The Christmas/Chanukah/winter holidays are not just about one big ol’ special meal, like Thanksgiving. Often we are hosting guests from out of town or celebrating with group meals for several celebratory nights. While I can definitely bring it from scratch for a single big feast, the other holiday hosting nights I rely on some delicious shortcuts so I can keep a happy hostess face and enjoy the celebrations myself!
My friend Lolli of Better in Bulk introduced me to Rose Romano’s sauces. They are seriously decadent and taste truly homemade, a big improvement over the standard jarred sauces at supermarkets. I tried the Red Bells and Green Bells sauces, and I liked that they do not contain any preservatives and are super thick, just like the red sauces I like to make when I have more time. You can use them as an easy bruschetta topping or dip for appetizers, but I love using them for traditional pasta meals.
I’m a fan of serving mini meatballs, pasta and red sauce for a group during the holidays. Kids and grownups both seem to like it and its easy to accommodate vegetarians. I make the meat balls ahead of time, and when guests arrive I simply boil the water and heat up a deluxe pre-made sauce like the Rose Romano Green Bells. All I need is lipstick and a cute apron to complete the Scorsese Italian matron effect.
Make Ahead Mini Meatball Pasta with Red Sauce
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I like to toast up some bread — about 6 slices — and make my own)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (discard stems)
2 T. dry oregano
2 cups grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
2 lb. ground meat (beef, turkey, or the “meatball mix” found at many grocery stores that is a combo of veal, beef and pork)
salt and pepper
Olive oil (whatever you have, does not need to be extra-virgin)
2 lbs. pasta (I like to use Mezzi Rigatoni)
2 16 oz. jars extra-thick red pasta sauce (I used Rose Romano Green Bells)
Hours before your guests arrive, make your meatballs.
Combine garlic, bread crumbs, basil, oregano and cheese in a big bowl. Gently add meat and evenly distribute seasonings throughout.
Beat eggs well in a small bowl and grind in some salt and pepper.
Begin making small meatballs by hand, the size of one or two bites.
Pour an inch and a half of oil into a deep frying pan or skillet and heat to medium/medium high.
Dip each meatball into the egg mixture, letting excess drop back in the bowl and then add to the hot oil. Get as many meatballs in your pan as you can without touching each other. Let cook about 2 minutes, until brown on the bottom, and then turn over with a slotted spatula or spoon. Let cook all over until well-browned. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate. Work in batches until all are cooked.
Once all meatballs have drained and cooled, carefully transfer to a storage container and pop in the fridge.
Once guests arrive
Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil on medium in the bottom of a large sauce pan or stock pot that can hold 32 oz. of sauce and all your meatballs. Add two jars of pasta sauce. Once heated through, gently add pre-made meatballs to the sauce. (Note: If you are hosting vegetarians, heat some sauce in another saucepan without meatballs.)
In your largest pot, boil water to handle 2 pounds of pasta. Once vigorously boiling, add pasta and a few hearty shakes of salt. Cook according to your family preference (about 13 minutes for al dente, 15 minutes for softer “American style”).
Right before draining pasta, remove 1/2 cup of the hot “pasta water” and add to your sauce mixture to thin it a bit with the starchy liquid.
Drain pasta and barely rinse. Serve a hearty portion of pasta with meatballs and sauce atop. Set out more cheese for topping (I like to serve a big hunk of real Parmesan and a grater, delicious and interactive) and dried chilli flakes for the spicy lovers. Serve with Greek salad and crusty bread.
Disclosure: Rose Romano’s sent me a gift box with 4 jars of their gourmet Italian pepper topping, but no other compensation was received. Original recipe by Jessica McFadden of A Parent in America.