Sunday, May 3, 2009

Throwdown with Sara... Spaghetti & Meatballs

If the TV is on, it's most likely on Food Network- If I'm not cooking food, I'm thinking food and thus, watching food on TV... A close college friend is moving back to Ohio and I wanted to make her and her husband some food on moving day since they will be so pre-occupied with the movers, unpacking, and did I mention they also have a 4-month-old son? I wanted to make something that would be easy for them to heat up quickly and at their own leisure- thinking spaghetti & meatballs would be a great option. As I was perusing Food Network, I came across 2 recipes that had an overall 5-star rating with over 200+ glowing reviews. Reading through both recipes and reviews, I just couldn't pick 1... and Bobby Flay's Throwdown came to mind. The challenge? Ina's Real Spaghetti & Meatballs vs. Rachael's Spaghetti & Meatballs. I will make both recipes side by side, one right after each other. Prepare for an exciting competition. The cook-off is on! (Oh, and by the way, I prepared them Spaghetti & Meatballs, bagged salad, small bottle of salad dressing, and Insanely Good Pumpkin-Chocolate Muffins with disposable plates, napkins, and forks. I hope they enjoy it!)

Competitor #1- Real Spaghetti & Meatballs (Ina Garten)
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground pork (I omitted the veal and used 1 lb ground pork)
1 lb ground beef
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs (4 slices, crust removed)
1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
2 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I used 1 Tbsp dried parsley)
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 extra-large egg, beaten
3/4 cup warm water

1 Tbsp good olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1-1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup good red wine, such as Chianti (I used Merlot)
28-0z can crushed tomatoes
1 Tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley (I used 1/2 Tbsp dried parsley)
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For serving
1-1/2 lb spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat dutch oven or large skillet on medium-low heat.
2. Place meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork.
3. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. (I did this by sectioning the meat into 4 quarters, and then made 4 meatballs from each quarter). You should have approx. 16 meatballs.

4. In your dutch oven or skillet, pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil. Very carefully, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides, turning carefully with a spatula or fork. This should take approx. 10 minutes for each batch. Don't crowd the meatballs.
5. Once cooked, remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don't clean the pan.
6. For the sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5-10 minutes.
7. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
8. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. (It took me 7-8 minutes)

9. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper.
10. Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25-30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. (I let it simmer for 45 min-1 hour.)

11. Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan.

Competitor #2- Spaghetti & Meatballs (Rachael Ray)
1-1/4 lb ground sirloin
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and Pepper

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup beef stock
28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
10 fresh basil leaves, torn or thinly sliced

For serving
1 lb spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
Salt, for pasta water
Grated Parmesan cheese
Crusty bread or Garlic bread, for passing at the table

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Mix all meatball ingredients into a large bowl.

Roll meat into 1.5-inch meatballs and place on a non-stick cookie sheet or cookie sheet greased with extra-virgin olive oil. Bake balls 10-12 minutes, until no longer pink. (I ended up baking for 20 minutes, using parchment paper- no oil needed.) Drain fat.

3. Heat a deep skillet or medium pot over moderate heat. Add oil, crushed pepper, garlic and onion. Saute 5-7 minutes, until onion bits are soft.
4. Add beef stock, crushed tomatoes, and herbs. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. (I cooked for a total of 20 minutes because I prefer a thicker sauce.)

5. Add a handful of grated cheese into the sauce, and add cooked meatballs.
6. Serve over hot cooked spaghetti, grated Parmesan cheese, and crusty bread.


Left Ina's recipe, Right: Rachael's recipe (Can you see a color difference?)

Observations & Comments
Ina's Real Spaghetti & Meatballs
a) Meatballs
- Flavorful (could tell the ground pork added extra flavor)
- Very moist (possibly due to fresh breadcrumbs and water?)

b) Sauce
- Double the sauce- this recipe made a lot of meatballs and not enough sauce
- Add 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (to add some heat)
- Enjoyed the chopped onions in the sauce
- Sauce had a distinct wine flavor- it was something different and a nice change of pace to the normal tomato sauce
- Sauce had a deep, red wine color/tint to it

** I tend to love Ina's recipes, but this recipe didn't reach my expectations. Although I love the taste of wine in cooking, I felt it consisted of too much wine flavor for my taste (though DB loves wine and thus he preferred this sauce over Rachael's.) I guess it comes down to personal preference. As for the meatballs, this was definitely more moist and flavorful (in comparison to Rachael's). The moistness could be attributed to the fresh breadcrumbs, warm water, and the addition of ground pork. On the flip side, due to its moistness, these meatballs tended to "crumble/fall apart" easier than Rachael's. DB and I both agreed that these meatballs were better than Rachael's.

Rachael's Spaghetti & Meatballs
a) Meatballs
- When making the meatballs, the meatball mixture will seem somewhat dry, but incorporate the dry ingredients into the meat, just until combined. No need to over mix.
- I used parchment paper to cook the meatballs- GREAT help. Although the grease seeped through the paper, the meatballs came right off the paper like a breeze.
- Baking the meatballs was great- a) it's a healthier option, and b) MUCH easier and less time-consuming than standing in front of a stove cooking batches of meatballs

b) Sauce
- Double the sauce- this recipe made a lot of meatballs and not enough sauce
- Enjoyed the chopped onions in the sauce
- Pure, fresh tomato flavor; loved the colorful green basil within

** Overall, I liked Rachael's sauce better than Ina's. You could taste the fresh basil within, and I loved how pure the tomato sauce tasted. I also liked the added heat from the crushed red pepper. The sauce was a nice bright red- simple, yet still flavorful. As for the meatballs, it was still moist, but not as moist (nor flavorful) as Ina's. I could tell the meatball mixture seemed slightly dry when mixing, but it surprisingly didn't result in a dry meatball. The meatball was a bit more dense than Ina's (and thus held up better), but otherwise still tasty. This meatball recipe is something I'd use to make quickly, but if I had the time, I'd make Ina's version. An overall quick dish that was simple and easy to make. Loved the simplicity.


Naomi said...

Meatball #1 was fabulous!! We will try #2 next week and find out who the real winner is! Stay tuned for the results!

wannabeamomma said...

you are such a good friend! both sound yummy!

BMK said...

Great comparison. Both look delicious!

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