How do you get your kids to eat flavorful meatballs smothered with tomato sauce made with pancetta and herbs? By recreating an old favorite, Chef Boyardee SpaghettiOs. Does anyone else remember these? We did not get to enjoy them all the time but I remember enjoying a big bowl of spaghettiOs every so often.
One thing I have learned being a nanny is that all kids are somewhat picky as they navigate the wonderful world of food. Pasta cannot be too saucy and plain is even better. Except MEM loves a big bowl of noodles with green sauce which I don’t get because they barely will eat pasta with tomato sauce. But, hey I am glad for that win. Ham has to be rolled up and cut into little circles or someone will not eat it. If you try to throw some cheese into that equation it better be rolled up too. Apples only taste good if they are cut with an apple cutter, do waste time or an apple by using a knife. Scrambled eggs need to be cooked until they are so dry they about to disintegrate.
I knew I was taking a chance making this recipe for SpaghettiOs but when I saw circle pasta at the store I knew I had to try. MEM usually does not want any red sauce near a bowl of noodles but I figured if the pasta was little circles, I had a good chance of making it fun. I created a rather simple tomato sauce but included some finely diced pancetta for flavor along with a little onion and garlic. Then I bumped it up a notch with some green stuff which is also known as rosemary and oregano. If you mince up ingredients small enough even the pickiest eaters never know. Since this a kid-friendly meal I only simmered the sauce for 30 minutes but if you can go a little longer it is even better. A swirl of butter gives it some creamiest.
I use the following meatball recipe also for hamburgers and Max tells me it is the best hamburger he has ever eaten. This is a huge score as he is a super picky kid. I make the meatballs bite-sized and I bake them to keep them a bit on the healthy side, before tossing them into the sauce to cook for the last 15 minutes.
- 1/8 lb pancetta, finely diced
- 1/4 yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 14 oz can whole tomatoes or crushed or diced tomatoes + 1/2 can water
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 lb. anellini pasta – I like Rustichella d’ Abruzzo
- parmesan cheese for serving
- Add the pancetta to a medium-sized saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for 3 minutes. Stirring often to prevent sticking.
- Stir in the onion and garlic and cook for another 3 minutes over low heat.
- I crush the oregano, rosemary, and salt in a mortar. If you don’t have a mortar you can just toss the dried spices into the onion mixture. Stir and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the tomatoes and water. Stir and break up the tomatoes with a spoon if using whole tomatoes.
- Lower the heat to low, and simmer for at least 30 minutes. The longer you cook the more intense the flavor.
- Stir the meatballs into the sauce 15 minutes before serving.
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta into a colander, and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking, and then drain for 5 minutes.
- I place the pasta back into the pan I cooked it in and then add the sauce and the butter, then gently stir to mix well.
- 1 lb ground beef, we prefer grass-fed
- 1/4 lb ground pork
- 1/8 yellow onion, finely minced
- 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- kosher salt
- fresh cracked black pepper
- Mix everything together in a medium-sized bowl.
- Form into tiny meatballs. If you have kids, they will love doing this.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the meatballs on it.
- Bake at 425 for about 10 minutes, turning once or twice to make sure they do not stick.
- 15 minutes before serving add to the sauce to continue cooking and to blend the flavors.