How was your Labor Day? Our was GREAT minus a few things. 1. my back stopped functioning on Sunday morning so I'm on day three of super painful spasms and no I can't stop picking up my toddler and no I can't take medicine because of the fetus and no I refuse to stop wiping my ass or any other normal thing that hurts. Because everything hurts. 2. Beck peed on our bed last night because she giggled too hard so we had to wash the sheets at 8pm after a long weekend but also we got clean sheets out of it? There was also a criminal incident on our street in the middle of the night last night that yielded us sleeping about three hours total.
OTHER THAN THAT. The holiday was great. We did some fun family things but mostly hung out just us, watched enough TV that it felt lazy but did some cleaning and organizing and walked a ton. I also made an entire Thanksgiving dinner which was suuuuuper delicious but weird because it's still 90 degrees here. But! It's done and the fall decorations are out, which I'm not mad about.
It's during holiday weeks that I often find my self really craving things that don't taste like traditional American food, if that makes any sense at all. Asian flavors, Mexican flavors, and hell yes to Italian food all the time. This is that! It's on the weeknight train of things that are easy to make but is a teensy bit special because we're calling it bolognese instead of spaghetti. This was inspired in real life by two things: we came home from vacation with a half bag of frozen meatballs from my sister-in-law, and then we celebrated our anniversary at a fancy Italian place. I ordered bologese there and it had these big chunks of carrot that were cooked down in meat sauce and I LOVED them because veggies should be with pasta in the name of balance. So meatballs instead of meat sauce, extra carrots for your health. Everything simmers super quickly and you can definitely eat in under an hour OR make this on a weekend or random free afternoon and it'll keep great in the fridge for several days, so dinner can be done in the time it takes to cook pasta.
You need! Diced carrot, onion, and garlic. I cut the carrot into kind of irregular chunks, and the multi-colored carrots from Trader Joe's are fun but obviously not necessary. Then it's tomato paste, whole canned tomatoes, beef broth, frozen mini meatballs, and heavy cream. These are the meatballs that were left in the vacation fridge, and honestly I wasn't expecting to like them at all. BUT. I was wrong, and this isn't sponsored or anything like that. The meatballs cook straight in the sauce and are really tender and flavorful without tasting weirdly processed. I've also roasted them plain in the oven and Beck eats them that way, which is a nice quick protein option when I don't feel like custom-cooking her three shrimp for dinner (real thing that she requested the other night).
The speed of this dish comes from keeping the skillet on medium-high and stirring often so nothing burns on the bottom of the pan. So! Grab a deep skillet, give it a glug of olive oil, and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the carrots and onions and stir them around in the skillet with a sprinkle of salt. While you're working on the sauce, bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and cook spaghetti or another long pasta - about 10 ounces for this amount of sauce.
When the veggies have softened just a bit, add the garlic and tomato paste to the pan. Stir for one minute, then add the beef stock and whole tomatoes to the skillet. Break the tomatoes up with your hands as you put them into the sauce.
Let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring every once in awhile. If the sauce thickens really quickly, add more stock to maintain the consistency of marinara. After 15 minutes, add the meatballs to the sauce and continue to cook the sauce, stirring a bit, for about 15 minutes more until the meatballs are heated through (check the package directions) and the carrots are very soft. Taste the sauce as you go and add pinches of salt here and there to avoid a really acidic flavor.
When the carrots and meatballs are cooked, stir the cream into the sauce, then add the cooked spaghetti and toss everything together with a few final pinches of salt.
Top with parm, boom, tell me about your day, let's go ahead and plan the weekend.
This is definitely a perfect weeknight dinner because of the speed, but the flavor we get in such a short time is SO good and doesn't taste rushed at all. I'd love this for a Friday movie night on the couch type of situation, or even friends over for dinner - let them bring salad/wine/dessert and oh look at my fancy pasta I just threw together with zero effort.
Embrace the frozen balls, is my point. Not always something people agree on, but here I'm saying yes.
The big chunks of carrots add a ton of flavor and texture to the dish, and Jay comments on them every time I make this. They also add sweetness to the sauce that balances the acidity of the tomatoes without needing sugar in the sauce, and the cream goes great with the meatballs, which are almost grilled-tasting and go so well with this sauce.
Plus, we didn't mess with raw meat which can sometimes be a dealbreaker on a weeknight. Protein, veg, and carbs are all in one skillet and I'm thinking even picky eaters can manage the carrots with enough parmesan on top of them. The skillet, btw, is this Staub Braiser that I use literally multiple times per week and can't recommend enough. If I had room I'd buy two to save time on dishes. Which is fake math but.
Enjoy this! It'll carry you through fall and winter.
Weeknight Meatball Bolognese
- ¼ large onion diced
- 1 cup chopped carrots 2 handfuls baby carrots or 2 medium carrots, give or take
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cups beef stock
- 28 ounces canned whole tomatoes in their juices
- 3 cups frozen mini meatballs about 10 ounces total
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 10-12 ounces spaghetti for serving cooked to al dente
- parmesan cheese for sprinkling
- Preheat a large deep skillet to medium-high heat with a drizzle of olive oil. Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring, for about five minutes with a sprinkle of salt. When the onions have softened somewhat, add the garlic and tomato paste to the pan. Stir the tomato paste to coat the vegetables, and let cook for one minute.
- Add the stock and tomatoes to the skillet, breaking up the tomatoes with your hands as you put them in the pan. Stir to combine, and let the sauce simmer for 15 minutes without reducing the heat, stirring every few minutes.
- During this time, I like to cook and drain the pasta. After 15 minutes, add the meatballs to the sauce and cook for 10-15 minutes more, stirring, until the meatballs are hot and cooked through and the carrots are soft. Taste the sauce and add pinches of salt to your preference until it is very flavorful.
- When the meatballs and carrots are cooked, add the cream and pasta to the skillet. Toss the pasta with the sauce, taste one more time for seasoning, add some more salt, and serve topped with parmesan. Enjoy!
PS! If you're vegetarian you can absolutely skip the meatballs, but this creamy pasta with spinach is my vegetarian equivalent of this dish. It is SO good.