About Johanna

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Chicago/Aurora, IL, United States
I am just like so many busy moms out there. I want to create great meals for me and my family where the food brings us together at the end of a long and hectic day. I want to empower moms to feel like they are able to make Great Everyday Meals by using simple, accessible, and inexpensive ingredients and basic cooking techniques. It’s more about family and less about slaving away in the kitchen cooking. I have been a restaurant industry professional for about 10 years and have a great passion for cooking. I will share tips, recipes and techniques that I have learned to arm everyday cooks with the foundation to simple yet great tasting cooking! Johanna M. Cook

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pasta w/ Jumbo Meatballs

I love pasta. It's a great comfort food. However, the typical spaghetti and meatballs in many households have become jarred and frozen conconctions thrown together in a pot. Don't get me wrong. I use a lot of jarred tomato sauces for times that I don't have the time and energy to make sauce from scratch (and that's often). But nothing will ever compare to the homemade version. Making sauce from scratch can be intimidating. The key is to let it simmer long enough that all the flavors meld together to make outstanding flavor. My sauce has an ingredient that people might find odd in a pasta sauce, but it helps to cut through the acidity of the tomatoes and give it a hint of sweetness. SUGAR. Yes! Sugar. This is also the reason, besides trying to throw in some veggies for the kids, I add carrots. When cooked, carrots have a sweet taste that also lends to the slight sweetness in the sauce. It's not often that I make pasta and meatballs from scratch. But when I do have the time to make it, my kids and husband are sooo happy to indulge in this homy, comforting and delicious dish. How could your family not appreciate this from you? :)

Pasta w/ Jumbo Meatballs

For the meatballs:

1.5 lbs of ground beef
2 tsp garlic - finely chopped
3/4 cup of Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 TBL of salt
1 tsp of pepper
2 tsp of fresh chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsely

For the sauce:

2 TBL of olive oil
1/2 green bell pepper - diced
1 carrot -diced
1 yellow onion - diced 
1 28 oz can of peeled & crushed tomatoes
1 TBL of dried thyme
1 TBL or dried oregano
1 tsp of red pepper flakes
1 TBL of salt
2 TBL of granulated sugar

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, parsely, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs and egg. Form into large meatballs. 1.5 lbs makes about 10-11 jumbo meatballs.

Boil a pot full of water, adding 2 TBL of salt to flavor the pasta.

In a large, deep sauce pot, heat 2 TBL of olive oil in medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs. It is not important to cook the meatballs all the way through because you will be finishing cooking it in the sauce. The important thing is to give it a nice brown color and form a crust on the exterior of the meatballs. Once the meatballs have been browned on all sides, set aside.

In the same pot, add the onions, garlic, carrots and green bell peppers and saute in meduim-low heat. "Sweat the onions", meaning let it cook slowly so that they become tender and not burn and the flavors come out. Add the dried thyme and oregano. Because I am using dried herbs, it is key to let them bloom, so adding them early in the cooking process allows for that to happen. If I was using fresh herbs, I would have put them in after the tomato sauce was added. Also, dried herbs are more potent in flavor that fresh herbs, so use less.

After the vegetables have become tender, add the crushed tomatoes, salt and red pepper flakes. Simmer at low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 20 minutes, add 2 TBL of sugar and carefully place the browned meatballs in the sauce stirring it in with the sauce gently so that they do not break. Simmer it for another 15 minutes to let the flavors combine together. At this point, add the pasta into the boiling, salted water and cook for 8-10 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. Take the pasta out and place it in a large pasta serving bowl. Drizzle it with a little olive oil to prevent from sticking together.

Trick: While the sauce is simmering, occasionally add a laddle of the salted pasta water (no more than 3) to allow the sauce to move around. The sauce will reduce because it is simmered for a long time, so it is important not to let it get too thick.

Laddle the sauce on the top of the pasta and carefully place the meatballs on top. Add grated parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsely for a nice presentation. Sit back and enjoy hearing all the "Oooohhh's" and "Aaaaaahhh's" at the dinner table. GREAT JOB MAMA!

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