I’m not someone who grew up with spaghetti and meatballs as a comfort food. While I do regularly cook pasta for weeknight dinners, I usually either break up some ground meat for the sauce or add in some sautéed smoked sausage. I’ve never tried to make meatballs, what with the mixing of the meats, the browning, and the braising for long periods of time in the sauce to get a light and tender ball of meat. When I saw this recipe in an issue of Cooking Light, the use of sausage for the meatballs caught my eye for two reasons. A) I have a certain, shall we say, affinity for sausage. (You can take that anyhow you want, I don’t care. I love me some sausage.) B) It seemed like an easy means to guarantee a tasty meatball and a quick way to get a spaghetti and meatball dinner on the table.
I had to make this recipe twice to get it right. The first time I followed it to the letter, browning the meatballs in oil, removing them to cook the onions and garlic, adding back the meatballs and putting in some marinara sauce, then letting that all cook for 5 more minutes while I cooked the pasta. But when I took the internal temperature of the meatballs to ensure their doneness (because I am a stickler for food safety like that), I found that they were far from finished. I continued to let them cook, but doing so allowed for the sauce to reduce away and the onions and garlic to start burning while the pasta became sadly overcooked. I ended up breaking the meatballs apart to finish them so I could eat something that night.
Upon second attempt, I employed a technique for cooking meats that I often see on TV. After browning the meatballs, I threw the pan in a heated 350° oven and let them bake for 10 minutes. When I pulled them out and took their temperature, they were 100% done and flavorful and tender. It’s an extra step, but it’s an easy one and it ensured that I didn’t eat burned, yet still raw meat.
The good thing about this recipe is that you can easily cook it for one person, which is what I did each time. You can use dried pasta, if you want to, or just save the uncooked fresh pasta and cook it another night. You can freeze the remaining sausages for use another time or use them in a different application the rest of the week. The original recipe called for pecorino cheese, but I already had Parmesan, so I used that instead. Scale it up, scale it down, change it however you like, it’s a pretty forgiving and easy meal.
Linguine with Sausage Meatballs
1/3 package of refrigerated linguine (or fettuccine or spaghetti or whatever long strand pasta you prefer)
1 link of sweet Italian sausage (I used Johnsonville Farms pork and chicken sausage mix and it was fennel-y delicious)
extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped onions
1 large garlic clove, minced
crushed red pepper
½ cup marinara sauce
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
2 basil leaves, torn
Preheat oven to 350°.
Remove the casing from the sausage. Shape into 4-6 balls, depending on how large you would like them. Heat an oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan and swirl to coat. Add meatballs to pan and brown on all sides. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165°.
Return pan to stove over medium heat, pushing meatballs to one side. Add onions, red pepper, and garlic to pan; sauté for 2 minutes. Add marinara sauce to pan and bring to a simmer, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Add pasta to sauce mixture; toss well. Sprinkle with cheese and basil.
Makes 1 serving.