Nothing brings you back to childhood recipes like spaghetti. You probably remember your mom’s recipe, your grandma’s recipe, and every other spaghetti cook that was nice enough to put a big bowl of spaghetti in front of you as a child. And because of all of those bowls of spaghetti, you probably grew up to know a bit about what you do and don’t like in your own spaghetti recipe today. My grandmother would put big chunks of vegetables in her spaghetti – which I would love to try again today, but I hated it as a child. I remember scooting the large chunks of onions and bell pepper to the side to try to avoid them, but also not realizing those vegetables were the very things that gave the sauce so much flavor.
Today, with my own recipe, I cut my vegetables up small so it incorporates in the sauce a bit better (and I don’t have to watch my children shove the vegetables to the side in disappointment). I use a lot of basil, onions, and garlic, a bit of red wine and a dash of fennel; between all of those simple ingredients, I feel that my spaghetti sauce today is pretty tasty. But we can’t stop there, oh no, my friend, we have to add in the tastiest meatballs known to man – this venison meatball recipe; a recipe that probably takes way longer than it ever did when I was just cooking simple spaghetti sauce over noodles while in college, but worth the wait.
A Bit About Spaghetti
Let’s start with the difference between spaghetti sauce, marinara sauce, and bolognese sauce.
- Spaghetti Sauce. It’s a generic term for sauce you put over spaghetti noodles. Because of this generic name, you’ll often see names like Spaghetti alla Marinara or Spaghetti alla Carbonara, which are all just different ways to make the recipe. Spaghetti sauce is more of an American term, and is usually cooked with onions, garlic, and meat to kick the sauce off. This type of sauce is usually cooked for hours to help develop flavors.
- Marinara Sauce. Literally translating to Mariner’s Sauce, marinara sauce was originally made as a thin tomato sauce to serve over fish; this is not to say that it can’t have chunks of tomato in the sauce, but the overall consistency of the sauce is much thinner than spaghetti sauce. This type of sauce is usually not started with fillers like vegetables or meat, because it’s meant to be thin. If you’re a vegetarian, marinara sauce is usually the sauce to pick, and if you see Meat Marinara Sauce on the menu, you guessed it, it means there’s meat added to the sauce. This sauce can be cooked pretty quick and doesn’t necessarily need hours on the stove to help produce the needed flavors.
- Bolognese Sauce. This type of sauce is usually more meat heavy; in fact, it could only have a few ounces of tomato added. This is the type of sauce you usually see served with lasagna, because it’s the meat rich layers you need in order to help hold layers together. You could compare this type of sauce to sloppy Joe mix. Bolognese sauce is also usually cooked for hours to help develop flavors.
- Sauce or Gravy? There’s also this debate over sauce being called gravy from early Italian settlers to America. Some would say it’s always been sauce, and gravy, is well, gravy – flour and oil roux mix. But others have said that the term for spaghetti sauce to become gravy came from early Italian settlers trying to ‘fit’ in when they arrived in America and changing the name to gravy to appear more American.
When it comes to old-fashion spaghetti and meatballs, I like to stick with spaghetti sauce. I also like to cook my spaghetti sauce much like I’d cook my chili or stew: let it cook long and slow – or use an instapot to get the job done in half the time. Spaghetti sauce should also be like chili in the way that you should be able to eat it without any noodles if you wanted; I mean, we always eat spaghetti sauce with noodles, but the sauce alone is just that good.
I also like a few things in my spaghetti sauce that I don’t usually see in other recipes. For starters red wine, perhaps it is in a few recipes I’ve come across, but for me, once I started adding it in my recipe, I definitely felt it kicked it up a notch. If I open a bottle of wine just for one recipe, I freeze the rest in ice cube trays to use for later recipes. I love the flavor of fennel, so I add that in too. I remember as a child picking the fennel off of pizza and loving it, but I didn’t know what that flavor was until I became a cook – not I use it in almost all of my Italian recipes. As a last note to recipe inclusions – although not rare to any other spaghetti recipe – I love the flexibility of basil, onion, and garlic. Use as much as you’d like – I typically use more than I even mention in this recipe – just taste and add more as the sauce cooks so you don’t overwhelm the sauce. If you’re adding more onion and garlic in the middle of a recipe, switch to powder so it incorporates better.
A Bit About Meatballs
Meatballs are good for an appetizer or with spaghetti. As an appetizer, spaghetti sauce or half Pace picante sauce and half cranberry sauce works great, and I’d also recommend making the meatballs a bit smaller so they’re easier to pick up with a toothpick. With spaghetti, I usually make my meatballs big enough to cut into fours, so they’re a bit larger, but still very, very good. If you’re stuffing cheese inside, try to fold the cheese in as tight as possible to keep it from dripping/melting out.
A Few More Spaghetti Sauce & Venison Meatball Tips
If you’re using an instapot, cook the meatballs first, because the sauce timing can be anywhere from 10-30 minutes and the meatballs can take up to 40 minutes. If you’re cooking the sauce on the stovetop or in a crockpot, cook the meatballs last, because the sauce can take you 2+ hours to cook.
For the cheese in the meatballs, mozzarella balls work well, but you can use cheese sticks too. Shredded cheese seems to be disastrous and messy – good luck if you try this route. Also, do cheese-lovers everywhere a favor, don’t ever buy pre-shredded cheese with the cakey-flour coating – yuck, just yuck. If you’re going to put cheese in these meatballs, foodie law forbids cakey-flour cheese.
Venison Spaghetti + Meatball Recipe
- 1 large Onion Chopped
- 4 cloves Garlic Diced
- 2 jars Spaghetti Sauce
- 1/2 cup Red Wine
- 4 leaves Basil Chopped
- 2 tsp Parsley
- 1 1/2 tsp Brown Sugar
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Pepper
- 1 tsp Fennel
- 1 tsp Oregano
- 1/2 cup Broth Beef or Chicken
- 1 large Onion Quartered
- 3 cloves Garlic Peeled
- 4 leaves Basil
- 2 tbls Italian Seasoning
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Pepper
- 2 large Eggs
- 1/2 cup Milk
- 1 cup Panko
- 2 lbs Ground Venison Venison, Elk, Moose, Beef
- 1 lb Mozzarella Block of Mozzarella or Mozzarella Balls Work Best
- Cook the chopped onions and garlic in the bottom of an olive oil covered pan. Cook onions for about 3 minutes, and then add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.
- Empty your favorite jars of spaghetti sauce into the pan. Add the wine to the spaghetti jar, screw the lid back on, shake the jar, and pour in with the rest of the sauce (you're just getting that extra bit of sauce leftover in the jar). Add the remaining spaghetti sauce ingredients.
- If you want your sauce to be a little thinner, you can go ahead and add a 1/4 cup at a time of chicken or beef broth. You can also do this at the end if you prefer, up to you, but doing it now will help the flavors cook into the sauce a little better.
- Stir all of your ingredients together. If you're cooking in a pot, put a lid on top and cook for at least 2 hours.
- After your sauce is done, you can let it sit on warm until your meatballs are done.
- Heat oven to 350ºF, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Put basil, onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper in a food processor. Grind until everything is broken down a bit - the finer it is, the easier it is to form into meatballs and have the meatballs hold together better.
- Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add in milk and beat again to incorporate. Add in panko crumbs and stir again to help fluff up the crumbs. Add the egg mix to the food processor mixture and mix around to incorporate the ingredients. Set aside the mix for a few moments.
- While your hands are still clean - at least before you start getting them dirty with raw meat - cut your mozzarella so it's close by and easy to insert into your meatballs. Depending on how big your meatballs are, you'll be using probably about the same size as the tip of your thumb - a dime size, perhaps.
- Now it's time to form your meatballs. Put your ground meat into your mix and squish it all together with your hands until well mixed. Now, you can do one of two things here 1) eyeball the size you want your meatballs, insert a bit of the cheese, and roll the meatball or 2) measure out and roll your meatballs before hand to about 1.5 oz for spaghetti and 1 oz for appetizers, and then insert the cheese into the middle of each meatball, while closing the ball to cover the cheese.
- Place meatballs, separated, on the parchment covered baking sheets. Put in the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes. If you're cooking spaghetti squash to go with your meatballs, this is a good time to stick the halved squash in the oven as well.
- Cook your spaghetti noodles or spaghetti squash, and once done, combine everything like you would any spaghetti recipe.