well, first things first. last week we discovered that our building was suffering from a large gas leak. after the explosion in harlem a few days prior to this discovery, to say people were jumpy is an understatement. they turned off all the gas in our building so we are currently without a stove or oven. and that means one thing - becoming best friends with our slow cooker. the building was kind enough to hand out temporary hot plates, but outside of boiling water, steaming veggies, or scrambling eggs, there's not too much we can do with them. i first made this dish when brian still lived in upstate new york, and with our current predicament i was motivated to make it again. and this time i perfected the recipe (like a boss).
this recipe comes from my old standby, food and wine. i really enjoyed it the first time i made it, but i found the meatballs to be a little dry. in researching other meatball recipes, i found a few here and there that used ricotta to combat the dryness of meatballs. i happened to have half a cup of ricotta in my refrigerator, so i took a chance and added it to the meatballs. let's just say - problem solved and this version rocked our faces off. it is officially a staple of our household (especially while the gas is still turned off!)
the first step to this recipe is making the sauce. it involved two 28-oz cans of whole tomatoes (peeled or unpeeled, i use peeled, and be sure to get unsalted), olive oil, tomato paste, garlic, basil, and red pepper flakes. since basil is out of season, i buy the cans of tomatoes that already have basil added into them. trader joe's sells a store brand of tomatoes with basil added in so look for this at your grocery store, or just season with a little oregano instead. the basil is not essential here, though it does help enhance the flavor. a little oregano would do the same (but then again, i love oregano never met a slice a pizza that wasn't helped along with a little oregano). so, assemble those ingredients, and pour your cans of tomatoes, juices and all, into the slow cooker. then, my favorite part, crush the whole tomatoes with your hands. they should break into pieces fairly easily, but some pieces here and there might give you a little trouble. do not fear, just crush harder, which makes it more fun. once everything is combined, turn the slow cooker on high for three hours and let it work it's magic.
while this is happening you can assemble your meatballs. combine the ground chuck, garlic, breadcrumbs, egg, parm, salt, pepper and the 1/2 cup of ricotta (essential people, essential i tell you!) i am always sure to let the meat sit outside the refrigerator for about 20 minutes so i can easily combine it with my hands. if i don't it's way too cold and i have to take breaks because my hands start hurting. that may just be me, but hopefully a helpful hint for you too. so, combine everything together, then roll into large meatballs and place on a cookie sheet (preferably covered with aluminum foil, less clean-up that way). and when i say big, i mean big. this recipe is supposed to make 18 meatballs, and after i make 18 i usually have to go back and make a few meatballs a bit bigger. while you could definitely make more than 18, i like big meatballs (that's what she said. sorry, i had to). when you're all done, lightly cover with plastic wrap and pop the cookie sheet into the refrigerator while the tomato sauce keeps simmering in the slow cooker. personally, i like to make this dish on a saturday or sunday night - the whole pot provides brian and i each about three meals to use as lunch or dinner through the week. however, this could be an easy dish to start before work - starting the sauce and making the meatballs takes about 15-20 minutes, and when you get home from work you can pop the meatballs in the slow cooker. even though the tomato sauce only cooks for three hours, sitting in a warm slow cooker never hurts tomato sauce.
when the three hours of cooking time for the tomato sauce are done, pop the meatballs into the slow cooker, turn the slow cooker back up to high, and cook for an hour. since our slow cooker is a bit small and the meatballs get really crowded in there, i cook for 90 minutes to ensure all the meatballs are cooked the whole way through. when the meatballs are done cooking...enjoy! they are great served with crusty bread (there is a ton of sauce to eat that the bread helps with!), on a roll a la a meatball sandwich, or in some freshly cooked spaghetti.
which is another great thing about this dish - it makes different meals, even though you have to do the work once. after assembling the dish i say stay simple and serve with crusty bread that first night, but it's great the next day to come home, make some spaghetti and voila - a whole different meal that only took you as long as it took the pasta to cook. enjoy! one of my favorites, and don't forget the ricotta!