Meatballs and Spaghetti in Red Tomato Sauce

Even grown-ups adore Spaghetti and Meatballs!   When it is this cold and chilly, expect your family (not necessarily just Italian families, we just embrace pasta so much, it is comfort food to the rescue) to scream “Spaghetti”.   Make this spaghetti for the grown-ups in your family, it’s got VODKA!

Refer to the images display on shaping meatballs.  I put on a plastic glove on my left hand and hold a spoon on my right hand.   Scoop some meatball mix, squeeze and force it out into your covered clenched left fist.  When desired size is obtained, cut it with spoon and transfer to foil-lined baking sheet.   I prefer baking the meatballs than pan-frying.   This way I have all the stove-top for making the red tomato sauce and boiling the pasta in salted water until al dente (meaning cooked but still firm to the bite, you just have to test and test, but be careful not to burn your tongue!).

I use sazon seasoning here for flavor (cilantro) and for color (achuete), it it inexpensive, all you need is a packet.    Give the sauce a medley of exploding spices and aromatics — garlic, onion, crushed red pepper flakes, celery, carrots, fresh basil leaves, dried oregano, dried bay leaves, salt and pepper.  I love it sweeter, but then it is all up to your tastes.   Long simmer (to blend all flavors well) is the key to achieving an over-the-top spaghetti sauce.   And you just have to have grated parmesan cheese.

Now, let’s do it.  Here’s the recipe:

MEATBALLS AND SPAGHETTI IN RED TOMATO SAUCE
Do this in advance and store in fridge.  And when hubby says, “I’m home”, you say, “Dinner’s ready in minutes”.  Sweet indeed!

Meatballs
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 lb ground beef
1 lb Italian sausage
4 eggs
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Preheat oven to 375°F.  In a large bowl combine all meatball ingredients; mix well.  Form into meatballs and place in foil-lined large baking tray.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Tomato Sauce:
2 tablespoon cooking oil
1 packet Sazon cilantro/achuete seasoning
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper (Glenn/Tito Joe preferred 1 teaspoon)
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
2 cans (8 oz each) tomato sauce
1/3 cup vodka
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
½ tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup sugar (or more)
1 can mushroom pieces, drained
1 box spaghetti, cooked al dente in salted boiling water, drained
Parmesan cheese for topping

In a large casserole pot, heat oil and sazon seasoning over medium-high heat.  Add onion, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes; saute until soft and translucent, about 2 minutes.  Add celery and carrot and season with salt and pepper.  Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.   Add tomatoes, vodka,  basil, oregano, bay leaves and sugar; reduce heat to simmer until sauce thickens a bit.  Remove bay leaves and taste for seasoning.  If sauce tastes too acidic, add unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, to round out the flavor.  Use handheld immersion blender to puree the sauce.  Add mushroom pieces, meatballs and drained spaghetti noodles; toss.   Top with parmesan cheese.

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