Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Crockpot Cheesy Italian Meatballs & Marinara Sauce

I have been looking for another crockpot spaghetti & meatball recipe, and what makes this recipe so different than the others I've tried is that there are both Parmesan and Mozzarella cheese in the meatballs. Who doesn't want meatballs with cheesy goodness within? Another interesting step in this recipe is that once the meatballs are formed, you put them in the microwave briefly. This allows some of the fat from the meatballs to render out so the sauce wouldn't end up being too greasy. I was a bit skeptical on this approach (fat = moist = flavor), but rarely has Cook's Illustrated recipes failed me. So away in the microwave they went. When the timer went off, I noticed that the meatballs didn't hold their shape well. I read and re-read the recipe, but kept on assembling the remaining ingredients, put my crockpot on LOW, and went to work. I came home and the kitchen smelled intoxicating- garlic, tomatoes, basil, yum. 

Photo courtesy of Cook's Country

The taste was great. I felt that the sauce had a bit of an acidic taste to it (which I countered with1 tsp of sugar), but otherwise we both loved the flavors. It was after an email and re-reading the recipe for the 3rd time, I noticed that I should have used 85% lean ground beef- I know I used ground beef with a higher fat content (which would explain why the meatballs didn't hold their shape well). Luckily, it didn't alter the taste at all, but going forward, I will definitely make a mental note of this. 

To make it easier to make the morning of, I made the tomato sauce and meatball mixture the evening before, and then microwaved them the day of. Then I placed the marinara sauce into the slow cooker, add the briefly cooked meatballs, and cooked it on LOW all day. This recipe made a lot of sauce (almost filled up my 4-qt crockpot), thus I would double the amount of meatballs next time since we love meatballs (recipe is edited for this). We packaged the remaining meat sauce into these freezer jars and plan on making more spaghetti or possibly using it to make lasagna. Either way, this recipe is a winner.

Cheesy Italian Meatballs & Marinara Sauce

Onion Mixture

  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 onions, chopped fine
  • (2) 6-oz cans tomato paste 
  • 12 cloves minced garlic, divided
  • 2 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Marinara Sauce

  • 1/2 cup red wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
Cheesy Meatballs

  • 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cloves minced garlic, divided
  • 2-1/2 pounds 85% lean ground beef
  • 6 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 4 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
  • Minced fresh Italian parsley for garnish
  • Pasta
  1. Make the Onion Mixture: Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions, tomato paste, 12 garlic cloves, oregano, pepper flakes, and salt and cook until golden, about 13-15 minutes.
  2. Transfer half of onion mixture to large bowl; set aside.
  3. Make the Marinara Sauce: Add wine to pot with remaining onion mixture and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomatoes, then transfer to slow cooker.
  5. Make the Cheesy Meatballs: Add 1 cup Parmesan, mozzarella, sausage, eggs, salt, and garlic to bowl with reserved onion mixture. Mash with potato masher until smooth.
  6. Add beef and cream to bowl and knead with hands until well combined. Form mixture into (24) 2-inch meatballs. (I used my large OXO cookie scoop.) 
  7. Microwave meatballs on large plate until fat renders and meatballs are firm, 4 to 7 minutes.
  8. Nestle meatballs in slow cooker, discarding rendered fat. Cover and cook on low until meatballs are tender and sauce is slightly thickened, 4 to 5 hours. (I cooked mine on low all day, 8-9 hours.)
  9. Skim fat. Stir in basil and remaining 1 cup Parmesan. Season with salt.
  10. Serve over pasta and garnish with minced parsley if desired.
* To make ahead/freezer meal - Prepare the directions as noted above for sauce however allow the sauce cool and set aside. Prepare the directions as noted above for the meatballs however nestle meatballs in an oven- and freezer-proof baking dish discarding rendered fat; allow to cool. Alternately, you can cool the meatballs and place in a gallon sized freezer bag. Cover the meatballs with the cooled sauce (either in the baking dish or freezer bag). Cover/seal and freeze. When ready to prepare, defrost.

If making in the oven - Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover baking dish with foil and place baking dish on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir in basil and remaining Parmesan. Season with salt. Serve over pasta and garnish with minced parsley if desired.

If making in the slow cooker/crockpot - Place contents of freezer bag in a slow cooker/crockpot. Cover and cook on low until meatballs are tender and sauce is slightly thickened, 4 to 5 hours. Skim fat. Stir in basil and remaining Parmesan. Season with salt. Serve over pasta and garnish with minced parsley if desired.

Source: Originally from Cook's Country, Adapted from What's Cooking, Chicago?


Joelen said...

So glad you liked it! It's one of our crockpot faves too :)

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