Hubby and I are very excited about Zen, the new Masterpiece Mystery debuting tonight on PBS:
What does an honest cop do when his bosses are on the side of the lawbreakers? Outwitting prosecutors, politicians, mobsters and run-of-the-mill kidnappers and killers, Detective Aurelio Zen brings justice to modern-day Italy, whether the authorities want it or not, on Zen, a trio of spellbinding cases based on the bestselling novels of by British crime writer Michael Dibdin, airing on Masterpiece July 17-31, 2011.
Rufus Sewell (Middlemarch) stars as Zen, a Roman police detective hailing from Venice, where “Zen” is a local shortening of the name Zeno. Separated from his wife and living with his mother, he is too frazzled by his job to think about romance. That is, until he meets Tania Moretti (Caterina Murino), his chief’s new secretary.
Russell Sewell. Venice. New mystery character we haven’t read or heard of until now. What’s not to like?
So, to make this evening even more of an event, I decided to make us something Italian for supper. 🙂 (I mean, are we easily entertained, or what? 😉 *LOL*) It’s been so h-o-t here, I wanted to do something easy, and that’s when I decided on spaghetti and (turkey) meatballs. And what’s more, it’s so hot, I decided I didn’t even want to have to futz with needing to occasionally stir the sauce in the skillet, so I decided to try my hand at making CrockPot Spaghetti and Meatballs — although, according to Wikipedia, this may be more of an Italian-American dish than purely Italian:
Spaghetti with meatballs (or Spaghetti and meatballs) is a dish that usually consists of spaghetti, tomato sauce and meatballs.
According to Food Network host and correspondent Alton Brown, early 20th-century Italian immigrants in New York City were the first to make it and the National Pasta Association (originally named the National Macaroni Manufacturers Association) was the first organization to publish a recipe for it in the 1920s.
However, food critic and author Kyle Phillips says he has found similar dishes in Italy that pre-date it.
“…though Spaghetti with meatballs are rare in Italy there are Italian precursors: I have had spaghetti with tiny meatballs in Puglia, [Sicilian food authority] Pino Correnti notes that meatballs were a common addition to feast day pasta sauces in Sicily…”
In the vast majority of cases, however, Old World Italian cuisine calls for mixing heavy meat sauces with fettuccine and tagliatelle but not spaghetti.
“But, but, but,” you say, “what’s so easy about meatballs? Oh, wait, you’re going to use frozen meatballs, right?”
Well, yes, I’m using frozen meatballs, but likely not the kind you’re thinking of. 😉
A month or month and a half ago, I made up a big ol’ mess (here in the South, a “mess” means you’ve made up a large batch, with “large” being a relative term) of some utterly divine turkey meatballs: I made them with equal parts of lean (93/7) ground turkey and lean turkey sausage. I used one half for our supper that day (and the next — yummy leftovers!), and froze the other half. And those homemade meatballs are the ones I’m using in my CrockPot Spaghetti and Meatballs today.
I’ve never made Spaghetti and Meatballs in the CrockPot, but I’m more than willing to give it a go. 🙂 I don’t like runny, watery sauce, and knowing that the CrockPot adds liquid — and the veggies in the sauce will add liquid, too, as they cook — I added in extra tomato paste and used thick tomato purée. If, when we eat it tonight, I decide the recipe needs any other adjustments to it, I’ll annotate them here. If you don’t have homemade frozen meatballs on hand, you can purchase the commercially made ones from the freezer section — I see that they even offer turkey meatballs in the freezer section now! (BTW, if you’re wondering what’s up with the Spaghetti Tree harvest, you can find out here.)
I’m rounding out the meal with a tossed green salad and some lovely, fresh Italian bread from the WalMart bakery. (It’s too hot to bake my own bread!) I’ll either make garlic toast with it (in the toaster oven!), or we’ll eat it spread with a bit of butter or a wee bit of olive oil.
And while supper is tending to itself, I’m doing laundry, reading, and spending some leisure time by our “pool” (a 6′ cattle tub on our front deck). 🙂
Vegetarians: I haven’t forgotten about you! Seek out Tofurky or another vegetarian substitution for the meatballs — or just make it without the meatballs!
It’s so easy, yet so yummy, you’ll be singing “Belle Note,” I promise! (Go on, take 151 seconds out of your life and watch it — you know you want to! This always makes me think not only of my own childhood, but also of my dear boy, who loved “Lady and the Tramp” when he was a kid — and as an adult, too! 😉 I always think of this whenever I eat Spaghetti and Meatballs.)
Mess of Meatballs (Makes 30 meatballs — or more or less, if you make them smaller or larger)
- 1 pound lean (93/7) ground beef or ground turkey
- 1 pound lean bulk sausage (turkey sausage for turkey meatballs or reduced-fat pork sausage for beef meatballs)
- 1 egg or equivalent in egg substitute, lightly beaten
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped or whizzed up in food processor
- 1/4 onion, finely chopped or whizzed up in food processor
- 1 carrot, finely chopped or whizzed up in food processor
- NOTE ABOUT THE FINELY CHOPPED/DICED VEGGIES: Use any combo of what you like and have on hand. If you have some mushrooms on hand, add in some of those. If you don’t have celery or carrot, don’t sweat it.
- Splash of red wine or milk
- Bread or cracker crumbs as needed
- Seasonings to taste: basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, parsley, garlic powder and/or minced garlic, red pepper flakes, splash of Worcestershire sauce, and a wee sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese, if desired
- In a medium-sized bowl, lightly beat egg. Add in bread crumbs/cracker crumbs (start off with less than you’ll think you need — say the equivalent of two slices of sandwich bread — you can always add in more), seasonings, finely chopped/diced veggies of choice, and splash of wine or milk.
- Gently mix in the meats. Add in additional seasonings, liquid, and/or bread/cracker crumbs as needed.
- Shape into 30 or so meatballs.
- Place meatballs in lightly sprayed or oiled pans. (I used two 13″X9″ pans.) Bake at 350F/375F until done, anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. If needed, turn meatballs just about halfway through baking to ensure they are browned/crisped on all sides. (NOTE: I prefer baking meatballs to frying them. Baking them crisps/browns them with virtually no oil, whereas in frying them, even in a non-stick skillet, you would need to use a great deal more oil.)
- Use as desired in recipe or freeze. TO FREEZE: Let cool completely. Wrap in cling wrap, if desired, and then place in freezer bag, removing as much air as possible from bag.
CrockPot Spaghetti and Meatballs (Serves 5 to 8, depending upon appetites)
- 1/2 recipe of frozen meatballs (above) OR your favorite commercially prepared frozen meatballs (Vegetarians: Seek out Tofurky or other vegetarian substitution)
- Olive or canola oil
- Healthy couple of splashes of red wine (white would likely work, as well)
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped/diced
- Minced garlic to taste
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped/diced (optional)
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped/diced (optional)
- 1 can (14 -15 ounces) diced tomatoes, UNDRAINED
- 1 can (10 ounces) tomato purée
- 1 large can (12 ounces) tomato paste (of course, two 6-ounce tins will work, also)
- 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
- Sliced mushrooms (optional, fresh or canned)
- Diced green bell pepper (optional)
- Worcestershire sauce (Vegetarians — leave out or use a vegan substitute)
- Seasonings to taste: bay leaf(ves), basil, Italian seasoning, oregano, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, parsley and rosemary (optional))
- Desired amount of cooked spaghetti (or other desired pasta)
- Place CrockPot liner (if using) in CrockPot.
- Sauté onion, celery, carrot, and minced garlic in a drizzle of olive or canola oil in a non-stick skillet. Add garlic near the end of the sauté period, as it browns quickly. (NOTE: You can skip sautéing them if you like, but I like the extra bit of flavor it adds, especially when cooking low and slow in the CrockPot. However, I generally do NOT sauté the green bell pepper and mushrooms.)
- In CrockPot, stir together all ingredients EXCEPT cooked spaghetti and frozen meatballs. Sauce will be thick. (NOTE: I use fresh rosemary from our herb garden, so I just laid the rosemary on top, after gently stirring in the meatballs, which is the next step.)
- Gently stir in FROZEN meatballs, making sure they are covered by the sauce. (NOTE: If your meatballs are NOT frozen, gently stir them in during the last hour of cooking time.)
- Cook on low for 7 to 9 hours.
- Serve over desired pasta. Garnish with grated Parmesan or shredded mozzarella, if desired. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.
NOTE: If desired, you can prepare this the night before, up until the point you add in the meatballs (Step 4). Place CrockPot in refrigerator and continue on from Step 4 in the morning.