Roasted Tomato Sauce with Mini Meatballs

Every few months I crave the favorite classic—spaghetti and meatballs.

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Sometimes I'll make the sauce from scratch depending on what kind of jarred sauce is on sale. If I do make it myself, I will usually opt for for using canned San Marzano tomatoes but since we are in the middle of tomato season, I was hankering for something fresh and truly from scratch. 

The last time I made tomato sauce from raw tomatoes was almost exactly two (!) years ago. That was a delicious sauce but for some reason this one was even tastier. I used almost the exact same recipe, but with a few changes.

  • I used large, plump, very ripe tomatoes (vs. smaller vine tomatoes) from the farmer's market that all split in the plastic bag I carried them in because I had biked home from Hapkido with four years of corn, eight tomatoes, three bell peppers, plus my uniform and leftovers from lunch. Luckily, nothing spilled and no tomato juice got on my white uniform!

  • I added two of those bell peppers into the sauce which added a bit of sweetness.

  • I emulsified everything together in a blender rather than using a food mill.

  • I omitted the fresh basil because it was likely to just burn in the oven.

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The end result was a smoky sauce with a rich caramelized, tomato-y flavor. I could have eaten the sauce as soup. In fact, I may make this again this weekend with that purpose in mind. Previously I had used a food mill to make the sauce but I hesitated this time because I didn't want to waste all of the good flavor still in the skin and seeds. I switched to a blender which surprisingly helped the sauce get incredibly creamy and smooth. I wasn't sure that would happen with the addition of the tomato skins and seeds. 

I made my go-to, very simple meatballs (in miniature version of course), seared them and added a little bit of red wine to deglaze the pan. Then, the sauce and meatballs simmered for an hour and I happily ladled it onto a pile of beautifully thin spaghetti. I much prefer thin spaghetti or angel hair to traditional spaghetti. Something about the ratio of pasta to sauce.

Next time, I will have to compare the difference between roasting tomatoes first and just putting them in a pot to cook down. I expect there will be a difference in flavor but for now, I am incredibly happy with how this sauce turned out. As the on-ramps and off-ramps of 113 continue to have tomatoes scattered about from tomato turns, they are a reminder for me to go out to the farmer's market to get my fair share of tomatoes until the season is over. 


This tomato-based recipe is in collaboration with a number of other bloggers who are also celebrating tomato season. Big thanks to Annie, Rebecca and Ruth for hosting this tomato party! Follow along on their blogs or #wesaytomatoes on Instagram. 


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I also learned that long pasta is one of those foods that you have to very patient with when styling. Styling is hungry work, so after taking these photos, I ate a third of this plateful. :)


Roasted Tomato Sauce with Mini Meatballs

Yields: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

Roasted Tomato Sauce

  • 4 lbs. very ripe and juicy tomatoes, halved with cores and stems removed

  • 2 bell peppers, deseeded with stems removed

  • 6-8 garlic cloves, whole

  • 1 small onion, sliced

  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil

Mini Meatballs

  • 2 slices stale bread (i.e. white sandwich bread)

  • 1 pound ground beef

  • 1 egg

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper

  • Oil for frying

Assembly

  • ¼ cup red wine

  • Pasta of choice

  • Fresh Pecorino Romano and basil leaves

Steps

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Place tomatoes and bell peppers on a large sheet pan. Sprinkle garlic cloves, onion, Italian seasoning, sea salt and black pepper on tomatoes and bell peppers. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast in the middle rack of an oven for 2 hours. It is okay if tomatoes and bell peppers have some black char. Be careful of over burning. Cool for 30 minutes and place all contents in a blender. Don't forget to add all of that delicious tomato infused olive oil. Blend on high until smooth. At this point, you could have this as soup. If using for sauce, set aside.

Mini Meatballs

Soak bread in water to cover. Squeeze out the extra water and tear into pea-sized pieces. Add to the ground beef along with the egg, garlic, Italian seasoning, parsley, salt, and pepper. Mix together thoroughly. This is done best using your hands but a spatula works too.

Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Using a teaspoon, scoop out portions of the meat and roll between the palms of your hands to form tiny meatballs. Sauté the meatballs on medium heat until brown on all sides. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. Drain on a paper towel. Continue in batches until all meatballs are browned.

Assembly

Remove all excess oil from the pot. Deglaze with red wine. Add meatballs back into the pot and then the blended tomato sauce. Bring to a boil for one minute and reduce to a low simmer for one hour. Serve with pasta of choice and garnish with cheese and fresh basil if desired.