley, egg, and 3/4 cup of the Parmigiano to the bread and combine. Season generously with salt and pepper. Knead the mixture with your hands, rinsing your hands under warm water occasionally to keep the meat from sticking to them, until it is uniformly combined and smooth. This will take at least 5 minutes.

Pinch a tablespoon of the meat from the mound and shape it into a ball between the palms of your hands. Place on a baking sheet or tray and repeat with the remaining meat mixture. You should have at least 30 meatballs.

Fill a 10-inch skillet halfway with canola oil and heat over high heat. You will see strands forming along the bottom when it is hot enough. Working in batches, gently slide 8 to 10 meatballs into the skillet without overcrowding the pan. The meatballs should be only three-quarters submerged in the oil. Reduce the heat to a minimum and fry, turning once, until they are firm a golden, 12-14 minutes total. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs to a bowl (placing them on paper towels drains them of their delicious juices). Raise the heat to high in between batches to ensure the oil is hot when you slide the meatballs into it. Twenty minutes before serving, add the meatballs to the simmering tomato sauce; you dont want to soak up too much of the liquid and become soggy.

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain in a colander and return to the pot.

Remove the meatballs and pork ribs from the ragu using a slotted spoon and transfer to a rimmed serving platter. Add about 1 cup of the ragu and the remaining 3/4 cup Parmigiano to the pasta in the pot and toss until evenly distributed. Place the platter of meatballs and ribs and a large bowl of sauce on the table and serve with individual plates of pasta, each topped with a ladleful of sauce.

Chef Tip: The best bread for this is the supermarket Italian bread that comes in a white paper bag. Choose a regular (not semolina) unseeded loaf. If the bread is very fresh, remove the crust and dry for 30 minutes in a 200F oven.

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