Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Slow Cooker Balsamic Spaghetti and Meatballs

I've been making spaghetti sauce all my life. Every conceivable type of ingredients, with meatballs, without meatballs, with olives, without olives, with mushrooms, without mushrooms etc. etc. etc. And don't even get me started on spices which are an inexhaustible number of combinations.

All that being said, this is a "middle of the road" recipe in that it's NOT totally from scratch, thereby making it easier to throw together, yet offset with some quality ingredients and cooking times that make it extraordinarily good tasting. And this is, for what it's worth, the product of many instances of making my own sauce.

By the way, DO pay attention to cooking times. I finally figured out that it IS possible to overcook spaghetti sauce. I spent the longest time thinking the longer you slow-cooked a sauce the better it must be right? And then one time, I was in a hurry, and only cooked a sauce for 4 hours. Oh my gosh, it was good. The sauce was brighter, both in color and taste, had a "tang" to it that was delicious, and overall tasted "fresher" if you know what I mean. I believe cooking too long will begin to break down components of the tomato and render it overcooked and somewhat drab in flavor.

The particular recipe here has a mixture of ingedients that create a unique combination of flavors that are complex, yet robust and tangy and deliciously offset with an italian cheese topping. Do give it a try, and let me know what you think.

Ingredients and Method:

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
5 - 6 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 28 oz can quality diced tomatoes with sauce. (It's ok if it contains spices)
29 oz of quality tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
2 tablespoons spaghetti seasonings
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
3 bay leaves
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 package frozen fully cooked Italian meatballs (such as mama lucia)
1 tablespoon salt

In a medium saucepan over medium heat saute onions, shallots and garlic in olive oil until soft and becoming translucent

Meanwhile in slow cooker, add ALL the remaining ingredients EXCEPT salt and balsamic vinegar! (Gotta show off my new toy)

Add the sauteed vegetables on top. Stir thoroughly once. Cover. If your slow cooker vents slightly during cooking, that's great. If it doesn't you may want to prop it open slightly so it will as you want the sauce to thicken slightly. (Besides, don't ya want to smell it as it cooks?) If you can't do that or don't want to, don't worry, just let it cook the last hour uncovered.

Heat on HIGH for 90 minutes. Then heat on low for 4 hours. (I know I said 4 hours total, but you got to get it up to cooking temp first, sheesh, trust me) And if you can avoid it, do NOT uncover while cooking.

With one hour to go, add the salt and the balsamic vinegar, stir, cover, and complete the cooking process. The reason you add the Balsamic last is you want the Red Wine vinegar to permeate the sauce first, and then "freshen" the sauce the last hour with Balsamic.

Meanwhile, prepare your pasta, and get ready to enjoy one great tasting sauce. Top with whatever Italian/combination cheese you like, but I still say, ya can't beat basic, good ole shredded parmesan.

It's THAT easy...... and it is one GREAT sauce....


p.s Makes GREAT Italian Meatball Sandwiches the next day too!

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