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Recipe Review: Meatballs with Fresh Tomato Sauce

My first Recipe Review! I've been dying to write more about the recipes I've been trying. Not only to mention which worked well and tasted delicious and which ones didn't work at all, but also to talk about modifications made, if the time allotted for the recipe is accurate, and how pretty it turns out (or not).

I should preface this post a bit with a little history about my cooking and eating style. I love foods of all nationalities and flavors. I am an omnivore – I apologize to my vegetarian and vegan friends in advance but I still think you could truly get something out of these reviews as most anything can have veggies, tofu, faux meats, etc. substituted for the real deal meats and often they can just be left out all-together. I have always loved cooking and baking – especially baking. I used to bake every year with my besties, Vanessa and Angie, during the holidays. We would get together and make an array of treats and then share them amongst ourselves to give as gifts to our family and friends. We would make as many as a dozen different treats.

Over the years, Vanessa and Angie had children and our lives all got busier, not leaving time for our baking tradition. I still baked each year and would make about five or six recipes and give them out to family and friends as gifts. There was a year here or there that I skipped the tradition, busy with other things or the years that we did Camping Christmas (that was fun and an entire story I'll have to share one day). I loved making baked goodies with love and care and sharing them with people around me who loved and cared for me. It made me so happy!

Fast forward to moving in with my sweetie, Dennis, and him being such a great cook and also a somewhat picky eater. He isn't picky in the types of foods he likes as much as he's picky about how they are prepared. He definitely should have been a food critic. He would have been great at it! It just worked out in the end for him to do the majority of the cooking. I was always working late into the night and he would get hungry, whip something up for us and we'd eat delicious, homemade meals when we would have groceries in the house. In between grocery trips, we would get lazy and opt for fast foods, take-out foods, and even grocery store convenience items like pre-made rotisserie chickens and fresh baked french bread (both of which always had to go with 7-Up, I have no idea why but that combo was fantastic).

We lived this way for the most part for 8 years. Dennis cooking with us eating meals out in between. Then we moved to the lake house. We're farther away from everything and everyone here and we love it. But it did mean that we have made a big change in the way that we eat. Now, I'm cooking all the time and love trying new recipes. Who knew that I'd actually use that Pinterest board filled with recipes that I thought I might never make! On to the review...

The Meatballs with Fresh Tomato Sauce is a recipe by Martha Stewart. I used to think I would never make any Martha Stewart recipes once I was past my 20s because I just never thought I'd have the time – or better yet, make the time to do so. (Is it just me, or did you all have way more mental and physical energy in your 20s?) This recipe is far easier than I would imagine. Usually I hear "Martha Stewart recipe" and I envision her placing cloves, perfectly spaced around an entire Christmas ham. It looks beautiful but it makes my eyes roll into the back of my head thinking about trying to make food look so perfect. Now, I have to admit, I did make some changes to her recipe to cater to my tastes and also to make it a bit simpler. The first thing, right off the bat that I had to change was the three different types of meat called for in the recipe. Come on Martha, who has the money to buy THREE meats for one meal these days? Definitely not me. Instead of three meats, I chose just regular ground beef. Of course, you could choose any of the three meats or heck, if you're feeling spendy, get all three! I'm sure it's absolutely delicious to combine the different flavors of meat but it will take more funds to do so.

Something that I've got to say about a Martha Stewart recipe is that I love her website. I don't get all sorts of weird pop-ups, strange ads, etc. I also love that there are often videos on how to make the recipe if it's something more complicated that needs visuals. For the sauce in this recipe, I cook it, vs. letting it soak. I like to cook down the tomatoes into a sauce and reduce the flavors so that they meld together. Because I'm cooking the sauce, I wait to add the basil until the last couple minutes. I feel like the basil sort of dies – flavor-wise – when I cook it in the sauce the whole time. I also add one teaspoon of sugar to the sauce because it has crushed red pepper. It's my secret ingredient when there is spice/heat in a sauce. Adding a tiny bit of sugar to the whole thing helps bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes and combats the heat a bit for your guests (I love hot but not everyone does). I make the full amount of sauce for the two of us because I love LOVE love to have left-overs the next day (or couple of days). I should add that if you cook the sauce and reduce it, you will end up with less sauce than if you just let it sit and marinade in its own juices. Something to think about for feeding a whole family vs. just two people.

For the meatballs, she uses 36 ounces of meat total (12 ounces of 3 different types of meat). Since I'm only using one meat, I use 1 pound (16 ounces) of ground beef. You could use more or less depending on how many meatballs you want, how large of an eater your husband is, if you want left-overs, or based on how large your family is of course. I like left-overs a LOT and Dennis is a big eater at dinner time as he mostly just snacks throughout the day. We have plenty of meatballs with 1 pound of ground beef and always several left over. I always add additional garlic to my recipes. This recipe calls for 2 cloves – are you kidding me? Can you even taste 2 cloves of garlic in an entire pound of ground beef, never mind the 36 ounces? I doubt it. I put in 6 cloves for this recipe (8 if they are on the small side). For the breadcrumbs, I go a little lighter on those. I am 20 ounces short of the total meat the recipe calls for, so I don't need as many bread crumbs. I start with 1/4 cup and then add a little more if it still looks like it's all meat in the bowl. I like a nice mix, not 50/50, but maybe around 70/30.

Now, we'll talk cheese for a minute. Dennis doesn't love Romano like he does Parmesan and it's harder to find in the market here. Since he does the shopping, I try to keep the list as "normal" as possible so that he can quickly and easily find everything on it. So, for this recipe, I use Parmesan cheese instead of the Romano. It's still delicious. I have made it with both fresh Parmesan that I grated myself as well as the bag of grated Parmesan. Both are great. I can't recall one being better than the other, so I'd say get what's on sale or what looks good. Cooking is 90% instinct in my opinion.

The parsley is a nice addition but if you don't have any on hand, it will not be the make or break ingredient in this dish (or any other that I've found for that matter). I use one egg instead of two – again, using far less meat than it calls for. I use sea salt and regular pepper – we gave away the pepper grinder in the move. I start with 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan for the meatballs and then just add 2 more after the first batch is cooked and removed. The olive oil does make a big difference in the taste but if you only have vegetable oil, I'm sure that you could get a nice meatball out of it all the same.

The last thing that I like to change up on this recipe is to take the sauce when everything is finished and toss it with the cooked pasta. It's so nice to have the rich flavors coated over the pasta and is such a nice, light compliment to the meatballs. The time required for the recipe (1 hour and 30 minutes) is pretty accurate. It also turns out beautiful on a plate – especially if you use the parsley garnish. That bright pop of green against the brown meat and red tomato sauce really does wonders. We both really love this recipe. Dennis said I could make it every night and he'd be happy – that's a big compliment coming from him as he doesn't usually like to eat the same thing two days in a row. I love how the meatballs get nice and crisp on the outside but are still tender and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. The sauce is just beautiful. It's light and summery and delicious. If you're a vegetarian, the sauce and some pasta alone would make a really nice meal. It would also be really delicious with some grilled eggplant on top of the sauce and pasta. yum!

Click here for the full recipe. If you try it, I'd love to know. Post in the comments and let me know how it worked out for you.

I love a good glass of Merlot with my Italian food. What is your favorite drink to have with Italian food?

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