Food News and Recipes

For classic meatballs in marinara, turn to multicooker

This undated photo provided by America's Test Kitchen in November 2018 shows meatballs and marinara in Brookline, Mass.
This undated photo provided by America's Test Kitchen in November 2018 shows meatballs and marinara in Brookline, Mass.

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t love a bowl of spaghetti topped with meatballs and marinara, but stovetop versions are often messy (between the spattering oil from frying the meatballs and the sputtering tomato sauce), and the sauce requires a long simmering time to develop rich, deep flavor.

We turned to the multicooker for the neatest and most efficient method for making classic meatballs in marinara. Meatloaf mix provided a combination of ground beef, pork, and veal all in one, making our grocery list short without sacrificing flavor.

The meatballs were a bit dry, so we added an egg and a panade – a paste of bread and milk – for the moisture the meatballs needed, creating tender meatballs that would also hold their shape.

We seared the meatballs until they were crisp and brown; the deep pot of the multicooker kept spattering to a minimum, and the fond made a flavorful foundation for our marinara. We cooked some aromatics, added crushed tomatoes and tomato puree, and returned the meatballs to the pot.

From there, we could either briefly pressure cook the mixture, or leave it unattended to gently cook for the next few hours on the slow cook setting. Either way, we never had to worry about splattering grease or sauce.

The final product was a pot full of flavorful and tender yet firm meatballs in a robust, savory tomato sauce. If you cannot find meatloaf mix, substitute 8 ounces 85 percent lean ground beef and 8 ounces ground pork.

Meatballs and Marinara

Servings: 4-6

Pressure cook total time: 1 hour

Slow cook total time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

2 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup whole milk

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1 large egg, lightly beaten

6 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and pepper

1 pound meatloaf mix

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 (28 ounce) can tomato puree

1 pound spaghetti

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Using fork, mash bread and milk into paste in large bowl. Stir in Parmesan, parsley, egg, half of garlic, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add meatloaf mix and knead with hands until thoroughly combined. Pinch off and roll mixture into 12 meatballs (about 1/4 cup each).

Using highest sauté or browning function, heat oil in multicooker for 5 minutes (or until just smoking). Brown meatballs on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes; transfer to plate.

Add oregano, tomato paste, 1/4 teaspoon salt and remaining garlic to fat left in multicooker and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and tomato puree, scraping up any browned bits. Gently nestle meatballs into sauce, adding any accumulated juices.

To pressure cook: Lock lid in place and close pressure release valve. Select high pressure cook function and cook for 15 minutes. Turn off multicooker and quick-release pressure. Carefully remove lid, allowing steam to escape away from you.

To slow cook: Lock lid in place and open pressure release valve. Select low slow cook function and cook until meatballs are tender, 3 to 4 hours. (If using Instant Pot, select high slow cook function and increase cooking range to 4 to 5 hours.) Turn off multicooker and carefully remove lid, allowing steam to escape away from you.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Add several spoonfuls of sauce (without meatballs) and basil and toss to combine. Add reserved cooking water as needed to adjust consistency. Serve pasta with remaining sauce and meatballs.

• Nutrition information per serving: 593 calories; 173 calories from fat; 19 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 93 mg cholesterol; 667 mg sodium; 77 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 10 g sugar; 28 g protein

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