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Meatballs in tomato sauce

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Blue Kitchen

(Read caption) Tarragon, shallots, herbes de Provence and panko breadcrumbs give meatballs in tomato sauce a nicely complex finish.

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I did not grow up in a meatball-eating household. We ate plenty of ground meat, of course — in countless meatloafs, in burgers cooked until my mom or grandma were sure they were dead, in giant pots of chili or spaghetti sauce (the word pasta was never used in our house). But never as meatballs.

So I’m always slightly surprised when Marion suggests making them. Every time. Even though, when she does make them, I know they will be delicious. Meatballs just never occur to me.

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As everyone but my family has always known, meatballs are as versatile as they are tasty. They appear on tables from Sweden to Japan, India, Mexico and the Middle East, with all the variations in spices and sauces you might imagine. And any kind of ground meat will serve — beef, chicken, turkey, pork, bison, lamb….

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For this version, Marion used ground sirloin, seasoned with tarragon and garlic, and lightened with panko breadcrumbs. Her tomato-based sauce included red wine, chicken stock, shallots, herbes de Provence and baby spinach. It comes together quickly, making it a perfect weeknight meal — or something simple and delicious to make at the end of a long, busy weekend.

We could have served the meatballs with pasta or kasha, but while Marion cooked them, I whipped up some buttery, garlicky mashed potatoes. The combination was perfect. Here is Marion’s recipe.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
 Serves 4

For the meatballs:
 1-1/3 pounds ground sirloin
 1 clove garlic, minced
 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
 2 tablespoons panko
 salt, black pepper to taste
 1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil

For the sauce:
 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
 3 tablespoons tomato paste
 1 shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
 1/2 cup red wine [editor's note: can omit with equal portion of stock]
 1/2 cup beef stock or chicken stock or mushroom stock
 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
 1 tablespoon olive oil
 1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves, lightly packed

mashed potatoes (optional)

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1. Start the sauce. Put all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently over low heat. Taste — you may want to add more stock or wine. If it tastes too acid, add a little brown sugar. If it gets too dry, add a little more liquid.

2. While the sauce is simmering, put all the meatball ingredients except the olive oil in a bowl and mash them together with your hands until everything is uniformly mixed. Make the meatballs by rolling about three tablespoons of the meat between the palms of your hands. We made 16 meatballs with this amount of meat.

3. Heat the olive or canola oil to medium high in a nonstick skillet. Gently put in the meatballs and brown them all over, turning with a pair of spoons or spatulas. All you want to do is brown them on the outside, not cook them through. Remove them to a paper towel or lint-free cloth on a plate. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel.

4. Pour the sauce into the skillet and nestle the meatballs uniformly in the sauce. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook four minutes. Open it up, scatter the spinach leaves all around, and cover up again for another minute or minute and a half to wilt the spinach. Remove the lid, stir the spinach into the sauce, and you are ready.

5. Serve with mashed potatoes, or any starch that takes your fancy — egg noodles, rotini, or kasha are all great options.

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