Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
This time of year, it’s hard to ignore the siren call of perfect tomatoes, and cooler nights are a great excuse to put home-cooking classics such as meatballs in tomato sauce back into regular rotation.
Meatballs can be turned into a Sunday-only adventure in various ways, simmering an artfully spiced tomato sauce for hours or frying multiple batches of meatballs on the stove. The recipe below, though, is a bare-bones but totally satisfying weeknight version, with a fast pan sauce that can be made while the meatballs are baking in the oven.
Use the ingredient list as a guideline: Substitute nearly any combination of ground pork, turkey or veal for the ground chuck if you like, or dress up the meatball mix with your favorite herbs and spices (parsley and cayenne are good choices). To round out the rest of the plate, go traditional with a big bowl of pasta, or serve the meatballs on top of a bed of cooked dark greens, such as broccoli rabe.
There’s plenty of wiggle room for the pairings as well, even just sticking to wines from Italy. Two Northern Italian reds—a Nebbiolo from Valtellina and Barbera from Barbera d’Asti—showed well with the meatballs, if a touch austere against the tomato sauce. For something offbeat, try a fizzy red Lambrusco from the Emilia-Romagna region; the bubbles helped cut through the rich meatballs, and the slightly off-dry wine makes an interesting and unexpected counterpoint to the savory dish.
It’s hard to go wrong with the classics though: A Sangiovese from Chianti was our favorite of the lineup. The meatballs emphasized earthier facets of the wine, adding bass notes, if you will, to the otherwise dominating treble of acid and fruit.
Pair with a Sangiovese from Italy, such as Cantine Bellini Chianti (90 points, $12)
Total time: 35 minutes
Approximate food cost: $24
1. In a medium-size sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of cooking oil over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 the diced onion and minced garlic to the pan and cook until the onions have softened, stirring occasionally (around 2 minutes). Place the onion mixture in a large bowl.
2. Preheat the oven to 350° F. When the onion mixture has cooled, add the ground chuck, egg, bread crumbs and milk to the bowl and mix all the ingredients together, with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Form 2-inch balls from the mixture and place on an oiled cooking sheet 1 inch apart. Cook in the oven until cooked through, around 15 minutes.
3. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of cooking oil over medium-high heat. Add the remaining onions and garlic and cook until the onions have softened, stirring occasionally (around 2 minutes). Add the tomatoes and continue to cook until the tomatoes have softened, around 10 minutes. Mash the tomatoes while continuing to cook until they have broken down into a rough sauce. Season to taste with salt.
4. Add the cooked meatballs to the tomato sauce and continue to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with pasta or cooked dark greens, such as broccoli rabe, and add the grated cheese to garnish. Serves 4.