Since paprika goes gorgeously with tomatoes, I decided to use this as my key to making a really special version of spaghetti and meatballs. I associate paprika with a couple of really awesome tomatoey beefy dishes out there. Goulash, native to Hungary, but adapted to various other cuisines, is a true celebration of paprika; the old Hungarian origins were a soup/stew in which herdsmen relied on the beauty of sweet paprika to bring flavor to the beef, but modern versions have since been enhanced with the addition of tomatoes. I love the Viennese derivative, a thick dark gravy of paprika and tomato paste, sweetened by caramelized onions, that clings to its fellow plate inhabitants. I also thought of the meatballs that get served as Spanish tapas, so snackable in part because of their tomato sauce flavored with smoky paprika. These dishes were all points of inspiration for my spaghetti and meatballs.
The end result is a smoky, sweet, thick tomato sauce—somewhat resembling a gravy—that coats every meatball and spaghetti strand that gets tossed in it. The meatballs are light and bouncy to balance with the dense sauce. I based my sauce recipe mostly on the Viennese version of goulash, but I used Spice Tribe’s lovely Spanish Pimentón de la Vera to bring a more smoky umami flavor. This gorgeously fragrant paprika is one of my favorites from Spice Tribe’s single origin line because a little sprinkle on top of anything really transforms the aroma of any dish and makes my mouth water before I even take the first bite. But here, I really let it be the star, resulting in a sweet, smokey, rich version of spaghetti and meatballs—universes away from those old childhood days of longing for the tomato sauce from the jar.
I’m calling this recipe my “Spaghetti and Meatballs Paprikash”. Paprikash is derived from the Hungarian word for paprika and is used to describe those paprika-based Hungarian stews that seem to be the origin of all the goulashes around the world that followed. Though there is really not much Hungarian at all about this pasta dish, the name is meant to be a nod to what are possibly some of the oldest paprika-appreciation meals.
Step 1 -
To make the meatball mixture, beat together the egg and milk in a small bowl, then add the panko breadcrumbs. Allow the panko to soak up the moisture while prepping the other ingredients. In a separate mixing bowl, combine ground beef, garlic, Spice Tribe Pimentón de la Vera paprika, parsley, and salt. Fold together or mix with hands to combine, then add the panko mixture and mix again just until homogenous. Chill in the refrigerator while you start the sauce.
Step 2 -
For the sauce, combine butter, onions, and a couple generous pinches of salt in a large dutch oven set on medium heat. Cook, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon, until the tips of the onions start to brown, about 5–7 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until all of the onions are soft and completely golden brown, about 20–25 minutes more.
Step 3 -
Add garlic, caraway, marjoram, and tomato paste; stir together and allow these new ingredients to become fragrant, about 1–2 minutes. Then add Spice Tribe Pimentón de la Vera paprika, vinegar, worcestershire sauce, and sugar. Scrape off anything stuck to the bottom of the pot, then add bone broth.
Step 4 -
Turn the heat back up to medium and cook, stirring, until the mixture holds together and is thick enough to leave a clean trail when the spoon glides against the bottom of the pot. Turn off the heat and carefully transfer the mixture to a blender. Add half of the beef broth to help cool the mixture and blend until smooth (please exercise caution when blending hot liquids).
Step 5 -
Return the mixture to the pot and add the remaining beef broth, plus crushed tomatoes. Simmer with the lid slightly ajar on low for 30–45 minutes until the sauce starts to thicken and cling to the spoon.
Step 6 -
In the meantime, roll the chilled meatball mixture into 1-inch balls (about 18–20 balls). Heat a small amount of oil in a nonstick skillet, and add the meatballs. Sauté until the meatballs are slightly browned all around their exterior. Transfer the meatballs to the sauce and discard the rendered fat. Bury the meatballs in the sauce and continue to cook, covered, on low until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce reaches the consistency of thick gravy, about 15 more minutes.
Step 7 -
While the meatballs finish cooking in the sauce, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously and cook spaghetti according to package instructions. Add cooked pasta directly to the sauce and toss everything together. Garnish with fresh herbs, and serve with freshly grated cheese, if desired.
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