Hidden Veggie Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs. So, so good, and your family won’t even know how many hidden vegetables there are in there 😉
First up, homemade meatballs. Here is my cast of characters, plus some salt and pepper. If you wanted to substitute the bread for bread crumbs or a gluten-free bread/breadcrumb option, that would be wonderful too, but these are classic baby. Gluten, dairy, YUM.
My tip for perfectly golden brown meatballs that don’t stick is lots of high-heat cooking oil. You don’t want to use olive oil here because it will burn. You need a high-heat oil like avocado oil, grapeseed oil, or a vegetable oil, and you’ll need about a 1/4 cup. You can always drain it later if you want to, but you don’t want your meatballs to completely fall apart and stick.
The sauce recipe below is really my first-born child. I’ve been making and perfectly this weekly for years now, and it’s truly hard to beat. The way you make it “hidden veggie” sauce is that you’ll add your vegetables and then puree them so it only looks like tomato sauce! I promise people will never know, and it just adds so much flavor. Veggies I love to hide in my sauce include carrots, onions, celery, zucchini, and bell pepper. Then I use an Immersion Blender like the one linked to blend it right in the pot (without the meatballs in there!). You could, of course, transfer the sauce in batches to a regular blender too, but that’s more work and mess. Then you add back the meatballs and continue cooking.
- 1 lb. ground beef or other meat
- 1 large onion, finely diced, divided
- 1 slice of bread, toasted then crumbled
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 Tbsps minced garlic, divided
- A splash of milk
- Black pepper
- ¼ cup avocado oil or vegetable oil
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 zucchini, peeled and diced
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup good, dry red wine (like cabernet or merlot)
- 48 oz. crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- Fresh basil, chopped
- 1 lb. pasta, for serving
- First, we make-a the meatballs! In a large mixing bowl, add the ground beef, ¼ of your diced onion, your homemade bread crumbs, ¼ of parmesan cheese, 1 egg, 1 Tbsp minced garlic, a splash of milk,1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. black pepper. Using your hands, gently mix until everything is just combined. Don't over-mix or your meatballs will be dense.
- Divide your mixture into 8 equal sections, and then roll them into meatballs, gently packing them down and rolling between your palms until smooth and round. This will give you 8 medium-sized meatballs. I like to lay them on parchment paper until they're ready to cook.
- Heat a large pot or dutch oven (mine is 6-quart) over medium heat. Add ¼ cup of your cooking oil and let it get hot for a couple minutes.
- Gently add the meatballs in, and make sure not to over-crowd them. You can work in two batches if you need to. Allow them to cook for 2 minutes before flipping. You want them to easily release from the bottom of the pan and be golden brown. If they stick or don't look brown, let them cook some more. Carefully flip all the meatballs multiple times ensuring an even golden brown coating on all sides. Once the meatballs are cooked on the outside (they don't need to be cooked through yet) transfer them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined dish to drain until you're ready to add them back in later.
- In your empty pot, add in the rest of your diced onion (3/4). Stir, and scrape up all the brown bits at the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. While the onion cooks, dice your carrots and zucchini.
- Add your diced carrots and zucchini to the pot. Season with a pinch each of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Stir, and let cook about 5 minutes.
- Add in another Tbsp. of minced garlic, give a stir, and let cook 30 seconds max before adding in the wine. The wine will steam up the pan; use this time to scrape the bottom of the pan again with a wooden spoon. Allow the wine to boil and cook completely down, just a couple more minutes.
- Once the wine is cooked off, add the crushed San Marzano tomatoes. Stir, and season with a tsp. of salt and a tsp. of black pepper. Add a few leaves of fresh basil to the sauce, but make sure to save some for topping later.
- Allow the sauce to come to a boil, then reduce the heat to low so it is simmering with just a few small bubbles. Cover the pot and let the sauce cook for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
- After 30 minutes, give the sauce a taste check. Add salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes if you think it needs it.
- Now, blend the sauce using an immersion blender right in the pot, or by transferring it in batches to a standard blender. This makes the veggies "hidden"!
- Once your sauce is perfect, add back in the meatballs to the sauce, making sure they are all completely submerged. Allow the sauce to simmer, uncovered, for at least 30 more minutes on low until the meatballs are cooked through.
- While the meatballs cook, boil some pasta noodles until al dente.
- Toss your pasta and sauce together, cooking for at least a minute or two to combine the flavors before serving! Top with parmesan cheese and fresh basil.