Every Saturday, Chef Mark McEwan, one of Canada’s most celebrated chefs, serves up everything you need for a weekend meal, including a recipe and expert at-home cooking tips.
According to Chef Mark McEwan, this spaghetti and meatballs dish has it all. “It’s easy to make and full of flavour,” says McEwan. “You can throw together a world-class pasta in as long as it takes to cook the pasta. It’s amazing when you’re alone and need a quick meal.”
The recipe also makes for a great family cooking activity. “We’ve been making this recipe as a family staple forever,” says McEwan. “As a group we would make a batch of 300 [meatballs] and freeze in sauce 10 per batch.” Then the McEwan household shared the recipe with their neighbours. “Now the entire street makes the same recipe and batch freezes it! This is one of those go-to dishes you can eat once a week and never grow tired of it.”
What’s your number one tip for making pasta?
“Heavily salt the water and reserve the pasta water for adjusting the body of the sauce. Many people dump out that beautiful water when they’re done cooking their pasta, but it’s full of magic. The starches that are pulled from the raw pasta remain in the water. Once added to the sauce, it thickens it and allows it to adhere to the spaghetti noodle.”
Speaking of the spaghetti noodle: Is this the only noodle you’d use for this recipe?
“Spaghetti is not the best but it is a classic. Short pasta like a rigatoni also works very well and it’s generally easier to handle. Rigatoni takes about eight minutes to boil and an additional two minutes to cook in the sauce. Quick and easy!”
What would you serve with it?
“I’d keep it simple: grilled bread with olive oil, rubbed with garlic cloves. You can’t go wrong with that. The dish itself is very composed; the acidity and the richness are perfectly balanced.”
And your ideal wine pairing?
“A nice Chianti! It’s a particularly good complement to tomato-based sauces.”
Spaghetti with veal and ricotta meatballs
2 tbsp Spanish onions, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1 lb. ground veal
2/3 cups ricotta cheese
1 egg whites
3 ½ tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 ½ tbsp Italian parsley, minced
1/4 bunch chives, minced
2 tsp oregano, minced
1 tsp thyme, minced
Salt and pepper
1 batch basic tomato sauce (quality store bought)
2/3 cup basil leaves, torn
1 1/2 tbsp whipped butter
In a heavy-bottomed skillet, sweat the onions in 1 tbsp olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic, sweat a minute longer, and then cool the mixture in the refrigerator. In a large bowl, combine the veal, ricotta, egg whites, Parmesan, parsley, chives, oregano, thyme and the cooled onion and garlic; season generously. Work it all together well with your hands for at least 5 minutes. Remove a small portion and fry it in hot oil. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Rinse hands under cold running water and begin forming meatballs of desired size, rinsing hands again as necessary whenever the meat gets sticky. Collect meatballs on a baking sheet. Dust them with flour. Heat one or two large skillets on medium high. Heat the remaining oil and sear the meatballs in batches if necessary. Brown them nicely on all sides before setting them aside to drain on paper towels.
Cook the spaghetti; reserve some of the cooking water.
While the pasta cooks, heat the tomato sauce. Add the meatballs and torn basil to the sauce. Add the desired amount of sauce to the drained pasta. Fold to combine (add a little pasta water to lubricate if needed); fold in the butter. Serve topped with extra sauce and Parmesan to taste.