Thursday, March 28, 2013

two hundred and thirteen

My husband grew up in an Italian-American family, therefore, like all other Italian-Americans, he loves meatballs.  It's genetic, I think.  He doesn’t care if they’re served alone, with pasta, or on a salad, so long as they’re served, period.  I know I’ve said that I love it when he makes requests for meals, but meatballs are just one of those things that can be a huge pain to make in bulk.   First you have to mix the meat with a ton of filler to make sure the balls don’t crumble, then you have to brown every last one of them in a skillet before transferring them to a giant vat of simmering sauce (or “gravy” as folks ‘round these parts call it.)  In the grand scheme of things, they’re really not all that difficult, but they never fail to take up a large chunk of one’s day given that, ideally, meatballs will spend several hours simmering on the stove top.  And don’t even get me started on the mess that the sauce creates all over my stove, counters, walls, hair, you name it!

The sauce’s super staining powers are almost enough to make me give up making meatballs for good, but I would feel kind of evil if I denied my husband one of his favorite foods just because it’s messy.  So, the other week, I decided to experiment with meatballs in the slow cooker, and you know what?   Even though the slow cooked meatballs go straight into the slow cooker without being browned, they taste even better than the stovetop version.  Cleanup is done in a blink of an eye, especially if your slow cooker’s lid and insert are dishwasher safe!  And, best of all, you can start them in the morning, go about your day, and forget about them until dinnertime.  That’s right, meatballs: you’ve officially joined the ranks of weekday foods.

Slow Cooker Meatballs and Marinara

Not the best picture, but it gets the job done.

2 lbs lean ground beef
1 lb spicy Italian sausage
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)
½ cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp oregano, crushed
½ tsp chili powder (optional)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2-16 oz jars tomato sauce (or 4 cups of homemade sauce)
½ cup water (if using jarred sauce)

In a large bowl use your fingertips to gently combine (don’t squeeze, no matter how fun it may be) the beef, sausage, Parmesan, breadcrumbs, garlic powder, oregano, chili powder, and Worcestershire sauce.  Make sure you dig to the bottom of the bowl when mixing to get all of the dry ingredients incorporated into the meat.

Form the meat into whatever size balls you prefer; I usually make 24-2 oz. meatballs.  Gently begin placing the meatballs into the slow cooker insert.  Once the bottom is covered, add another layer, making sure to place the meatballs in the empty-ish spots to avoid squishing the bottom layer.  Continue layering until you run out of meatballs.

Top the meatballs with the sauce.  If using jarred sauce, add ¼ cup of water to both empty jars, then cover with the lid and shake to get the remaining sauce off of the jar’s lid and sides.  Pour the tomatoey water into the slow cooker with the sauce.  (Waste not, want not, right?)

Cover and cook on high for 6 hours.  About 30 minutes before serving, use a spoon to remove any visible grease from the top of the sauce.  Stir, making sure that none of the meatballs are stuck together.  If you’re making spaghetti with your meatballs, this is when you ought to start boiling water for your pasta.

Serve over spaghetti or on toasted sub rolls.

Serves 8-12.

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